So last night, this happened.
At what point have I invited attention here? Or is it the case that I’ve got my head down, keys between my fingers in my pocket, ignoring my boyfriend’s text messages lest I become distracted and vulnerable, trying to simply get the fuck home? It doesn’t matter, because as a woman on the street – a public space and by default a male space – I’m fair game.
The narrative between my female friends and I is tedious and exhausting. ‘I’m sorry you had to go through that’, we say with almost weekly-regularity. ‘That’s shit’. ‘Are you okay?’ ‘At least you got home safe’. At least you got home safe. Like the entirely feasible and almost unsurprising alternative is not getting home safe, and if you’re aware of my back story you’ll know that actually, not getting home safe is a very real and possible outcome. How many men message each other after a night out (or in fact after a bloody movie and a pizza at a friend’s house) with ‘Ah well, at least you got home safe’?
We don’t know what the fuck to say to each other anymore. The above placatory sentences are meaningless. ‘I’m sorry you had to go through that’ is meaningless. Of course I’m sorry my friends had to go through that. Any human female who’s deigned to walk unchaperoned in public has been through that. I’m a human female and the very fact that we’re friends indicates that I can’t tolerate that kind of shit. So… what? An eye-roll emoji? A fucking shrug? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Do we seriously live in a world where our friends message us to say they feared for their safety and we’re like ‘AH WELL. C’EST LA VIE. At least you’re alive’, simply because it happens with such alarming regularity they may as well be talking about the weather?
So we make noise. We make noise about this bullshit in digital spaces and the results are mixed. Take, for example, an episode a few weeks ago when I challenged a man in a garage who deemed me too delicate and precious to put air into my own goddamn car tyres. I was called a hero and a feminist pioneer, but also a liar, a bitch and – tremendously – mentally unstable. The latter insults not just by men either, sadly, but by several women who subscribe to a form of institutionalised misogyny that – hands up – I think we’ve all been prey to at some point (‘I’m not like other girls.’ ‘I prefer to be friends with men because there’s less drama.’ ‘I’m a “cool” girl.’ And so on).
It’s deflating, absorbing the trolling and sexism and hatred that follows openly discussing your own experiences (after all, random strangers know better than you!). Here’s a good example from last night *slow hand clap*.
And here’s a Nice Guy™ who totally missed the point.
And I’m sure more bullshit will follow. But the important thing is that women keep making noise about this. Because until these digital spaces existed in which we now have the opportunity to make noise, this entrenched misogyny was all but invisible to our decent-thinking male friends, unless they witnessed it first-hand. And even then, well… How many times have you gone out wearing a ring on your left hand so men know you’re ‘off limits’? How many times have you gone out with a group of friends and some guy won’t leave you alone so you’ve asked a male friend to pretend to be your boyfriend? And how many times has the perp apologised to your ‘boyfriend’ for his behaviour, instead of you? The silver lining here – faint as it may be – is that in drawing attention to this issue we’re able to create a new awareness among men who don’t subscribe to this entrenched social misogyny. The fact is, they’re the ones with the power to change the situation.
So keep making noise, even if it makes people uncomfortable. Because you know what’s uncomfortable? A large 6’4” man angrily demanding a blow job on a dark street. A man staring at your ass as you inflate your tyres. A man punching you in the face because you’re trying to stop him beating his girlfriend to a pulp. A man smashing your head off a car bonnet simply because he’s having a bad day. Fuck anyone who pushes back against these experiences – and your experiences – because it makes them feel uncomfortable.
Keep making noise.