Sisters in arms…

I’m tired. To the bone exhausted. It’s been a relentless year, like everyone else I’ve just kept trudging along. This weekend I hit a wall. I doubt I’m alone.

The convergence of Mother’s Day, police violence against women & the flood of abuse/harassment stories that women have been sharing was overwhelming. Especially when I realised how many similar cases of missing or dead WOC I had never even heard of. Women the mainstream media had little interest in. Women who in some cases haven’t even had their death investigated. I’m not shocked by any of this. I know this is the world we live in. The abstract knowledge doesn’t make each individual case less painful. When you combine one’s own pain with the agony of the collective it’s crushing. It never stops. It never changes.

I’m aware that I’m feeling all this from a position of privilege. I have more space & safety to process. The police would likely pay attention to my family if I disappeared. I know my exhaustion is relative, but god, it’s heavy. I wish it were possible to ease the heavier weight I know many are carrying.

I don’t have any new answers. I’ll keep writing to MP’s, protesting, amplifying marginalised voices, putting my money where my mouth is. It’s a struggle to feel hopeful at the moment. So, I’m going add to taking care of myself to that list. I don’t know what that care looks like yet, but I’m working on it. I urge you to take whatever time you can & give yourself a little TLC too.

Illustration of horse, boy,Fox & mole from Charlie Mackesy
Charlie Mackesy

If you enjoy my writing you can support me on Ko-Fi

Red Alert…

The discourse around Sarah Everard’s disappearance has been horribly familiar. The tired victim blaming about where she shouldn’t have walked. The same sinking feeling as the days go by. Duplicate faux shock from men when we recount what life is like for women. The self-same chorus of ‘not all men’. Year after year. Case after case. Victim after victim. It is always the same. None of this is new or surprising. It’s just horribly sad & terribly frightening.

Women aren’t under any illusions about the world we inhabit. We know that we aren’t safe. We’re scared when we walk home alone from the train station. We calculate the threat of each interaction with a man we don’t know. Fashion make shift weapons from handbag contents. The rules are ingrained; no headphones at night, carry your keys, shout fire instead of rape, call me when you’re home! We have been absorbing the message that we are in danger since childhood.

There is no poor decision making. We are simply living our lives. Avoiding all risk isn’t possible. No matter what complex precautions we take, we are exposed. If the journey from my bus stop to my house is along dark, quiet streets then I have no option but to regularly walk alone on dark quiet streets. We don’t have personal escorts, we can’t control who will sit next to us on the train, taking taxis can be cost prohibitive & most cab drivers are men anyway.

Dark,  foggy residential street

We know that ‘not all men’ are dangerous, but we don’t know which ones are. From childhood girls are bombarded with harassment. It never stops. Teachers & drs & bus drivers & our friend’s dad & policemen & strangers on the street & priests & guys in bars & colleagues & friends & lovers. Lots of women aren’t even safe in their own homes. We all have stories of close calls and false alarms. Most is can tell you about the encounters we couldn’t escape too. It is not a revelation that most guys aren’t going to murder us. Knowing that doesn’t change our real fear because often it’s the one you trust who will. The worst case scenario is a reality and we’re reminded of that every single time a man stands too close or lingers too long. We are adding up where this is headed when a creep makes a crude comment or gets aggressive when told no. Here’s the thing that not many men will admit, you know it too. You all know men that you wouldn’t want alone with your sister/daughter/girlfriend. You see those scary men shouting at us on the street and grabbing us in bars. Every time you tell a woman you care about that you’ll see her home or to her car it’s because you are fully cognisant if the threat. The more insidious of you get a kick out knowing you can frighten us without losing plausible deniability. Not all, but definitely enough.

I read a story recently about a guy who got a big cash in hand payment & had to take public transport home with the money. He was on high alert for the whole journey. Everyone looked suspicious. He second guessed his every move. When he relayed how stressful the journey was to his wife, she replied ‘ now you know how I feel everyday’. The solution to this problem isn’t changing female behaviour. Our awareness is at code red. Let’s tackle the predators not prey.

Instead of rushing to shout ‘not me’ men need to listen. They must examine their own complicity & learn what would actually help others feel safer. Challenge your gross friend. Know when your voice is helpful and when it is silencing. Let’s begin to have real conversations about getting more women into key positions. Our criminal justice systems approach to violence against women still needs an overhaul. Perhaps most importantly we all need to think about how we raise our children. The cycle must be broken. Too many women have already been lost.

Stone wall with protect your daughters scored out & educate your sons

If you enjoy my writing you can support me on Ko-Fi

You can’t touch this…

It’s a rainy bank holiday Monday & I’ve decided to have a lazy day. I’m just casually scrolling through Facebook when a post gets my attention. I’m not surprised by the post, it’s nothing new. Nonetheless it makes me feel a tad ragey.

