Usually, identity politics makes me roll my eyes. The idea that a certain amount of empathy or understanding on an issue is absolutely split due to melanin levels, economics, sexuality and religion is beyond daft.
The person who empathised with my experience of homophobia most was by far a straight middle-aged man. I strongly believe that who cares most about you, or about listening to you, has absolutely no bearing on any identity label, but on how good a listener they are.
However, – and this is a big however- men who dismiss my experiences because of what they have ‘observed’ or done themselves, really, really irritates me. Unless you follow me around every single day, intimately and completely, you really don’t know what happens. (Please don’t, by the way.)
There is nothing more frustrating than being responded to with ‘that’s just one idiot’ or ‘I’ve never done that.’ This isn’t about you. Chances are that you are one of the normal, decent people who inhabit this island as law-abidingly as anyone else.
When I complain about the fear, stress and anger I feel when being harassed, assaulted or catcalled, the last thing I want to hear is how your feelings are hurt by me discussing it. You really should be offended by the way these men make women feel, not the fact women are opening up about it. If you respond to this article with ‘men get catcalled too,’ then please feel free to focus on that demographic. I’m not looking into that here; as women are by and large the biggest subject to public sexualisation and abuse.
What frustrates me most about sexual abuse and harassment isn’t the harassment itself. If a man grabs at you, touches you inappropriately, or demands sexual attention from you, you experience it and that’s it. What doesn’t move on is the fear and stress of experiencing it again. And you, as guys, probably don’t often have to dwell on how far this infiltrates into our lives. Find me a woman who hasn’t been affected by the almost constant suspicion of further harassment: from changing what we wear to taking precautions in most social situations, there are things we have to do that British men simply don’t.
You might be the nicest guy on the planet, but you don’t know what it’s like to be a small female out at night, not knowing whether the six foot strong man whistling at you is following you or simply taking the same path.
You don’t know what it’s like to wonder if the guy you have become friends with is going to sexually assault you if you give off the wrong signals. You don’t know what it’s like to change your top because you might attract men who could harass or assault you. You don’t know what it’s like always letting all your friends know where you are going with a man just in case, however small, he assaults and murders you. You never had to sit in the car with your mum at thirteen being told that you need to start covering up your body more because ‘bad men might hurt you.’ You don’t know what it’s like to start taking judo classes as a child because your parents are worried that you look older than you are. You don’t know what it’s like to feel ashamed and scared when that builder tells his coworkers how he imagines having sex with you would be like. These are all things that you don’t have to worry about or even acknowledge.
I’m not blaming you for any of this. You are as responsible for this culture of fear as I am, and I don’t consider myself more of a victim of it than any other woman. Of course, the chances of men assaulting me are pretty low, but in a world where I attract looks and comments every day that make me feel vulnerable and scared, I take precautions to avoid it. A lot of women do.
All I am asking for you to do is to listen to a woman about what she experiences instead of dismissing it as ‘just one guy’ or getting upset because you come under the demographic that commits the assault. She’s not attacking you, she’s trying to change the system where she feels so scared.
Even if you don’t believe us because you’ve never seen it, please just listen.
It might give you an insight into why we are so angry.