I come from a long line of men. My dad is one, as is my best friend in the world, my brother. I don’t hate men, I worry for them. Suicide is the biggest killer in men under the age of 45. How can anyone not worry for men.
If they feel sad, unattractive, rejected, it is not socially acceptable for them to run into the toilets crying and if they did, their friends would not run in afterward to reassure them that they are pretty.
Boys are trained from an earlier age to look after the girls. When we were children, my brother was always told, “look after your sister!” When all he wanted to do was stab me with a biro and steal my Wagon Wheel. My gender brings the assumption that I need protecting. From what? The unwanted advances from other men of course. It’s all very Tony Montana (if you don’t get this reference, you have not seen Scarface which makes me worry what on earth HAVE you been doing with your life?).
From when I was a teenager, any time I go out late, male friends say “I’ll walk you home”. It has never been necessary to say out loud that this is to protect me from other men. The kind that wait in the shadows to pounce. But it’s not just strangers who can be that catch-all word, “inappropriate” with us.
Sexism is a hard “ism” to combat. It can come from the closest quarters, from people you work with, love, and sleep with.
We women in turn are trained to protect the feelings of blokes. We trust our male friends and colleagues so when the rug is pulled from under our feet it can be downright impossible to speak up.
Dads of little girls joke at barbecues, “Oh yes. I’ll be there with a shotgun at the door when she’s a teenager!” and everyone ho ho ho’s at the dad’s adorable denial of his daughter’s sexuality and acceptance that men are predators and daughters are helpless against them.
My own little girl doesn’t have a father to shoot men for her. I had her alone and even if I owned a shotgun, I am clumsy and would blow my toe off which would mean I wouldn’t be even able to chase predators away. My plan, therefore, is to drum into her that it’s not her duty to spare a man’s feelings by, just as an example, politely watching him masturbate at a meeting.
You’d think this was obvious, why would you need to pass on this information? Because some men have a ghastly compulsion to do hideous things to women.
Us women are trained to protect men, not make a fuss. I remember it happening in the playground: “Did he kick you? Oh he must like you, he’s just trying to get your attention.”
So we are then in danger of pootling on in life putting up with damaging acts and words. It’s a real nuisance.
Without a doubt there will be some who cry “witch hunt!” and speak of vindictive women who are complaining years after the event. But anyone who has experienced sexual assault can confirm that it’s possible to bury the horror so deep that you can deny it even to yourself. You can read as many magazine articles as you like which tell you it’s not your fault, without addressing the times you have had someone’s abuse of power directed at you. You know that if you speak out you will put yourself up for being called a liar, a drama queen, an opportunist.
It’s easier to stay quiet. It really is. Even as I write this, I’m tiptoeing around my own painful secrets because I don’t want them awakened – but with the recent avalanche of exposures I can’t pretend I do not have an inkling of how brave it is to say something.
What is happening now is people finding strength in numbers and it’s going to change our culture, move us forward. Some will pity the high-profile men being exposed for behaviour which in their environment has been normalised. You broke the camel’s back, guys. Accept it.
It’s terrifying to call a colleague or a friend out on disgraceful behaviour. We are perhaps compassionate. We may tell ourselves it wasn’t serious enough to make a fuss, that what they did isn’t the sum total of who they are so we should “put it down to experience” and spare them the trauma of public disgrace. Perhaps we worry we invited it. We keep quiet and keep it to ourselves until it grinds right down.
I’m going to put my tin hat on and say I feel sorry for the kind of guy who has to expose his knob to get some fleeting relief from his demons. I would also like some kind of medal for writing this without once mentioning Louis CK.
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