TW: Sexual assault and violence against women
Dear Men (yes, all Men),
Over the previous weekend – which you may have spent drinking with mates, having a laugh and going out to the valley – four of my closest girlfriends and I spent our Saturday night crying in a room together.
You see, we are all fucking exhausted.
The news coming out of the UK of Sarah Everard’s tragic murder, allegedly at the hands of a London police officer, has spurred an outcry of anger and frustration from women around the world. It has prompted us all to relive our own experiences with violence, sexual assault and harassment.
While our male friends left to go out last Saturday night, my girlfriends and I discussed our own traumatic experiences. We became enraged and disheartened as we soon realised we have all faced similar incidents.
At the start of the night, we angrily voiced our frustration at the patriarchy. By the end of the night, we were unpacking years of suppressed feelings that had been eroding our self-confidence, leaving behind a fractured shell of armor tasked with the impossible job of protecting us against future attacks.
Every woman knows the feeling of walking alone at night, heart racing and blood rushing to our head as we enter a heightened state of adrenaline, ready to protect ourselves if needed. If you don’t know already, there are some very simple tasks you may take for granted. It is habitual for women to walk with keys between our fingers at night, mute our music on public transport, wear comfortable shoes that we can run in when going out, share our location with trusted friends and family before we leave for a date, resist the urge to retaliate when being catcalled or yelled at from a car, prepare ourselves for flight when a group of men walk towards us on the street, and feel discouraged knowing the outfit we want to wear will attract unsolicited leers and comments from random men.
These measures that protect us from being raped are drilled into us from the moment a boy pushes us down and teases us in primary school – which was okay because that was just his way of showing ‘he liked us’. We take on these precautions and the burden that comes with constant threat because it’s our issue, right? We can’t pull you guys up on your behaviour because that will make you feel uncomfortable and, god forbid, we make you uneasy about your problematic actions. We are continually reminded when the endemic issue of violence against women is mentioned that it’s ‘not all men!’
Well I have simply had enough of this. In the past week, I have been reeling from my own trauma along with every other woman, while combating inflammatory statements from men. You aren’t asking ‘what about International Men’s Day?’ because you truly care – if you did you would already know this day is recognised on November 19th. You aren’t exclaiming at every chance you get ‘not all men’ because you want to soften the blow for women. You make these remarks because you feel uncomfortable and you feel threatened.
I know this because this is not a women’s issue. It’s a men’s issue. And it’s yours to solve. I know you feel attacked because you are not perfect – no one is. But you have made misogynistic jokes, and in turn you have laughed at them. You have called us a slut and believed we deserve that label. You have pushed the boundaries when we have said we feel uncomfortable, and consequently blamed us for leading you on. You have bought us drinks at the bar, thinking we are suddenly in debt to you and must owe you our bodies. You have moved your hand back down our pants after we already pushed it away. You have gone about your life misunderstanding that even if you have not actively assaulted a woman you are still benefiting from the system that is oppressing us.
If you can say for certain that you have never done these acts, well, can you answer this question with 100% certainty: where were you when it was happening? Why didn’t you call your friend out when they made a rape joke? Why weren’t you there to tell them to stop saying slut and bitch in any meaning of the word? Why didn’t you educate them that no means no and that can’t be manipulated into a yes? Why didn’t you burst their entitlement when they exacerbated frustration that a drink didn’t get them laid? Why didn’t you report, stop and call out rape culture as it was happening?
For every woman who has had these experiences there is a man who could have prevented it from happening in the first place. The onus should not be on us to not get raped; it should be on you to not rape and to hold other men accountable when they are perpetuating it. Not every rape joke leads to rape, but every rape starts with a problematic comment that none of you pulled them up on.
The perfect man does not exist. You can say that’s inflammatory and generalising but I say you’re wrong. Sweeping statements about men are not hurting you but providing you with nuance is hurting us. I don’t care if all of you are not bad because I don’t have the luxury to decipher between the two. If you were in a pit of snakes where some were venomous, would you take the time to think ‘well, I can’t be rash because not all these snakes will hurt me and it’s not right to hurt the feelings of the ‘good ones’? No! You would find the quickest way out of the pit because they’re fucking snakes!
Even those of you who understand your privilege are still receiving unearned benefits from the current system. You can satisfy the minimum requirements of what it means to be a decent person and yet be praised with a ‘good’ man award.
It is not our job to repair the damage you have caused. I am exhausted. I will not be comforting your egos anymore. I will not sugar coat my words to make this issue more comfortable for you. You need to understand that the burden is on you. So pick up your act and tell the other men around you to do the same.
Sincerely with much frustration,
An ally and survivor