So I’ve been lying in bed, tossing and turning for the last few hours doing everything except sleeping.
In general I’m someone who struggles to collect my thoughts in a concise fashion because I’m the type that finds connections and patterns that most people would probably think of as random and unrelated, but set off a chain reaction in my mind. The reason I’m having trouble sleeping tonight is that I’m having one of these chain reaction moments now.
Bear (bare?) with me a moment, because this chain of events doesn’t have an obvious connection, but hopefully all should be clear by the end.
For those who don’t know- and if you don’t what the hell kind of rock have you been living under- some old recordings have surfaced of US Presidential candidate and all around jackass Donald Trump saying some rather lewd things about women. I’m not going to get into too much Trump bashing because if I’m perfectly honest I haven’t been following the US presidential race very closely and most of what I know about him (and Hillary Clinton for that matter) I’ve heard from other people, but this is one I’ve looked into myself for reasons that should become clear soon.
So, Trump saying something misogynistic in of itself isn’t surprising, if my friends and family are to be believed. What has caught my attention is how people have reacted to it. Comments in defence of Trump saying such gems as “Grab them by the pussy, you can do anything” (ugh I’m going to need to shower in bleach after this) seem to centre around the recordings being ten years old and it being “locker room talk”, just the kind of thing guys do.
Now, in the interests of transparency, I have indulged in this kind of talk in the past. Mostly in my teen years when I didn’t know any better and never anything that was anywhere near as crude or disrespectful as Trump’s comments, but I did. I hate the thought of being scrutinised for something I may have said ten or more years ago, but critique and evaluation is necessary for growth and self-improvement. And it is most definitely necessary to scrutinize and criticise someone who could potentially become the leader of one of the most powerful nations on this planet. What Trump said was revolting, and in my opinion there is no excusing it.
The other trend of reactionary behaviour was one of bravery, with women going online to talk about their own experiences of sexual assault. And let’s not kid ourselves or downplay this, what Trump was talking about IS sexual assault. This in turn led me to think of an incident from my own past.
When I was 21 I was out with some friends and after our usual hangout closed we decided we wanted a late night drink and the only place open was a local gay club. Whilst I was in there I was repeatedly groped (despite my protests) by a man who would not take no for an answer, until I was forced to take matters into my own hands and physically shove him off.
Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t suddenly turning into a gay panic article. I have been hit on by gay dudes before and since this incident, all of whom have been courteous and understood that “I’m not into guys” means I don’t want to be groped, I realise this was an isolated incident. I also don’t want to say I understand how victims of sexual assault feel. The touching was unwelcome and inappropriate but I was in a position to overpower my “attacker”, for lack of a better of word. But I would imagine that the humiliation and anger I felt in the build-up to that confrontation were somewhat similar to what a victim of assault would feel.
What upset me more was the reactions of people I told, with the general consensus being that it was my own fault because I was in a gay bar, that somehow that equates to me being available for unsolicited groping. One person in particular even went so far as to tell me it was inevitable because I was handsome. Seriously, what the fucking hell kind of thinking is that? I walked away from this incident with not necessarily an understanding, but at the very least a compassionate sympathy for those who have been subject to sexual assault and the humiliation and victim blaming that comes with it.
What triggered me off thinking about all of this was a conversation I had yesterday with someone I consider to be a thoughtful and respectful man, who commented how they have been “conditioned to not go near women” because they might get uncomfortable, because being touched- however innocently it may be- might be construed as being “inappropriate”. To which my reaction was to say: “Why are you making it the women’s fault? Surely it’s the fault of the men who have been inappropriate to the point where every women feels they need to act a certain way for self-defence?”
This in turn led to me to think of the many, many partners and female friends I have had who have told me about incidents that have happened to them, sometimes through tears and other times with a cold, disconnectivity that I can only assume is some kind of emotional defence mechanism. Now it’s not lost on me that it is a privilege to be trusted with this information and on the surface I have always tried to play the sympathetic friend in this situation, but buried underneath that my blood boils at that thought that someone could hurt people I care about on a whim without a thought to the lasting damage they do. And at a society at large that doesn’t seem to care.
Because society doesn’t care. A woman gets raped and we ask what she was wearing. Someone comes out and says they were assaulted 20 years ago and we ask why they didn’t say anything at the time. When the Jimmy Saville scandal came out a couple of years back that was the question on everyone’s lips, why the victims hadn’t come forward sooner, completely ignoring that they had been coming forward since the Seventies. Witnesses were ignored, evidence was “lost”, but no- we’d rather pretend it’s all a lie.
We would rather call it the nature of men and place the responsibility entirely on the victims because subconsciously that excuses us for our own transgressions, our own dark thoughts that no one else can hear and the little “laddish” comments that we tell ourselves are harmless, but we are talking about people with real lives and feelings, not objects for our lust. I have admitted once here already that in the past I have indulged in misogynistic behaviour. I will not try to excuse myself from this. I am, however, trying to be a better person. Something which a huge portion of society would rather not admit they should be trying to do to.
No, we live in a world where we make #notallmen an internationally trending topic, as if not raping someone is something you should get a medal for. You know what not raping someone is?
SOMETHING YOU SHOULD NOT NEED A REWARD FOR.
Do you expect a parade for doing the dishes? No, because it’s something you should be doing anyway. As is not raping people. Stop patting yourself on the back for being a “good guy” and accept that it’s everyone’s responsibility to help end this behaviour.
I’ll leave you with one last thought: I was walking home one night after working late on a uni assignment. The area I lived in at the time was quiet and as I reached my street the only other person around was a woman towards my general direction. As we get closer I noticed she looked me up and down and decided to avoid my path. It made me sad, because I knew I wasn’t going to rape her, but she didn’t and felt she had to take steps to protect herself when all I wanted to do was get home and go to sleep.
Now, practically everyone I have told that story to has commented on how rude that woman was for how she acted. I’d like to think that’s because they all know me well enough to know I would never attack a woman, but truly I suspect that it’s because we live in a culture that expects women to be solely responsible for their own safety but then condemns them for doing just that.
And that is not okay.