Letting You is not Consent

Writing doesn’t solve anything on a grand scale, but it does lift a little heaviness from my heart, and it’s really heavy at the moment.  I thought I’d start off with a topic that has had particular relevance to me this week.

Last week, audio footage was released of Donald Trump talking to ‘friends’ in 2005, about women. I say ‘talking’. I mean verbally brutalising. He talked about how his fame gives him a free pass to do whatever he wants to women. He talked about not giving women a chance to say no, because he just lunges straight in and kisses them, or ‘grabs their pussy.’ The other men with him concur tacitly that it’s brilliant.

Apologists have called this ‘locker room banter’. They say that all men think and talk like this, and if you don’t think they do, you’re naive. They say that the women Trump was talking about consented because he says on the tape that because he is famous they ‘let’ him do this to them. They say that women also talk like this about men, and we who are angry about this should get over ourselves.

I say that if you cannot see the difference between banter and an admission that you physically and sexually manhandled a woman without asking her if she was ok with it, then there is something wrong with you. That isn’t banter, that’s assault. There’s no ambiguity there.

I say that if you think women ‘let’ you do this to them, you are not understanding the fact that in this scenario, there was no option to do anything else. I would also point out that many women would be too shocked to retaliate, or frightened, or simply physically weaker and therefore unable to not ‘let’ you. Sometimes, for a woman, ‘letting’ someone do these things to them is the difference between life and death, and that’s not an exaggeration.

You seem to think that ‘letting’ someone do something is consent. It is not. It is often the only thing that is left to you after your consent has been ignored or denied.

I say that if you still cannot see the connection between what men say to each other about women and how that can have a direct and detrimental effect on how they actually treat women, you are deluding yourself.

I say that I have never, not once, spoken about a man, or a woman in those terms or ever thought it was appropriate to walk over and grab someone’s genitals without their consent. I have never felt it was my god given right to sexualise another person to the point where they become an object to satisfy my desire. I have never felt that my own pleasure overrides and denies someone else’s humanity.

I don’t know anyone else who has either, and if I were to meet someone like that, I would report them.

And before we get to the implications that this means I am a dried up, joyless husk of a woman who probably needs a good shag to loosen me up, I’d point out that I fucking love sex. I just prefer it to be consensual.

Over the weekend, author, Kelly Oxford asked women to tweet her using the hashtag #NotOkay if they had experienced sexual harassment/assault. She wanted to highlight that this stuff is not just ‘banter.’ She expected to get a few hundred tweets. She has received multiple tweets from women every second since she posted her request. On Saturday she got 9.7 million responses.

And still people are apologising for Trump and people like Trump. Banter implies something funny. This is not funny. This is obscene. Trump is not just talking. He talks the talk and the coding of it as ‘just banter’ allows him and others like him to walk the walk. Trivialising this as normal, denying that there is a link between how we perceive women, how we talk about women and how we behave towards women justifies and strengthens the bridge between talking about ‘grabbing pussy’ and doing it.

On Saturday, I had to take Oscar to a party.  I didn’t really have enough time to go home before I had to pick him up, so I did a little shopping, and wandered back to get him at half past two. It was half past two on a Saturday afternoon, in full daylight  on a busy shopping day. I turned into the street where the venue was, and walked through a group of men, hanging out, outside a cafe. There were about fifteen blokes there, standing on both sides of the street, clogging up the pavements. I walked between them in the middle of the road. Every eye was on me. All conversation stopped, and just as I got past them, the whistling and cat calling started. And the laughing. They were having fun. Just a bit of cafe banter. Just what all men do.

And I dealt with it, like I’ve always dealt with these things. I held my head up high. I ignored them. I walked past as if they didn’t exist.

And inside my chest, my heart was beating like a scared rabbit.

Because still, after all these years, you just can’t tell how it’s going to pan out. I wasn’t being provocative. I wasn’t being stupid. I wasn’t ‘asking for it’, and I say this with disgust because as far as I’m concerned, nobody is asking for it, but you know, there will always be the apologists who’ve decided that you deserved it because you were doing something you shouldn’t.  Someone I spoke to about it over the weekend implied that even though it was gross and terrible, at least it was an acknowledgment that I was sexy.

How do I even answer that? I get that they were trying to help, trying to give me a shred of something positive out of a horrible experience, but the fact is that it isn’t a help at all. It’s not their fault, by the way. It’s difficult to talk about these things. It’s like talking about bereavement. You struggle for the right thing to say, and sometimes, in an attempt to be kind, you say the wrong thing, and you don’t mean it. I get that, but it only highlights just how much we need to change as a society, so that being able to say the right thing isn’t difficult.

