Some context for those of you who are not on Twitter – in response to the recent mass shooting in Santa Barbara carried out by Elliot Rodger, which are believed to be due at least in part to Rodger’s violent misogynistic tendencies, the hashtag #yesallwomen has been trending on Twitter for the last few days.
Real women, telling the real narrative of things they have had to live with, from being told to overlook office sexual harassment to having to switch train carriages to avoid being groped. And some men have objected to #yesallwomen, because, they say, it’s #notallmen doing this and it’s not fair, and it’s even “perpetuating rape culture to be talking about it”.
OK, that’s the context. Here’s the narrative.
When you, a man, leave the house.
Keys. Phone. Wallet.
When a woman leaves the house.
Keys. Phone. Wallet.
Text to say she’s leaving.
Text to say she’s arrived safely.
Keys held loosely, ready to be splayed between her fingers, should she need them.
Other hand, in the dark, can find and dial the SOS button on her phone by touch alone.
Crossing the road to avoid groups of men coming towards her. Crossing a busy dual carriageway at night rather than using the pedestrian underpass.
Getting off the bus a stop early, or a stop late, to get away from the drunk guy who’s talking loudly about her breasts.
Making the instant call, when a male work colleague offers her a lift home, whether he’s genuinely a nice guy. Because if she gets that call wrong, if Nice Guy Eddie turns out to be not-so-nice, is she going to end up on tomorrow night’s news being fished out of a canal thirty miles away? And will people say “Ooh, she shouldn’t have got into that car / shouldn’t have gone for a drink with him / shouldn’t have been wearing that skirt?”
Because it’s ok to blame women for what men do to them. Not all men. But enough men. Enough that ordinary women, like me, have to make this sort of judgement call every single day. That’s why we go to the loo in pairs. That’s why we have our friends keep an eye on our drinks. Because not all men are like that. But too many are. And even one is too many.
A young woman was killed in my home city a couple of years ago, at Christmas. She was strangled in her flat, by a man. Not by all men, just by one. Because it only takes one.
His defense, his defense, mind, was that he’d accidentally strangled her because he put his hands around her throat to stop her screaming when he tried to kiss her.
He put his hands around her throat to stop her screaming when he tried to kiss her.
Now, if someone screams when you try to kiss them, the correct response is to STOP TRYING TO KISS THEM. Just because a woman has invited you into her flat for a cup of tea, because it’s Christmas and she’s being kind, does not mean you are entitled in any way to kiss her, or grope her, or have sex with her, or murder her.
And this young woman, she made her judgement call that day, and she got it tragically wrong. Because you only have to get it badly wrong once, and you’re in serious trouble. That’s why we’re cautious. That’s why we’re wary. If you’re a genuinely nice guy (and there are so many genuinely nice guys, far more than there are of the other sort) you’ll understand that, and respect our caution. We’re not saying you’re a potential rapist and murderer. We’re saying that the consequences of us getting our judgement call wrong are appalling, so let us be cautious.
The biggest premature killer of women is men.
And while that might not be 100% accurate, two women a week in the UK are murdered, most of them by men they know, partners, friends, workmates. That’s two a week too many.
THIS IS A CALL
I’m making one of those judgement calls just posting this. At the very least, I’m opening myself up to being accused of being a “feminazi”, at the worst it’s likely I’ll get some kind of rape threat. Because these are the judgement calls we make online, as women, every single day. Do we put up and shut up, keep our heads down, let the casual misogyny and the rape threats land on someone more outspoken? Or do we occasionally speak out and say no, enough is enough, men – all men – are not entitled to our bodies, no means no and is not the starting point for negotiations?
It’s not all men. It’s not even most men. But it is all women – #yesallwomen , who have to make these calls, who have to live with the fact that a small minority of men are assholes who think they have the right to do as they please when it comes to women. And we don’t know who they are, they don’t wear jumpers that say “Hug Me I’m A Rapist.” They look like nice guys. Often they behave like nice guys. Right up to the point where they don’t.
And by then it’s too late.
So, nice guys – and there are a lot of you – respect our judgement calls, respect our caution. Try to understand, in this narrative, that it’s not about YOU. It’s not personal. We make these calls – and we all do it, your mum, your sisters, your girlfriend – because if we get complacent, if we make a mistake, we are quite possibly going to die. Understand that the more time we spend placating you because you’re offended that it might cross our minds that you could be a rapist when we cross paths in the multi-storey car park late at night, the more it draws attention away from the real bad guys. If you’re a good guy, we’d like your support, not your protests that “I’m not like that!” Because if we don’t know you, we don’t know.
Please try to understand that. I know you can. You’re a nice guy, after all. Aren’t you?