#MeToo the viral hashtag that has been sweeping the web since early this week. In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s rape allegations, this hashtag has been highlighting the issue of everyday sexism, sexual harassment and assaults, in a bid to show how widespread a problem it is.
For me it produced a slow burn of anger that has crested into a rage. Similar to most women speaking out I too have had the thought “well I’m lucky it wasn’t rape” even more damning and demeaning is the wondering whether I should be grateful for the male attention as I have told so often, I should be.
Grownup me resents that at school I didn’t speak out about the boy who grabbed my arse, cupping it to that his fingers were touching me intimately through my trousers, in order to humiliate me in front of my classmates. Sure, I kicked him for it but I didn’t take it further when I should have. Teaching at least one boy that touching a girl without her permission has consequences. Obviously that’s assuming there would be a consequence for this boy, which in most cases there isn’t. It’s possible that the phrase “Boys will be boys” could have been used. An idea that as a boy he has the right to act on all of his testosterone driven urges and that’s okay. I could have also have been too provocative in my duffel coat, school uniform (trousers not skirt) and sans makeup. I will never know what would have happened because I never reported it, because back then I didn’t know I could. I didn’t know that what had happened constituted as sexual assault. I hadn’t been raped, nothing penetrative has happened. All I knew was that I was touched sexually in a way designed to humiliate me and there was nothing I could do about it.
Young girls today are hopefully being educated better on these subjects as I hope too are young boys. It still surprises me though that some men are completely unaware that some of their behaviour is threatening. That a women has to think about walking anywhere alone as night as some sort of military manoeuvre. Shortest route vs. the most well lit path along main roads. Using keys between the fingers as a makeshift weapon. Knowing that if cornered or attacked screaming “Fire!” is more effective than “Rape!” Having your mobile phone in an easy to reach place and making sure it’s charged before going out. All these things just for walking alone at night.
The incident at school is not the only assault I have suffered through. As countless women will tell you there is very rarely just one instance of harassment or assault but rather, sometimes a daily minefield. My most terrifying was a huge guy in a club grabbing me as I was on my way to the bathroom. I was 18 at the time and had finished work in a bar in the town centre at 2am. I had been invited to go to another club after work and so I went, still wearing my black shirt and trousers from work. I’d been there for a while and had a few drinks, resulting in my needing the toilet. So off I went. On my way I was grabbed by a large guy. I’m 5ft 3″ most guys are large guys compared to me. He trapped my against a wall and began to tell me how pretty I was and how he would love to dance with me, and kiss me, and how I should stick around. I politely declined. I was on my way to the bathroom and had a boyfriend already. Thank you. Good Night. All very civilised way to disengage, not designed to anger this man in anyway. Even going so far as to thank him for the attention before I disappeared. Any way to get out of their safely. Unfortunately this does not always work. I was still trapped, politely trying to get away without making a scene. I spotted a female bouncer and tried to get her attention, tried to communicate silently that I wanted help to get away. I was shrugged off and left to fend for myself. Instead the guy started to grind himself against me and I tried desperately to get someone’s attention. He grabbed my face and kissed me, eventually he stopped and asked me to come back after I had been to the bathroom. I walked straight out of the club crying, my heart pounding. I felt guilty that I had let that happen. That I hadn’t done more to stop it. had hoped that he would leave me alone when I said no. I still feel ashamed to this day that I didn’t do more then. At 18 I was still too naive.
More recently, a guy I happened to glance over at a bar on a staffs work night out decided to plop himself onto the seat next to me at our table. I was sat with several guys from the office talking. The man was drunk, he was slurring and you could smell the alcohol. I didn’t look at him, I angled my body away. I crossed my arms. All the cues that I was not happy with him being sat there. The man shook the hands of the guys. He decided that he didn’t want a handshake from me. I glanced at him just in time to see his face looming, lips puckered, aiming to kiss my face. I finally did what I should have done back then. I put my hand up and said “No”. The guy had the gall to ask why I’d stopped him and I said “because it is sexual assault.” I will never forget his response. “I’m sorry that you feel that way”. I’m sorry that you feel that way, because I am supposed to be grateful that a strange man wants to kiss me. What hurt more though is that the men around me stayed silent. Not one came to my defence. I got up and went to the bathroom to escape hoping that when I came out he was gone. One of my female colleagues who had witnessed the whole thing went to the bar and told the bar staff and asked for his removal. When he had left and I had resumed my seat one of my male colleagues told me “he’s probably just drunk and lonely.” That’s what I should take away, that because a man is drunk and lonely he has every right to try and kiss a stranger who has barely acknowledged him. I left soon after to go home to my boyfriend who is just as angry with that reasoning as I am.
These are just the tip of my #MeToo stories, there are more but we would be here all night if I were to recount every time I had been catcalled, propositioned or inappropriately touched and grabbed. Ladies if you are reading this and have similar stories, speak out if you are able to, because we have let these trespasses slide for too long. Men if you are reading this and thinking “stop whining”, put yourself in our shoes and think if you would enjoy it. If you’re a man who has experienced this kind of behaviour please speak out, because it shouldn’t only work one way.