Monday, 16 October 2017

Womansplaining #metoo

Inevitably, my Twitter mentions filled with outraged, self-righteous men this afternoon after I had the temerity to tweet with the #metoo hashtag. 


Making people aware of how many girls and women have suffered sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual violence, all manner of intrusions on our personal space, on our bodies, on our dignity does not diminish the pain of male victims. 

It's often hard for women to speak out about sexual abuse, to gather the strength to report sexual offences, to call out the creep at work or on public transport. Making it hard for women when they do speak out makes it harder for male victims to speak out too. "I don't feel I can speak up as a male victim of sexual abuse so I am going to belittle women who speak up!" is completely unconstructive. The cognitive dissonance is astounding. 

For girls and women, there are aspects to the abuses we experience that are, for the most part, our own. Here is a handy checklist of why girls and women needed today, just one solitary day, to be listened to and taken seriously.

- Because of the sheer relentless of it all, the harassment and aggressions that seem minor but are genuinely tiresome, annoying, upsetting and, for so many of us, frequent, just part and parcel of being a woman. 

-  Because we automatically grab our keys and thread the ring over our fingers as a makeshift knuckleduster as we get off the bus or train to walk home, as we walk to our cars, as we walk to our places of work, as we walk anywhere by ourselves.

- Because we tell each other to call or text when we get home safely and panic if someone forgets to call or text.

- Because what starts out as "flattering jealousy" in a relationship can quickly turn to stifling control.

- Because what is perceived as a grand, romantic gesture when people mistake real life for a rom-com can quickly turn to stalking, especially when a woman has decided that a relationship is over.

- Because the workplace creep is routinely laughed off as a bit of a lad when he actually makes women feel uncomfortable, sometimes to the point where they can't face going to work and will quit rather than go through the stress of making a formal complaint or even just telling him to fuck off.

- Because too many of us put up with harassment, inappropriate touching, kerb crawlers - it can just seem easier than constantly calling it out.

- Because it doesn't matter how enlightened a legal system may seem, women are still made to feel as if they asked for it if they are sexually assaulted while drunk, wearing a short dress, wearing a low cut top, walking home alone, wearing shoes that are not conducive to running away...

- Because women are not protected from sexual assault by wearing dowdy clothes, no makeup, long skirts, tracksuits, hijabs, high necklines, pyjamas, baggy trousers, big jumpers, caftans, trainers...

- Because leaving an abusive relationship isn't always as easy as simply walking out the door and can force women and children into poverty.

- Because rich, powerful men can settle out of court to avoid criminal charges, freeing them up to assault and harass again and again.

- Because the mere desire to not make a fuss can be enough to not speak up. 

- Because the real fear of a ruined career can be enough to not speak up.

- Because receiving unsolicited messages from men you've never met is tiresome and creepy.

- Because study after study shows that false reports of sexual assault are rare.

- Because trying to unlock the front door at night in the dark with your back to the street can be a genuinely panicky experience.

- Because sometimes it's the person on the other side of the front door who will harm you.

- Because girls experience sexual harassment in primary school and this is not new, it's not "because of the internet", it happened before smartphones.

- Because a woman may already be struggling on a day-to-day basis with racism, poverty, homophobia, disability, physical or mental health issues and so on and so forth... Dealing with unwanted sexual attention can fall to the bottom of the list of priorities.

Taking women seriously when they talk about their awful experiences paves the way for male victims to do the same, to start their own campaigns, to get justice. No reasonable person is OK with men being sexually assaulted. When women sexually harass and assault men, that is not OK either. It is stunning that this even needs to be said.

And now that women from all over the world have spoken out and shared their experiences, it's up to men to take responsibility for their actions, it's up to parents of boys to not raise empathy-free arseholes who feel entitled to women's attention and to their bodies. And it's time to hold an unflinching mirror up to male violence because, whether it's assaults on men or women, men still make up the overwhelming majority of perpetrators. 


  1. I'm a human trafficking survivor (female, used to be an unpaid underage hooker for someone else's crack money) and I used to think my experience was something unlike anything any male had experienced, but having spoken to enough males have concluded that there are definitively men like me.

  2. The #metoo thing prompted me to recall the (not many) times I've been subject to sexual harassment/groping/assault. And it wasn't ever pleasant and I'd rather it hadn't happened and the perpetrators were in the wrong - but at no point did I ever feel in fear for my life or physical wellbeing. It never stopped me from doing what I wanted, going where I wanted, when I wanted. Because I'm male and that's not what happens. At worst, it spoiled an otherwise pleasant evening. That's the structural difference and that's the problem. The fact that I can remember every incident, rather than them all blurring together in a torrent of nasty, speaks for itself.

    (And yes, obviously, there are men and boys who have suffered serious sexual assault and they deserve all the sympathy and support available but again, that's not the problem under discussion.)