Did you read the title and think “Don’t do that”? Would you have thought that if I was a guy?
I just read this story about sexual abuse. And I wasn’t going to comment, because nothing too bad has ever happened to me.
I mean obviously, there were all the times in senior school, when I was eleven or twelve, that men tried to chat me up at bus stops. Too many to remember, although one in particular stands out for asking me to guess all the things he wanted to do to me. I wanted to get away, but it was the bus stop I got off at and my mum was meeting me there. I ran to the car when she arrived.
I’ve had men rub up against me or grab my butt more times than I can remember on the Tube, coming home late at night. Sometimes I had been out with friends and was dressed up, sometimes I’d been at work and was in a suit. Sometimes it wasn’t late at night, just crowded enough for someone to get away with it. Christmas shopping crowds are a pain in the butt, literally.
It was a bit scary the time I went out with a group of female friends in London for New Year’s Eve. About ten of us in a line, trying to weave through the crowds to where we were going, holding hands so that we didn’t get separated. I was last in the line, because no one else wanted to be. One guy grabbed me by the crotch and literally lifted me off the ground, trying to drag me away from my friend. He was with a group of about five or six men, so I was clinging on to my friend’s hand trying not to be dragged away, and she was clinging on to me and the person in front of her, trying to get the line to stop and come help me. That was quite scary.
But the scariest bit is that this is all routine. So many women I know have the same sort of stories. It hasn’t happened to them once – it happens regularly. We just don’t go out at night, or don’t go out alone, we self-censor our lives. Being in a pub or bar alone – dangerous. Being in a crowd alone – dangerous. Travelling at night alone – dangerous. Going to a club alone – wouldn’t even think of it.
Men sometimes make fun of this. Women – always hang about in groups at a club. Women, always going to the toilet together. Women, walking each other to a taxi rank. Aren’t they supportive? Aren’t they gossipy? Aren’t they silly?
No, we’re not silly. We’re afraid. And all the harassment and abuse is just there to remind us that we do need to be. If we venture out alone, if we’re over-confident, bad things happen. I don’t think men, even really supportive feminist guys, really have a clue how deeply ingrained in our behaviour this stuff is. And it all starts with these accounts of abuse that you’re reading, happening when we’re still children, that show us that we’re not safe alone.