Please note that this post includes information and discussion of sexual assault that some readers may find distressing.
Come in, come in, Sorry we’re running a little bit late. Have a seat.
Shut the door behind you.
I think it’s time we had a little chat, don’t you?
It’s 2019. Women have, although not universally, the right to vote. To own property and businesses, to have financial independence. A mere 28 years ago, it was finally decreed that yes, actually, it is illegal for you to force your wives to have sex with you. Imagine!
Things are looking up a little. It’s been a long, uphill battle, and whilst you may lazily assume that our ability to leave the house unsupervised equates an even playing field between the sexes, it’s far from it. When was the last time you spoke to a woman you know and asked what it’s really like being a woman in 2019?
I ask because whilst on paper things appear to be heading more towards gender equality, the everyday lived experience of those who identify as women, is still littered with unpleasant interactions with men at best, and at worst, constant, fraught danger.
Welcome! Please check your privilege
I wonder if you actually realise you’re doing it? Do you fully understand what it’s like for you, particularly straight, cis, white men, to walk around holding more innate privilege than anyone else on the planet? It’s so ingrained into our culture and socialisation that your awareness seems unlikely. But you aren’t willing to learn, either, are you?
Much as, being a white person, it’s my duty to listen to, understand, and allow space for people of colour, so is yours to listen to women. You’ve been the overbearing, belligerent voice in this conversation for too long.
Ignorance is no longer an excuse, because we’ve been saying it for quite some time. There are so many things to tell you, like, you know, please stop murdering, raping, and beating us. Did you know, for example, that we don’t even like walking around on our own after dark (and sometimes before)? Are you aware that large groups of you make us feel extremely uncomfortable, regardless of your age? When you meet a man for the first time, do you wonder if he’s ever sexually assaulted or harmed anyone? We do. All the time.
Not all men?
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. It doesn’t matter if you nor anyone you know has committed an act of violence towards women – although I will hasten to add that you probably know more perpetrators than you realise. It may not be ‘all men’, but it is all women. Did you think of that?
No, not all women have been the victim of violence or harassment from men. We are all, however, constantly aware of its threat, wondering if or when it might happen. That’s why we use blanket phrases, such as ‘men are trash’, when yet another man does something ridiculous, disgusting, or dangerous. It’s not a personal affront to you. We’re scared, and we’re tired of it.
The actions of not all men affect all women. That’s a fact, and I’m going to say it again: the actions of not all men affect all women. Some women may not even be conscious of it, but it’s drilled into us from such a young age not to go out alone at dark, to watch our drinks, that ‘boys will be boys’.
I tweeted something to this effect recently, and was met with some derision. I was surprised to encounter a ‘not all women’ parade, where I was derided for ‘speaking for all women’. Okay, so we don’t visibly quake or burst into tears at the mere sight of a man. I refuse to accept, though, that there are women out there who have never considered the consistent and significant threat that men pose to our very existence. I don’t buy that some women aren’t scared, or have never been.
When we worry about someone breaking into our houses as we sleep, what does that perpetrator look like? If we’re scared of walking alone at night, why is that? Who are we scared of?
Maybe some people haven’t joined the dots, but I stand by my assumption that as women, men have us on our guard even if we don’t realise it. Someone, in response, asked if it was more to do with the uncertainty, the threat, but not knowing exactly who the threat was.
That’s a great way to frame it. We might not be scared of every man we meet, but we know that there’s a threat, We just don’t know where it’s coming from.
Thinking on that, then, don’t take it personally when a woman calls you out for something. Listen to her, and remember to do better in future. Whether you’ve ever directly violated a woman’s space or not, your passivity is part of the problem. Why is it always us telling you to behave? Why aren’t you saying it to each other?
Consistent and present danger
An example of the consistent and present danger of which we’re aware that you may not be: in the year ending March 2017, 3.1% of women and 0.8% of men aged 16 to 59 in the UK were thought to have experienced sexual assault in that time. Overall it’s estimated that 20% of women and 4% of men in the UK over 16 have experienced sexual assault. Women were more likely to be assaulted by a partner or ex-partner than anyone else.