I accept that we as a species are supposed to find each other sexy. Otherwise we would never procreate. I do not accept that it is a person’s inviolable right to shove their sexual appetites in a person’s face if they don’t want it. I find Brad Pitt sexy. Even if I were to meet him I am never going to a) start wolf whistling him and clicking my tongue at him as he walks into the room or b) grab him by the genitals to show my full appreciation of the fact that I wouldn’t kick him out of bed. I don’t even eye up random strangers on the street and shout ‘Look at the packet on that!’ Because sexual attraction is fine, but sexual harassment is not.

I find it horrifying that people think we should be flattered enough to ignore what is essentially abuse just because someone has decided to verbalise that they find us physically attractive. Get this. It isn’t flattering. It’s creepy. It’s gross and it’s unacceptable.

How could it be that in 2016,  when I was on my way to pick my son up from a children’s party, I was still worried that what started out as verbal abuse, could get physical? What will I do? Was the panic stricken thought running through my head as I walked through them.   One woman against fifteen men. I would have stood no chance. Do you think anyone would have stopped to help? I very much doubt it. I wouldn’t have been able to not ‘let’ them touch me.

My ex-husband believes that the answer is that women should be trained in martial arts. He took Tilly to a four day course in Dublin to learn to protect herself. He doesn’t understand my frustration about this. He sees it as a practical solution to a problem. It is, but why aren’t we teaching men and boys to stop doing this, instead of teaching women and girls how to defend themselves against it? It makes me weep with rage and frustration.

It should not be normal that even walking the short distance between the pub and my house on a Tuesday night after pub quiz, that if I’m on my own I automatically slip my keys between my knuckles as an effective gouging tool, and never let my phone leave my hand, just in case I need to hit the emergency button.

It should not be normal that I had to use the @everydaysexism account this weekend.

It should not be normal that this morning when I checked Twitter, these two tweets were in my timeline from that same account.

‘Tonight after an event about Girl Up, a girl came up and said : “I’m 14 and in the past year I’ve been asked for naked photos 10 times”

At another Girl Up event an 8 year old girl came up with her mum and simply said: “I got my first unwanted dick pic a year ago”

It should not be normal that the majority of the outrage I’ve seen from men with regard to this weekend’s behaviour is largely: ‘This is disrespectful to my wife/daughter’. How about if it were disrespectful to women who you don’t talk about as if they were your belongings?

How about if you just felt it was ok to get angry about the fact that this is happening to women, and it is disrespectful to humanity, of which we should all be an equal part?

44 responses to “Letting You is not Consent

  1. Absolutely spot on. Thank you for saying what I at least am thinking.

  2. It makes me weep that this post is still necessary. I was so optimistic as a teenager discovering feminism. Thank you for your voice and strength.

  3. here here – just what I said myself the other day – I am glad to be slightly older and past the age when any men are likely to pay me any attention – but isn’t that terrible to feel like that – want to share this to the whole world – of men of course but also to women who themselves are conditioned to accept these narratives about men and unacceptable behaviour and attitudes

  4. Hi Katy, is it ok if I share this post of yours on facebook? (friends only – not “public” – although it’s possible that some of my friends may then share it more widely.)

  5. I can safely say that in 50 years as a male member of the human species i never talked in any such way about women, or people in general.
    Talking this way shows the complete lack of empathy Trump has. He is an egomaniac that never had to learn to actualy take other people into consideration as the persons they are.
    The realy sad part is that Trump is just the top of the poop pile here, the fundament is a huge number of, mostly male, people that are equaly without empathy and think that might is right. As long as these people are not called out and kicked in the butt it will not get much better and Idiots like Trump will have their supporters 😦
    How any women can actually vote for him or even worse work on his capaign is a complete mystery to me.

    • It is astonishing that I’ve seen women defending him. My mind can’t wrap itself round this notion at all.

    • And yet in the States a young unconscious girl was mass raped and videoed by the town’s young sports heroes. When it came to court, even with the video evidence , the mothers of the boys, the mothers of the other boys on the town team, were in court to support the boys, saying their lives would be ruined if the prosecution were to succeed. The girl and her family were basically drummed out of the area for ruining the town’s football team. (Steubenville High School 2012) This is the final outcome of the kind of locker room talk, and more, that Trump indulges in. (There is a woman who came forward, three years ago now, and accused Trump of this sexual assault and was not believed. There is a 13 year old girl in New York who is claiming Trump had sex with her. The trial is slowly coming to court but no one is reporting it. )

      Please don’t tell me that this type of conversation doesn’t go on. In my time at university, I was the only female studying Physics, I was treated as one of the guys. I got to hear first hand what engineering types say about women, what they think is acceptable to dream of doing to women. This is small fry in comparison.

      When JRR Martin’s book Game of Thrones is the all time most popular TV series even when he writes of rapes of child girls, of dismemberment of girls by swords cutting them up starting at their innocent vaginas, of the sell out of children into marriage totally abhorrent to them, of two roles for women in society, the wife/mother legitimized by having a husband/son or a whore, where even the supposedly most powerful dragon controller has to be constantly vigilant against rightful misogyny, you know that the backlash against feminism, #notallmen, is still on course.

