Every couple of months, something terrible happens to a woman, and it is prominently covered in the news. Women everywhere are triggered, because it feels so familiar, because we’ve all either been through it or come close.
Every single woman has a story of her own, and most have a long, long, exhausting list, of so many stories she loses count. I know I do.
Last night I tweeted this:
TW warning: sexual assault— Verena (@gleepface) March 10, 2021
I’ve been groomed, I’ve been r*ped, I’ve been stalked, I’ve been cornered down a dark alley, I’ve been sexually assaulted by strangers, by ‘friends’, and much more.
And whenever I talk about it men are always shocked. But women are like ‘same’.
Within less than a minute, I had other women in my DM’s saying that yep, they had experienced those things too. The replies tell the same story. And that tweet was truly only the tip of the iceberg of what I’ve experienced.
It’s not as if we don’t think men understand what it’s like to be sexually assaulted. We’re not saying that that doesn’t happen, sadly we know that it does. But what we know for sure that you don’t understand, is the baseline level of anxiety and fear that underpins every decision we make. Before we leave the house. Before we leave anywhere. Before we answer our front doors.
Should I put the chain on? Am I taking the safest route home? Am I wearing shoes I could run in? Should I get a taxi instead? But of course that’s equally dangerous, and we’ve all had scary situations in taxis.
And it’s not for you to tell us we’re overreacting, that it doesn’t happen that much, that you know women who don’t take these precautions and are fine. Maybe that’s true, some women choose to live their lives as though the danger isn’t there, because it shouldn’t be, and we should be able to hitchhike if we want to, to travel solo, to do normal things that men take for granted and be absolutely certain that we will arrive home again alive and untouched.
And some of us choose not to put ourselves in situations that we’ve felt danger in before. Where the things we’ve feared, have actually happened. And sure, they may not happen every single time, but they happen, and that’s too often. If you don’t understand the fear of being cornered down a dark alley on your way to the pub, or being followed home, or not let out of a taxi before you give the driver your number, you might not understand how long it stays with you, how much it affects you, and how much we don’t want it to happen again.
Every time it does happen, it’s just another incident on a long list of scary situations that exhaust us and make us avoid that risk, because we simply don’t have the energy for any more of it.
Neither is right or wrong, we all deal with this in our own way, but we shouldn’t have to deal with it in any way.
The victim blaming doesn’t help either. When something does happen, we’re given helpful suggestions on how we could keep ourselves safer. “Why was she out alone?” they ask. “My wife carries her keys between her knuckles”, “such and such place offers self defence classes”, “phone someone and tell them where you’re walking” they helpfully suggest.
As well-intentioned as that is, we already do all of those things and it doesn’t help. Sarah Everard did every single thing you’re supposed to do, and still the news is heart-wrenchingly bleak. She could be any of us, and we all know it. She’s our sister, and we feel for her so intensely it hurts, it disrupts our entire being, and we don’t even know her. But people do know her. She has a family, friends, people who love her.
We’re not saying that all women are perfect, and all men are bad. We love men, we all have men in our lives who we know to be good and kind and fair.
We know that it’s “not all men”, but the problem is, it is men. It’s enough men for it to be 97% of women, and yet somehow a lot of men claim that “I don’t know anybody who would do or condone that”.
But the thing is, you all have that mate. The one that can’t keep his hands to himself when he’s drunk. Who you’ve witnessed making women uncomfortable before. The one you excuse to your female friends with a “he’s not a bad lad, he’s just a bit handsy” or “that’s just how he is but we’ve known him since school, he wouldn’t do anything bad”. Buddy, he almost definitely already has. But what counts as bad to you?
Is it not that bad for him to take that super drunk girl home with him, because you don’t have to worry about what happens when they’re alone? Is it not that bad for them to continually pester the waitress serving you, who is just trying to do her job, because he’s not actually touching her? Are the things they do not that bad because they’re not doing them to you? Or do you just choose to believe they don’t happen because, although they’re implied, you don’t witness them.
A strange thing that I’ve noticed, is how, if you call something by its name, it’s awful, terrible, people are so horrified. Say “I was raped”, or “I was assaulted” and there’s uproar. But if you describe the act itself? If you spell out what actually happened? That’s a different story.
A lot of the time, the men who protest the loudest are the men who just do not understand what sexual assault encompasses. Or perhaps they do understand, deep down, and that’s why they’re so defensive. Because they’d rather rebrand it to make themselves better about the lines they’ve crossed.
If you can convince yourself, in this day and age, that rape is just a violent act committed by strangers, that only serial killers murder women, that stranger danger is the only thing we’re all so worried about, then you owe it to every single member of society to educate yourself. It’s also very very hard to believe that you’ve somehow missed the fact that most women are raped or murdered by somebody they know and trust, that you could somehow be unaware. It is known.
You’re probably not that guy, but you probably know him. So many friendship groups seem to have at least one. The guy that, for some reason, everyone just continues to hang around with, despite the fact they might have actually done something that you know about. Because he’s your buddy, and you don’t talk about that sort of stuff with each other so you can ignore it. Because he likes the surface level things so many male friendships are based on.
So you invite him to stuff, and subject your female friends to him, who are also invited to the same stuff. Putting them in danger, even if maybe they’ve expressed that they don’t feel comfortable around him. Even if they’ve told you the things he’s done.
Some groups don’t. Some men don’t have any friends that behave this way, but they’ve probably come across them, and decided against being friends with them. I know groups like that too, I know very well that it’s not all men.
So what is the answer? Sadly, I think it’s going to be a long time before we live in a safer society. I don’t know how to change the men who are a problem today, and I don’t have the energy to figure it out. And frankly, it’s not my fucking job.
But I do know that the groups of men that I know which are the least problematic, are the groups where there are deeper, more genuine friendships than a group of lads who happen to spend time together on a regular basis. The groups that aren’t afraid to call each other out, because that’s what good friends do.
Patriarchy hurts everyone.— Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) November 19, 2019
Emotional pain is not a competition.
Everybody’s trauma matters.
Feminism isn’t to blame for the way men and boys suffer in this society.
Toxic masculinity is killing the world.
We get through this together, or not at all.
It isn’t news that toxic masculinity hurts men too, that loneliness and a lack of connection leads to men hurting themselves, hurting each other, and hurting us. We know this. We’ve known this for a long time.
If people aren’t genuinely close with their friends, it instills this idea that in order to be close with someone, you need a partner. Platonic love, having a support network to share your life with, is good for everybody.
While I empathise with how someone who feels lonely and is seeking out connection in all the wrong ways might feel when a woman rejects them yet again, we still don’t owe them that, it isn’t our problem to solve.
Another thing that doesn’t solve it, is men who feel that way seeking out other men who feel that way, and getting angry together, or sharing tips on how to ‘trick’ women into giving them what they think they want.
There needs to be an antidote to that, and that antidote is men teaching other men how to heal, how to be close without being sexual, and how to fucking behave.
It isn’t just the lonely guys who are a problem, it’s the popular guys who have no trouble getting girls but who still find laddy jokes funny. It’s the guys who just aren’t quite there yet and perpetuate harmful bullshit.
Call out unacceptable language when it’s used, call out rape jokes, call out the braggy stories and explain how that’s no way to treat women. Call out the anger at rejection, call out entitlement, call out the ‘small’ incidents that are part of a much bigger problem.
It isn’t enough to not assault women, it’s up to men to teach other men how to behave. Sort out your mates. And maybe one day we can live in a world that’s better for everyone.