The way we go on about it, you’d think it was 100%, wouldn’t you? The experiences of those women and men, however, ripple through us all. We don’t share their individual pain, but we do share that common wariness, the inherent distrust.
The nuance of experience
The figures above notably don’t include children, nor does it identify the most common perpetrator. Anecdotally, though, as I’m sure you might realise, the answer is men.
Again, I’m not saying that people who aren’t men aren’t capable of terrible things; they are. You can (and should, when context allows) argue as much as you like about male victims of assault and domestic violence, but the figures speak for themselves. It is far more likely that a woman will be the victim and a man the perpetrator.
Another handy hint here is, when you jump into a conversation about assaults on women with ‘But it happens to men, too!’ you’re actually decentering the argument from women and focusing it back onto men. I’ve never engaged in a conversation where anyone has tried to deny that male victims exist. The conversation is usually representative of the innate and ongoing fear that women have of men, which I’m sorry to say, you don’t have of each other nor of women.
To reiterate: male victims are important, and chronically unheard. It’s great that so many of you seem to understand that, so why don’t you understand it when we talk about it? Is it because it happens to us so much we’re just supposed to, what, get used to it?
Aggression towards women doesn’t always come in the form of physical or sexual assault, either. That might be a bit of a mind-blower for you; ‘I’ve never raped anyone, I’m a good guy!’ Wrong. Sorry, my guy, but you don’t get a medal for engaging in the basic human decency of not attacking women. Nor do you get a prize or any recognition for being nice to a woman. It’s just normal human behaviour. Stop expecting rewards for things the rest of us do without question.
“But I’m a nice guy!”
You ever hear of the ‘friend zone’? It’s where men (typically, but not exclusively) say they end up when they try to woo a woman but she isn’t interested. Instead, they are relegated to being merely friends. Quite why a woman would want to remain friends with a man whose sole interest until that point was to sexually pursue her I don’t know, but never mind.
Your reward for being a decent human being is not a woman. We are not prizes for you to earn by displaying good behaviour. Either we like you or we don’t. The friend zone does admittedly work both ways, but I think what we all need to remember is that it is perfectly legitimate not to want to sleep with someone just because you get on or they’re nice to you.
I was ‘friend zoned’ when I was eighteen. Do you know what I didn’t do? I didn’t leap onto Facebook, Instagram, or Reddit to complain about how nice I was to this person only for them to cruelly reject me. I dusted myself off, actually remained friends with that person, and went about my life. The end. That’s all that needed to happen.
Further, women ‘friend zoning’ men might come from a different place: fear. Maybe we want to let you down gently because we’re scared of what you’ll do if we flat out reject you. Dependent on our relationship to you, declining romantic interests can be difficult. I mean, even strangers on the internet or at a bar can’t take a hint.
Have you ever pursued a woman just a little too hard? That’s an act of aggression. It’s unpleasant and violating. If she’s said she’s not interested, why do you carry on? Why does it take, for example, a woman to exasperatedly make up a boyfriend for you to leave her alone? Why do you value his ‘property’ over her actual feelings?
Of course there are distinctions here, and we can all get a little carried away with an exciting new crush or whatever. The difference? A ‘no’ from a man is just that. We back off, cringe our way through telling our friends, and move on. A ‘no’ from a woman, though, what does that mean to you?
No means no?
A recent example. I was talking to a gentleman online who seemed nice enough at first, but it didn’t take him long to express his interest in me sexually. Wonderful. There’s expressing an interest, though, and then there’s this guy. I flat out told him on more than one occasion that it wasn’t going to happen, which he’d seemingly accept but then always find a way to bring the subject back up.
After the rebuttals, sick of being ignored, I laid it down for him in plain English. I don’t know you. I don’t want to meet you. NO. If that’s all you’ve got to talk to me about, move on. He explained his intentions, apologised, and we agreed no hard feelings. I offered some advice: ‘If someone repeatedly tells you no, don’t keep bringing it up’. I hear you, he says.
Moments later: ‘I still want to kiss you, though.’
Sorry? What? I still haven’t responded to that because, well, what’s the point? Apparently, no means no until I can be persuaded otherwise.
