The #yesallwomen hashtag is trending right now in response to yesterday’s shootings in Santa Barbara. The basic details, which I’m not rehashing, can be found here. The event has lit the touch-paper of a society already sick of rape culture and misogyny, and a world that promotes it.
The hashtag is illuminating and essential reading and still going – although probably the people who agree that it’s essential reading are not the ones who necessarily need to read it. It’s not just the stories coming out of it, but the various responses to those stories. You want your eyes opened to the crap that people deal with on a daily basis? Read some of the response to those tweets.
I’m lucky (or narrow-minded) in that my twitter-feed is mostly made up of people who see the world the way I do. I’m not in a job that requires random members of the public to reach out to me, I’m not well-known. I am, essentially, in a little bubble of liberalism where I’ve never had to deal with trolling or threats online – though those two things are one and the same for many women. But the vocal people, the braver ones, deal with shit like being told they should have been raped, will be raped, aren’t worth raping, because they expressed an opinion about something. There are idiots out there saying that yesterday’s shooting is the fault of the blondes – if bitch women had just given him a bit of pussy this never would have happened, but those stuck up bitches. Etc etc. You get the picture.
One tweet in particular struck me, and it was this one:
@MaraWritesStuff what I find especially horrifying about this is how many people only realize they have a story much later
— La Niña (@ashtonraze) May 25, 2014
Because it’s true. It is astonishingly easy in many cases to deal with something that happens and brush it off, and only realise much later on just how wrong it was.
This is my blog, so let’s go with a personal anecdote. A few weeks ago I went to (appropriately, I guess!) a Mean Girls Quotealong with a friend of mine and a friend of hers. We went for lunch first.
These two women are a couple of the most confident people I’ve ever met. They are intelligent, eloquent and they own their sexuality in a way not many of us do. I think they intellectually understand, more than most people, the power and control issues involved in sex.
The conversation turned towards sexism – a mutual friend of theirs has been going through a bad transformation into a Nice Guy Misogynist, saying things to them about the evils of women, and treating them in a way that they are only excusing up to a point because they remember when he wasn’t like that.
From there the conversation moved onto harassment. The evening before my friend had been at an event. On the way home a bloke started shouting after her and commenting on her body. She told him to suck her cock and ignored his follow-up rant about how he was complimenting her and she didn’t deserve his attention anyway. Note: she didn’t ask for his attention, as he followed her down the street. She walked away.
Her friend started relating her experiences with harassment – she mostly dresses in jeans and t-shirts, she said, so that probably helps, but she still gets bothered. I sat and listened because, in group conversations, that’s what I tend to do. Eventually they turned to me. ‘We didn’t ask,’ they said, ‘Do you ever get harassed in the street?’
No, I said. Not really. I felt a bit disconnected from the conversation, actually. I couldn’t think of anything. Maybe it’s because I dress to blend in, I said. Or maybe because my default expression is a scowl? I mean, I had that one time, but it doesn’t happen often. Maybe it’s because I’m not listening when I’m out. (I actively don’t listen. I switch off.)
That one time is the time I was returning from the supermarket on a large, busy street and two drunk blokes walked up to me, on either side, and one of them tried to grab my face. He didn’t say anything, just tried to grab me. I had, luckily, been taking self-defense lessons that month (Krav Maga), which includes keeping an eye on your surroundings, so I was to some extent aware and ready to deal with it. I smacked him off with a move I didn’t realised I’d learnt that well, and walked away fast. I remember someone yelled ‘good on you, girl,’ but I didn’t stop to check who said it.
So I told that story, but Yeah, not often, I said. Then I went home and thought about it.
And then I remembered that time on the bus with my friend, when a middle-aged man sat opposite us and loudly compared our physical attributes, then tried to find out where we were going, where we lived. He tried to engage our male friend, who I don’t think he realised was with us, in the ‘conversation’. He didn’t back off until our male friend told him to.
And those times you’re on public transport and you move your leg so your knee isn’t touching the other person but it seems however you sit they are somehow still taking up all the space and touching you. I learnt fast to be all elbows and jabs on the underground and now I do that without thinking if I need to.
And the times when I’ve been out and someone’s yelled at me, but they do it from a safe distance because I’ve got a wolf on a lead.
And that fact that I feel self-conscious wearing a dress because inevitably there’s a wolf whistle or a comment – as recently as this week – and I hate it. I dress to blend in. I shouldn’t feel better when I’m dressed to avoid being looked at.
And the thing that pisses me off is that my attitude to this, unless it’s an obviously violent situation (the grabbing, the spitting), is just, ‘well, someone hit on me a bit’. But that’s not what it is. That’s not it at all.
There are genuinely nice, un-intrusive approaches. Just people who say, ‘Excuse me, you caught my eye, and I just wanted to say that scarf looks amazing with your hair colour.’ (Actual thing said to me in Leicester Square.) Someone says a nice thing, from a polite distance, and walks away. That’s ok. That’s a world apart from public yelling and covert grabbing.
It’s a crying shame that, apparently, my head lumps them all in together and when someone says to me, ‘Are you ever harassed?’ my automatic response is ‘not really’. Because actually, the answer is yes. But even when I know, intellectually, it’s not right, it’s so normal that it doesn’t even register. It’s a crying shame that that’s normal for a lot of women.
I am not touching, here, on the Western and race factor of the #yesallwomen tag, which will undoubtedly be addressed somewhere, by someone far more qualified than me. It doesn’t sit right that women have, for example, been gang-raped in India this year, but four women being shot in California is what it took to kick this off. But I suppose at least something did.
I’m also wondering whether to even post this. I like to stay below the radar. I don’t want to be able to join in with stories of trolling and online threats, and I’m genuinely concerned that posting this will be a case of putting myself in the firing line. I’m something of a coward.
I saw another tweet that I wanted to close with, but now can’t find. Essentially it said:
‘I’ve been harassed in the street and cat-called, but I’m lucky, because I’ve never been raped or abused. That’s how low the standard is.’
And that’s a wrap.