*Trigger Warning – mention of rape*
I’ve felt unable to articulate anything recently, with a year-long lockdown that’s brought nothing more than the sense of impending doom, I haven’t found much reason to share my thoughts. That is, until I woke up today to the hashtag trending on twitter “notallmen”. This comes so untastefully after the disappearance of Sarah Everard, who has today been blamed for her own death. A woman who was merely walking home. I don’t know if my words will ever be able to portray the anger and sadness that I, amongst many other people, have felt today around how rife victim blaming still is in today’s society. I know that my words will never bring Justice to Sarah Everard, and all of the other women who have been assaulted or murdered whilst going about their daily life. But I have to try, because there comes a time where silence is betrayal.
You see, it may not be all men. But enough. Enough to make women change their outfit 7 times before leaving the house because they don’t want to be whistled at like a dog. Enough to make mothers tell their daughters not to smile at strangers, it might give them the wrong impression. Enough for women to avoid public transport as much as possible in fear of being harassed. Enough for women to not report rape in fear of being asked what they were wearing or how intoxicated they were at the time. Enough for keys to be held between finger tips in the dark. Enough for rape whistles to be at the ready. Enough for “I’m home safe” texts and location tracking. Enough for 999 to be dialled into your keypad, you know, just in case. Enough for 97% of women to report being sexually harassed. We should be able to live our lives without fear of what’s around the corner. We should be able to walk home without being murdered.
I can’t count on my fingers how many times I’ve felt uncomfortable and helpless in the presence of a man. When I was 15, walking down Bold Street to get the train home, a man groped me from behind and him and his friends walked away sniggering. I was mortified, but boys will be boys, right? I was wearing baggy jeans, an oversized t-shirt and a coat by the way, just in case you were wondering. When I was 19, a man asked me for directions for somewhere in the opposite direction yet still followed me home. I had a panic attack so intense that I could barely run, but I still tried. It’s a good job I was wearing suitable shoes, right? When I was 20, a man sat next to me on the train and complimented my piercings. He then told me that I “must be kinky and like pain”. But I should learn to deal with those comments when I have metal in my face, right?
When I was 21, I had moved to a new job in London. I hopped on a bus one evening to go home, and a man sat next to me and demanded my name because he “liked me”. After politely letting him know I couldn’t talk right now, he shouted down my ear the whole journey and then followed me off the bus. It’s my fault for moving to London on my own as a young woman, right? It’s my fault for using public transport, right? He was visibly angry from a bruised ego, looked me straight in the eye, took his belt off and unzipped his trousers. I don’t like to think about why. I ran up to another man who had also gotten off the bus and told him I was being followed. I asked if I could walk with him. He said no. I can’t put into words the way I felt when I was so terrified of one stranger, that I put my faith into another stranger to help me, and they said no. So I ran. And he ran just as fast. I remember my life flashing before my eyes, petrified at the thought of what would happen if he caught up to me. I swiped my key fob on the door and slammed it behind me, to see his face pressed up against the glass just seconds after it had shut. It’s a good job I lived in a flat with high security, right? The police came to my flat afterwards, and I sobbed as I recorded a statement. Nothing came of it. I didn’t sleep for weeks, isolated myself in the flat as often as I could and feared coming home every day because he knew where I lived. So, you want to know what life as a woman is like? My manager bought me a rape whistle for Christmas. I can’t help but think that if I were a man, I may have gotten some aftershave instead.
So, can we stop congratulating men on not assaulting or harassing women? For something that should be the norm? Men respecting women should be the bare fucking minimum. Too many times have women opened up about rape and somebody has asked “how do we know they’re telling the truth?” or thrown out a bigoted comment about feminism and how women are attention seekers. We don’t want attention, we want you to believe us. We want you to understand the reality of not being able to air our feelings out of fear of being shut down. Any discussion around the topic of rape is quickly painted as a plot against men, because “not all men”. Opening up the conversation for women to finally talk about the pasts that plague them is not a plot against men. It’s a strive towards hope. The first steps to opening up the door to the echo chambers where so many people thrive in naivety. If you are not outraged, then you are not listening. If you think this doesn’t impact you, this impacts 97% of the female population. That’s your daughters, sisters, nieces, friends, colleagues, neighbours. This lives in your community and right under your nose, so don’t tell me you can’t smell the stench of indignity and injustice that is so comfortably imbedded into our society. Don’t turn away.
Have conversations. Educational conversations. Respectful conversations. Uncomfortable conversations. Call out your friends, your loved ones, strangers. Don’t play a part in the normalisation of sexual harassment. If you see someone who needs help, help them. Say yes to the woman who asks to walk with you because she’s being followed. Listen to someone if they tell you about sexual assault, don’t shrug it off. Don’t blame women for the actions of men. Because at the end of the day, the only thing that causes rape, is rapists.
Not all men, but enough for the narrative to so desperately need to change.