Content with consent
Let’s delve into that a little bit, shall we? Consent. It’s something that, surprisingly enough is always required for any type of sexual activity, and yet this only seems to be seeping into public consciousness now. When I say any kind of sexual activity, that’s precisely what I mean. Alright, some of you may now understand that consent for intercourse can’t be granted if your intended partner is unconscious or inebriated. Congratulations.
Are you aware, though, that before you send a stranger on the internet a picture of your disgusting penis, you should obtain consent? And further to that, if the intended recipient doesn’t consent to seeing it, you shouldn’t send it?
Do you know that consent isn’t something you can gain by wearing someone down? Do you really want someone to engage with you, in person or virtually, with a , “Fine, whatever”, rather than an enthusiastic, “Yes, that sounds great!”? Even the implication of sexual intimacy shouldn’t be taken so lightly as to belligerently be the conversational aggressor. If someone isn’t interested, stop trying to persuade them otherwise.
These micro-aggressions make up significant parts of our lived experience. They aren’t one-offs, for the most part. Cumulative micro-aggression, unchecked, is harmful.
We’re for, not against
I’ll jump back slightly to an earlier point about male victims of abuse. By outlining our experiences, we aren’t ignoring them. We’re including them. As I said, it’s great that you understand how difficult it is for men to come forward about that sort of thing. It’s hard for women, too, even though there are more of us.
Feminism isn’t about erasing male voices. Feminism isn’t a dirty word, and actually, by attempting to dismantle inherent patriarchal structures we’re trying to help you, as well. Toxic masculinity – the expectations of masculinity that erase any type of fragility or other human conditions – is as much a part of patriarchy as the oppression of women.
Renegotiating the status quo and outdated gender expectations isn’t a radical uprising intended to usurp you. It’s about the betterment of everyone.
I’m not writing this with the intent to upset anyone, although I’m sure it will. I’m writing it, actually, because of recent experiences I’ve heard of or been through myself. I don’t need to have heard these experiences to know that they’re a problem. I don’t need to have experienced abuse myself to know it’s a problem.
An easier context
Consistently, men abuse their power, in whatever context it may be, to get what they want with no regard for the feelings of anyone else. A great way to help you understand what we mean is to consider your own actions and words in the context of women you know.
How would you feel if someone sent a picture of their genitals, entirely unsolicited, to your daughter, your sister, your mum? It’s out of order, right? What about that weirdly persistent guy at the bar who’s hounding your women friends? It’s not pleasant to watch, is it?
Framing your understanding of womens’ experiences and feminism solely by a woman’s relationship to you is actually a pretty poor start, but it works. You shouldn’t have to know a woman to understand that being treated a certain way is at best unpleasant and at worst, dangerous.
We shouldn’t need to be related or known to you for you to understand appropriate behavioural boundaries. By now, you should be able to understand that even if you’ve never met a woman in your life.
But you don’t. So we keep telling you, hoping it’ll sink it.
Wait, there’s more?
Always. This is a tiny tip of the iceberg. Are you shocked? Surprised? Compared to a lot of women, my experiences of harassment are there, sure, but they could have been worse. I could have been killed or assaulted. Instead I survived unharmed. Of course there are more stories than I’ve shared here, my own and countless others.
Worldwide, there are dangerous, harmful practices, regulations, and acts that marginalise, harm, and kill women every day. Female genital mutilation. Using rape as a weapon of war. Refusing women rights to vote, drive, leave their homes unsupervised. If you can’t deal with us pointing out your behaviour, how can you help us counteract systematic and violent oppression all over the world?
If this has made you open your eyes, good. If it’s made you recoil and stutter about how much of a nice guy you are – stop. Just stop. Read it again. Listen to us, and know we aren’t (always) attacking you personally. If you’re asked not to do or say something by a woman, listen. If we’ve called you out, say sorry, and learn from it. Stop trying to defend yourselves, to change the narrative in your favour once more.
The story isn’t over, but your chapter is way, way too long. We don’t want to get rid of you or overrule you. We want to be able to live our lives the way you do – without fear, looking over our shoulders, or being subjected to abuse.
Thanks for listening, if you did. Don’t turn your back or forget what you read. Go and read some more. We’re always capable of learning of change. Don’t be resistant to that. You might be surprised how good it feels.