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?