Angry feminist blogpost
Last year, two things prompted me to write a blog post about sexual abuse. One was the fact we got the official letter informing us that we needed to apply for a school place for our eldest kid, the other was a celebrity publishing a memoir centering around his experience of sexual abuse as a child. At the same age this celebrity started being abused (8) I had a year of something similar happen to me, at school. Writing the post was a cathartic experience, but I didn’t publish it. People close to me would be too upset. I didn’t want to have to talk about it with them. For the record, it wasn’t a family member and in the grand scheme of things, it could’ve been worse.
Now, the fact I needed to write ‘it could’ve been worse’ isn’t great, is it? As women, we’re constantly apologising. Qualifying. Minimising. If I make myself really, really small, maybe they’ll leave me alone. Maybe I can live under the radar in peace. Of course, if you’re forever repressing yourself, you end up with this well of rage, somewhere just beneath your ribcage. I like to think this is what Mary Shelley was talking about.
Lockdown has seen rates of domestic abuse, already far too high before the pandemic, soar. Women who were psychologically ensnared before were now locked down with their abusers, hemmed in with them by law. Recently, the horrific murder of Sarah Everard prompted a national conversation about women’s safety. The disgusting display from the Metropolitan Police at the vigil to mourn her galvanised our collective conscience. Everyone was remembering their ‘near-misses’ or their own personal experiences of harassment, asbuse, assault. #notallmen started trending on Twitter, which was almost as repugnant as the #alllivesmatter hashtag around this time last year.
I stumbled across this poem the other day, written when I was 16/17, shown here published in a random zine a few years later. This was about a boyfriend I was seeing at the time. He was about twelve years older than me. You have to forgive the cringey poem because I was so young. I wonder what his thoughts were on that- me being so young. It was pretty standard, then. We’re not talking aeons ago, just the mid-90s to mid-00s. This was quite tame in comparison to my peers. When we were fourteen, fifteen, lots of girls in our year were going out with guys in their twenties and thirties. Can you imagine it happening the other way around? Absolutely not.
I think it is less common now, but it still happens. The Rotherham grooming scandal revealed how vulnerable girls are still being exploited. At all ages, and all over the world, women have it fucking hard. As soon as we hit puberty, our bodies become public property for comment, scrutiny, blame. Our life-choices are debated and judged with an astonishing level of entitlement, as though the tax-payer bank-rolls our very thoughts and feelings and therefore has a right to determine what we may and may not think and feel, let alone actually do.
I feel as though it all comes from the same place. In high school, we had a PE teacher who insisted that putting his hands down girls’ shorts and grabbing their knickers was the only secure way to help them learn to somersault on a trampoline. There was another teacher who was suspended after it was discovered he was ‘in a relationship’ with a girl in Year 10. He came back to work with no consequence, as far as I could tell. We all have these stories about men in authority.
Once girls start going out, they can expect to be randomly felt-up in clubs and bars. Walking on the street, you will be shouted at by men in cars, men on building sites, men walking on the other side of the road. Online, there’s a special circle of hell reserved for women in the public eye or even ones who aren’t, but dare to voice opinions. Your appearance and the way you live your life – these things are everyone’s business, not just your own. Housework. Career. Money. Kids. How can you not want kids? You must want kids. Oh you’ve had kids? How many? That’s not enough. That’s too many. Get used to it. Or maybe, don’t. Don’t accept it.
It’s not just men yelling from vans, it’s everywhere. In an office I used to work in, the men quite openly ranked all the women in terms of their attractiveness. It was the same office where, whenever a bloke wandered in to regale male colleagues with their exploits over the weekend, the phrase ‘excuse the swearing, sweetheart’ or ‘sorry about the language, love’ would be directed at me. At the time I was too timid to do anything more than roll my eyes but I’d like to think now I’d tell them to go fuck themselves. In another office, we discovered the men had an actual spreadsheet of all the women, inexplicably monitoring how often each one went to the toilet and for how long.
Colleagues, family, random strangers. We’ve all got stories about them. A family member admonishing my partner for the way I was dressed, using the phrase ‘you let her go to work like that?!’ when we visited their house after work one night. A friend of mine who told me her father-in-law gave a glowing report of the girlfriend of his other son, wistfully using the phrase ‘so biddable’, presumably in contrast to her. The colleague who said ‘well, you did open your legs’ when my friend and I were exchanging stories about morning sickness. The awkward moment at a wedding when, after being introduced to a friend’s husband, he asked me to ‘give us a twirl’ (seriously) or when, seven months pregnant, holding a table at a bar while my friends went to get their drinks in, a bloke decided to tell me how much he liked my mouth and if I gave him a kiss he’d leave me alone. Protesting and recoiling into a corner wasn’t enough – he managed to plant one on my grimacing mouth before his friend jostled him away, reassuring me ‘don’t worry, he’s harmless.’
This is all within the last ten years or so, I’m not talking about ‘a different time’ when ‘it was acceptable’. Of course, it was never acceptable, just accepted. It all comes from a place of percevied superiority and ownership. As we get older, we are gradually closed down because we are deemed to be of less value as objects of desire. Also, we might be dangerously opinionated and wilful by that point, so we are sidelined completely until we are invisible and silent and no longer a threat to the middle-aged men who run the world. Sigh.
What can we do? Educate ourselves, educate others. I’m excited to get my hands on Chauvo-Feminism by Sam Mills and I’m sure I’ll be evangelising about it after. There are tons of excellent books to read on this. Arm yourself with the facts you need to close them down. Help others do the same. Be brave. Call it out.
Have those awkward conversations and confrontations, just like our ancestors who got us the vote did. Get over the desire to be liked. It’s hard, when you’ve been conditioned from birth to be selfless and be kind, always be kind. Where are the little boy’s T-shirts with ‘Be Kind’ written on them? I don’t want to raise an obnoxious, uncaring son and neither would I want to raise a girl who felt it was her duty to put herself last in all situations with the aim of achieving universal approval.
If someone’s talking offensive bollocks, call them out on it. If they label you as an angry feminist, good. Because if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. And if you’re not a feminist, here’s my message to you: