I’ll be honest. I put together a publishing schedule for this blog and Tuesdays is meant to be tutorials. From next week, it’s going to be. When I thought about writing this post, the rules-following part of myself said “no no! We must stick to the schedule! It’s too early to go breaking your own rules. It’ll be anarchy! It’s only your second post to this blog!” But sometimes, as my Godfather once told our congregation when delivering a sermon about money, something is important and you have to talk about it. So I decided to share some things about my own experience that have led to my support of #YesAllWomen.
Some are very upsetting and may be triggering for some of you.
In some cases this will be the first time I’ve ever said anything about them. But several tweets on the hashtag last night pointed out that women being scared to talk about what’s happened to them is part of the problem. That really spoke to me, so here goes.
I am at school, and our popular and well-liked drama teacher is giving us a lesson in which he is the patient in various doctor/patient scenarios. He says “I need a girl for the next one”, and I am thrilled when he picks me out of every other girl in the room, our hands had all shot up. My mother is a doctor, I know I can be good in this scene whatever it is. He proceeds to come on to me, in character of course, in front of the whole class. They all laugh, but it makes me feel deeply uncomfortable and like something has been taken from me. I feel shame, and don’t talk about it, because I can’t articulate what it is that has made me feel that way. I become even more introverted. I am 11 years old.
I am at university, at my second ever university party. I have never even kissed a boy let alone anything else. I get drunk faster than I expect on wine (I’ve had wine plenty of times before, we have it at home, I know how much I can drink), and after I’m done being very ill in the bathroom, a guy I barely know comes and sits with me when I’ve taken myself off to a quiet room to sober up. He starts kissing me. He says he wants to sleep with me. I say no. His response is to kiss me some more and then unzip his fly and put my hand on his erection. It is the first time I have ever touched one. I continue to say no, and he gives up because I’m sobering up fast. I am 19 years old.
I am a British girl in a relationship with a guy from overseas. He keeps fondling me in public- not just my butt, but my breasts too. I tell him it makes me uncomfortable and ask him to stop. He tells me I am “being too English” and that once I’m in New Zealand I’ll get better. I am 25 years old.
I have moved to New Zealand, and the same guy now feels me up whenever he gets home- not because it turns me on (it doesn’t, and I ask him to stop, and tell him it makes me feel like an object), but because he enjoys it. He doesn’t stop doing it. I am 30 years old.
One night, he wants to have sex. I don’t. He guilt trips me into it, but the not wanting to doesn’t change.
After a lot more misery, I leave him. He tells me we have to have sex one last time, that he’s entitled to it because it’s unfair that he didn’t know the last time was the last time, that I should feel guilty for leaving. On the way to the house, I tell him “I don’t want to do this,” and I cry. He ignores it. I know I should turn around and walk away but he has made sure I feel too guilty and like he really is entitled to what he wants, to say no. I am 31 years old.
I am at work, and overhear a conversation between two seemingly well adjusted, respectful guys. “She’s too hot to be a virgin,” says one, and they discuss how “she must have had plenty of offers, she wouldn’t have turned them all down.” As if being attractive means you can’t really withhold your consent. I am 35 years old, and that happened just a month ago.
I have been honked at, had unwanted attention in bars, had passes made at me that I’ve had to shut down. I am extremely glad that not all women have had some of the experiences I’ve had, but #YesAllWomen have had some kind of unwanted attention, physical or just verbal, from men. Not all men. I am priveleged to know many men who are kind, respectful, and horrified by the way some other men treat women. These are the ones who are posting to the hashtag begging their fellow men to learn from what women are sharing. I am lucky, now, to be in a relationship with a man who is incredibly caring and who treats me as an equal and makes me feel absolutely respected. But I know from my experience that not all men are like that.
There’s a lot of discussion about Elliot Rodger, how his view of women wasn’t the only problem, how he had mental health issues. How men treating women better wouldn’t have prevented the shootings.
But the fact is…this is much, much bigger than one troubled misogynist with a gun.
This is about the commenters who blamed women for not sleeping with Rodger, who said it was their fault that he killed people. This is about the Twitter-twats who replied to #YesAllWomen tweets with hatred, foul sexual comments, who tell feminists they need to get themselves a man, or think all lesbians must have been mistreated by a man ‘to make them that way’. We’re underrepresented in films. We’re underrepresented in politics. There is still a gender pay gap. We’re still having debates about equality with men who feel like women being treated as equals will take something away from them. There are still politicians insisting there is such a thing as ‘legitimate rape’. We’re still in a culture that blames women for sexual violence, instead of educating all our young people about consent. Until we- both women and men- change things, #YesAllWomen will have to endure things that nobody should have to endure.
I believe that change is possible. We’re better than this. We can do better. It’s our duty to do better. We can create an equal world where women and men feel safe, respected and valued as people. I believe that #YesAllWomen could be part of that, as it’s a start- making people aware of the sheer scale of the problem. Once you can see how big the problem is, you can start to see ways to chip away at it, to solve it bit by bit. We can do it. I know we can.