  6. This is brilliant (as always.) I have shared on Facebook but really it should be on the national curriculum. Thank you xx

  7. I’m really ashamed to be the same sex as this ‘man’. Sadly there are many low life males in the world but astonishingly this one is still (as far as I know) in the race to be the most powerful man on Earth.

  8. Katy,

    Well said. It all needed saying; well, almost all. Rightly, your blog has a good following; mostly women, I assume. They will listen to you and follow what you say. I applaud that. It is because of that , that I object strongly to one important sentence in the above. In describing abusive behaviour you added, “Just what all men do.”

    It is not true that all men behave in that way. I, for one, deplore Trump’s behaviour. In their TV debate, was appalled by Clinton letting him off the hook when he said that all he used were words, ‘locker room banter”. What his words described was his physical, sexual abuse. Physical or words only; in my view equally unacceptable.

    Please assure your readers that very many men are decent people.

    • Hi, I’m very careful to state all the way through that I am referring to men like Trump and men who think in a certain mind set. The context for the sentence I used inferred that the men who treated me like this at the weekend think that this is how all men treat women. And you know, I have a dad and a husband and a son, and I am always very mindful of respecting the fact that not all men do this, say this, think this, but perhaps it shouldn’t be my job. Perhaps men need to start using the platforms they have to reassure women that it isn’t all men too. x

      • Nicely sidestepped, Katy. You didn’t make it clear that you were referring only to men with a Trump mindset, or I wouldn’t have commented. The sentence I quoted was clear, all-inclusive and unambiguous. It was certainly not taken out of context. Perhaps a little more care is needed when trying to make inferences.

        Meanwhile, carry on the good work.

      • Look. Think what you want. I reread it in light of your comment. I always endeavour to be even handed and if I think a criticism is fair I take it in the chin. You have been reading me long enough to know that. I’m not critical of of all men and I don’t feel I have side stepped anything. If you do, good for you

    • That was not how i read it at all. It was just a description of the mindset of those man at the time.

  9. Your words resonate powerfully with me. I have been terrified many times in my life by those males who believe they have had the right to touch me. I still shake, at the age of 70, just remembering it. I made the mistake of following fashion, when I was young, and wearing hot pants. A man twanged an elastic band against my leg and laughed. He said it was my fault for wearing those clothes. After that, I would always dress ‘invisibly’. It made not the slightest bit of difference.

  10. Thanks for articulating this so well. For
    me most insidiously evil aspect is that they make us take on their shame. And as you describe, you can’t just go about your life, you have to always be aware of your surroundings. I bloody hate feeling I don’t have the intrinsic right to feel safe.

  11. Well put, and sadly all to true. Not sure if you’ve looked at my blog, but you may find chapter 2 of my memoir on there of interest. It was written in 1992 and is probably as relevant now as then. Some social change seems to move at glacial speed.

  12. Well written and you’re totally right on all counts. And I can’t believe that one of the benefits of aging has become ‘not to be whistled at’…. Unbelievable that some women feel validated by such a behaviour. Women should not be educated to defend themselves all the time, but we should educate little girls to have self-confidence, self-esteem and self-respect in order to have another response to such male behaviour


  13. Maybe this link will cheer you up a little.
    I too am terribly upset and I am comforted by your well expressed rage. It is nice to not be alone.

  14. Well said Katy – ‘banter’ – I don’t think so. And I won’t even start on the role of social media that endorses this behaviour…..

  15. You have as always, totally hit the nail on the head. I too cannot get my head round how people can, not only be apologists for Trump, they still support him – the man is utterly repulsive.

  16. Well said. It drove me mad when people were implying the stuff Trump said was no big deal, just “locker room talk” and that all men speak that way. That’s an example of rape culture right there and talking about assaulting women as a joke is not ok

  17. Well said. Something similar to what DT described happened to me once, I was 25 and walking through a crowded part of Liverpool, going between the bars on a night out, a man walking towards me stuck his hand up the front of my dress. I think back now and I half can’t believe I didn’t flip but I know that the reason I didn’t is because it’d have been brushed off as banter, I’d have been accused of not being able to have a laugh and probably admonished for wearing such a short dress.

  18. I saw this animation shared on facebook recently…I think it’s a really good way of thinking about consent

  19. Oh man, thanks for posting this–yes, why not teach the boys that this is not okay? why does it always have to fall on the woman. It’s funny (not) how people scoff at middle eastern societies and get crazy about the “honor killings” in some of them, that a woman is responsible for the honor in the family, so if something happens it’s her fault. Yet we think nothing of blaming the victim in the West, too–hmm…I know some racists who’d hate me for making that comparison, but it’s true. the women have to be on guard and defensive all the time (and some men as well, we can’t forget that), and if they trust someone and get hurt, it’s their own fault. I’m sick of that crap.

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