When silencing is a huge part of the problem, as it is in most abuse, then speaking up is always a part of the solution. Even if it makes people feel uncomfortable.
And I am pleased to see so many conversations on this issue have started. Or do I mean continued? We keep having to speak up. It’s not a one off.
I’ve seen far too many men, self identifying as good men, on our side, feminist even, raising issues with the hashtag.
Apparently it’s meaningless because it conflates too many things. Including disparagement with a sexualised or gendered element, including catcalling and groping as well as rape – they don’t understand why we’re doing that. They are just asking questions, of course. Trying to be helpful.
Yes, of course there’s a difference between a microaggression and a rape. But where do they think rape starts? Does a guy just decide one day it’s okay to put his dick where it isn’t wanted? We all know that’s not the case – not in the vast majority of cases. Aggressors start off by creeping women out – they get off on the power. Perhaps they use sexualised “banter” to silence women at work. Perhaps they walk too close to a woman on her own, at night.
And it’s not about flirting – flirting is consensual. If you really can’t tell when flirting is consensual then I suggest you don’t do it until you’ve developed a bit of common sense and empathy.
I’ve seen far more women say on their #metoo posts, I’ve been lucky, it was only a grope, or it was only attempted rape – other people have much worse experiences. I said that myself. It’s not like we aren’t fucking acknowledging the spectrum of experience, the spectrum of harm done.
I’ve seen men suggest that the casting couch is a two way thing, as if women going to meetings alone with powerful men because they want a part in a movie makes them equally to blame if they are raped… I’ve seen men suggest that men are exploited by women in pornography – which is a weird kind of understanding of what exploitation means and shows no understanding of where the money is – or was – in porn.
It’s a whole spectrum of behaviour and while some men never escalate, others do. And like it or not, it’s not possible for women to know which men are really dangerous. It’s just not.
The intention behind the #metoo campaign was to demonstrate how widespread this whole range of aggressive behaviour is. Bearing in mind that a good many people are not sharing their own experiences – and they have the right to privacy, the whole damn point is that it IS genuinely painful and that we are still shamed for our experiences in multiple ways – I think this has been amply demonstrated.
And as ever, it’s also demonstrated how even this kind of overwhelming evidence will be minimised and explained away and ignored by some, not all. I’ve even seen men say if you didn’t report it you have no right to mention it now!
No matter how many of us speak up, there is always this concerted attempt to put us in our place, to tell us this is anecdotal, it’s not evidence, to silence us.
Well, we’re not shutting up. Not any more.
This is a copy of a post I made on Facebook a couple of days ago. My own, abbreviated history –
I had a Saturday job at a newsagents. I was seventeen. The owner, Mr Booth who was old enough to be my grandfather, cornered me in the break room and grabbed me, put his hand up my skirt. I told one of the other girls and she said, Oh we take care not to be alone with him, and don’t say anything because his wife is lovely. They hadn’t warned me because I went to the grammar school… I quit the job. I made an excuse to my family I needed time to revise for A Levels. There was no point in telling anyone – I knew I wouldn’t be believed.
I worked on reception at Casualty in between school and uni, and all the nurses talked about which doctors couldn’t be trusted. One who would insist on examining every female patient’s boobs no matter if they went in for a broken toe – they tried to make sure someone was always in there with him when he saw a female patient but he used to send them away.
Too many times to mention when I lived in a Hall of Residence at Uni, including an attempted rape when I went back to a guy’s room after a party. He was good looking and intelligent and if he’d taken his time I’d likely have been perfectly willing – at my own pace. But he unzipped my jeans, and I said no, and pulled the zip back up three times…. And he was strong and holding me down and started again, and I lost my temper. Kneed him in the balls and left him lying on the floor in agony as I ran to the room of a friend, a guy who I knew was gay just a few doors down. Patrick walked me back to my room and wanted me to report it, but I knew it was my fault because I’d been drinking and I shouldn’t have gone back to his room.
Another time, I was with a group of friends at Uni and everyone wanted Chinese. A friend of a fried who had a motorbike asked for volunteers to go collect the food. I was stupid enough to go with him. Coming back from the Chinese, stopped at the traffic lights, he turned round on the bike and said, “I could take the other turning now and take you out into the country and no one could stop me.” I was scared but I laughed at him. “Are you an idiot? They handed their money over and they’re waiting for their food.”
A friend’s father at a Christmas party – he was drunk, I believed that I’d somehow led him on, and how could I say anything that would hurt my friend and her mother?
Later a doctor, soon after I was married, when I wanted a prescription for the pill. He harangued me about why didn’t I want to have babies, and then insisted on examining me to see if I was pregnant. I was really scared and let him all the time knowing he was just exerting his power over me. Never went back, never told anyone about it. Not even Ryan. I was too ashamed that I’d let him.
And in my last proper job before we started up our business, there were a couple of male IT contractors who none of the women would stay late with – too creepy. But at least the women there looked out for each other.
I always assumed it was my fault, always felt somehow I had a responsibility to protect everyone else’s feelings…
I really don’t think there are many women who haven’t had this kind of experience at one time or another in their lives. Perhaps the tide is turning at last and being open about it will help to change things.