TRIGGER WARNING – sexual assault & harassment
It’s been a really tough week. I am angry and tired and just in a constant state of anxiety. Every time I open social media or turn on the news, there’s women discussing their sexual harassment and assault stories, sharing our shared trauma. If you’ve been online in the past week, you’ll know the clincher – that it’s our fault, the women’s fault, of course. Women do not take enough precautions to avoid being harassed, assaulted, or raped. At least, that’s a lot of the discourse that’s being shared in response to women’s stories…
For those of you not in the UK, our news has been centered around the missing person’s case of Sarah Everard. Sarah was walking home from a friend’s house at 9pm at night and vanished, despite doing all of the things women have been told to do to keep safe when walking home alone at night.
She was wearing bright clothes, phoned someone she knew, wore sensible shoes, walked a lit path, wore layers, had her hair down – everything women are told to do when they walk home alone. But she was still kidnapped, abused, and murdered. This case took hold of a spark that has always been lit, and has turned into an uncomfortable, important, and searing fire online. Violence against women, no matter how ‘big’ or ‘small’ people may deem actions to be, has always been a discourse, and had ebbed and flowed in the public interest as long as humans have been alive. But now, this has been blown wide open.
Right now, you cannot go on social media without seeing stories, voices, graphics, trauma, and truth at every turn. Shared experiences are in abundance; being groped in a bar, stared at on public transport, catcalled from a car, followed on the way home. People are opening up about their personal ordeals of assault, harrassment, rape, sustained abuse. These stories need to be said and heard and to make a noise, no matter how painful they are to read. The support from other women has been incredible to see, to know we are not alone in this trauma is reassuring, despite knowing this trauma shouldn’t exist.
But, of course, what is rhetoric on women’s rights and safety, if men and their feelings don’t get involved?
Amongst the honesty and difficult conversations that are being had, you cannot move for the damn unnecessary comments. Here are some examples of my favourite (aka least favourite).
- “Excuse me, I think you’ll find that not all men harass or assault women. I’m actually a feminist.”
- “Naaah no way 97% of women have been harassed by men, that’s such an overreaction.”
- “Oh no, that’s so awful. Maybe you shouldn’t walk home alone, especially in a dress?”
- “People really need to educate their daughters.”
- “This generalisation of men being predators is so bad for men’s mental health.”
- “Honestly, some of these girls aren’t attractive enough to be harassed imo”.
Whilst some of these comments are more oblivious, and some are examples of true nastiness and misogyny, all are missing the POINT.
These comments make it sounds like women are only assaulted by the Mysterious Misogyny Monster, who only comes out in dark alleys, and only preys on supermodels who wear heels and a short skirt, as opposed to harassment and assault being a systemic problem.
Hand on my heart, I do not know of one person who identifies as a woman who has not been harassed or assaulted. I’m talking friends, family members, colleagues, strangers I’ve met in a club bathroom. Genuinely, finding a woman who has not been harassed by a man is like finding the lost city of Atlantis. Do you know what? I’ve been harassed too many damn times to count. The horrible push of a man against a crowded bar, a grope and a grab on the dancefloor, the slowing down of a car that shouts obscenities – these happen too often to count. I’ve been followed home by a stranger on at least five occasions, two of which approached me to ask for my number or to invite me home and didn’t listen to my response of ‘no’. I’ve had to push men away from me, not listening to me say I’m not interested, only to have them dissipate when my boyfriend appeared from the bar, thanks to a culture of male ownership. But that doesn’t even stop men – I was assaulted by one of our shared ‘friends’ when he knew my boyfriend was literally just out of eyeline.
I don’t walk home alone in the dark. I change my plans. I don’t get a taxi. I instinctively pull down my hem. I don’t drink enough to get drunk. I don’t solo travel. I triple lock my door. I don’t go to a bar alone. I don’t do what I want by myself. I am stressed and on-guard everytime I leave the house. Spring, summer, autumn, winter, morning, evening, dead of night. My teeth are clenched, my shoulders tight, hands wrapped around my keys. I try to look stern to not look like an easy target, but not too stern in case someone tells me to smile. I am ready to throw a punch, but gentle enough to not cause offence, because causing offence could get me killed.
If you chose to not believe this has happened to almost every woman, you are a part of the problem. It’s not hard to simply believe us. Believe that there is an issue, believe us. When we say ‘men’ – ‘men are awful’, ‘I can’t walk home because of men’, ‘men have harassed me’ – don’t get offended. It’s great if you haven’t assaulted a woman, gold star for you bud, but it’s not about you. Don’t say “WELL, I’ll let you know #NotAllMen do this.” Shhhhhhhhhhhh. Please.
Here’s the thing about #NotAllMen. Most wasps don’t sting you. Some will. But we cannot tell the difference, so we say ‘watch out, there’s a wasp’ because we don’t know if the wasp will sting us or not. But we don’t say #NotAllWasps, do we?
You might be a good human, who is a feminist, who walks your friends home at night, who has never harrassed or assaulted a woman. Wonderful. Thanks, we appreciate it. But you’ve got to address the fact you may be complacent in letting violence against women thrive. I can guarantee you know a man who has harassed or assaulted a woman. As you read this, no-one may come to mind. Or a friend might pop into your head, who ‘means well’, ‘is just being a lad’, or ‘just made a mistake’. If you see someone spouting rape jokes, pestering a woman, making someone uncomfortable, and you do not act; you are a part of the problem.
Not every man has assaulted a woman. But without men calling out other men’s behaviour, women will still be stalked, harassed, shouted at, assaulted, abused, and killed. There’s only so much we, as women, can do to avoid being assaulted. And Lord knows we’ve tried everything. We just want to be safe. We just want to walk home in the dark.