EF584C17-B367-492D-9313-F827DD8FE595
 
My first thoughts run to the sheer entitlement of this man. He wants to do something & no one else’s feelings on the matter count. These thoughts are swiftly followed by exhaustion at constantly having to explain why this is not ok. His dismissal of rape culture as something made up by ‘angry women’ & his total refusal to accept women’s safety concerns are appalling. The problem of course, is that these attitudes are pervasive. Men routinely behave this way.


I am aware that I am not the first woman to raise these issues, but I really think it’s important that we share our experiences. 1 in 5 women in uk have been sexually assualted at some point in their life. To be honest I’m surprised this figure isn’t much higher. Women and girls are harassed daily. It’s infuriating, frightening, humiliating, stressful & so much more. Still girls are told by teachers that ‘boys will boys’ and schools put the onus on what girls wear rather on male behaviour. We are told cat calling is a compliment and police down play our reports of sexual assualt.

Men, it seems have no concept of the female experience. They will never understand the extent of the harassment we endure unless we speak out. Basically, we need to ram it down their throats.

With that in mind I want to share some of the stand out moments of sexual intimidation that I have experienced.

1/ I was approximately 10yrs old & wearing my favourite outfit. It was one of those heat sensitive t shirts that change colour & a velvet skirt. The t shirt reads hotspot, I thought this was the coolest thing ever. At a family gathering an adult, male family friend slaps my bum & says ‘that’s your hotspot’. I was 10yrs old. The incident confused & frightened me so much that I didn’t tell a soul it had happened.

2/ I’m 11 or twelve and have just started secondary school. The boys in my class routinely try to undo girl’s bras through their blouses. I don’t wear a bra yet & so am mercilessly mocked.

3/ That same year myself & a friend are followed off a bus & right to her house by a complete stranger. He’s a middle aged man & we are terrified.

4/ On my way home from school one day a man approaches me & warns me that there is another man playing with himself ahead. A week or so later the same man does the same thing. On speaking to the police it turns out there have been dozens of complaints.

5/ By 15 my flat as a pancake figure has ceased to be. My breast growth has gone into over drive & my boobs are large. My life long battle begins. Boys at school grab me and make crude comments. Adult bus drivers make disgusting comments despite my wearing a school uniform. For the first time I hear the male theory that big breasts mean I am slut.

6/ At some point in my mid teens I go on holiday with a friend’s family. Throughout the holiday my friend’s mother alludes to the size of my breasts & my refusal to hide them under tent like apparel, means that I am not a nice girl.

7/ When I begin clubbing at around 16, I am confronted with the fact that my body is not my own. Men in clubs consider the female form to be fair game. I am groped, slapped, pinched, rubbed against over & over. When I complain I am verbally abused & told I shouldn’t be wearing revealing clothes if I don’t want this. I’m a bitch, slut, frigid, a tease.

8/ I’m 19 and my way to meet a friend for drinks. As I walk down a busy street a group of young teenage boys surround me, shout about my breasts, one boy thrusts his hand into my dress & violently grabs my nipple. None of the passers by make any attempt to help me. When I report this incident to the police, the first question I am asked is what was I wearing. No action is ever taken. I am left feeling dirty & angry.

9/ In my mid twenties I faint at street market. When I come round a man is taking a picture of my cleavage.

10/  I try internet dating & am bombarded with sexual comments. If I ignore these comments I get abusive messages telling me I am rude & stuck up. If I say no thanks, I receive messages telling me what an ugly, fat bitch I am & how dare I reject this prize of a man. Several times I block men only to have them create new accounts so they can continue to abuse me.

11/ At an early post graduation job I must wear a blue shirt provided by my employer. I request the largest size, but it still gapes at the bust. I am summoned to HR to talk about how I am dressed inappropriately.

12/ I am leading a sexual health workshop with teenagers. Their teacher requests my card & then adds ‘you look like you could improve my sexual health’.

13/ By my early 30’s I am thoroughly disgusted with all this abuse. I am collecting my prescription from the chemist when an old man looks me up & down, shouts ‘nice’ & proceeds to squeeze both breasts. I automatically harshly push the man away from me. Later when reporting this to the police I am questioned about how I pushed him, how much force I used & why I hit the man. Again, no action is ever taken.

14/ A man I dated briefly over ten years ago periodically sent pictures of his penis despite me telling him not to. When I blocked him from one way of contacting he found me somewhere else & continued.

These are only a tiny taste of the aggravation I have endured. My experience is by no means unique. So, next time you want to complain about women being on the defensive or not appreciating your advances have a think about why she is reacting that way. Before you laugh at a friend’s unsolicitated comments to a female stranger, consider how much of these ‘compliments’ she must deal with.  Ask the women in your life about their exposure to molestation (verbal or physical). Hopefully a glimpse of the reality of the female experience will alter you view point.