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About illness, Feminism

Rape Culture and Me

I’m shaking a bit sitting here writing this. I’ve fed the sparrows up on my roof and every time I hear them scrabble around I jump.

I’ve been wondering for a bit about how to write a blog about feminism. Obviously it’s a controversial topic and it’s not really anything to do with my usual posts, though being sick actually has increased my understanding of, and passion for, feminist practice and ideology.

Like many people, I used to consider feminists extreme. I used to think they took political correctness too far. I used to think they were man haters. I thought, we already had feminism, why are we doing this again? We’re got the vote, didn’t we win?

CUE SARCASTIC HYSTERICAL LAUGHTER.

Unfortunately, we’re conditioned pretty much from birth to think that way. Speaking out gets you more than side eyes, it gets you ostracised, cauterised, jailed – and murdered. Much easier to just shut up and go with the status qou, right? Well, NO. It’s fucking NOT.

Today, I felt well enough that I thought I might do my little walk around the block. It’s a beautiful sunny day and I am so sick of being stuck inside. So I put in my ear buds (Kodaline – new favourite band – you should listen), and set out. The walk usually only takes 20 minutes or so, sometimes longer if I’m walking really slowly, which I was today.

About halfway through my route, I saw a man walking towards me. My stomach clenched. I’m a naturally anxious person, so that’s a fairly normal reaction for me – though usually I don’t get it if I see a woman walking towards me. He was wearing heavy dark boots and had a weird sort of stomping stride. It was quite intimidating. He was older, well-built, no hair, plaid shirt. As we passed, I stared at the ground, but I could see out of the corner of my eye that he swiveled his head to watch my walk by.

This was bad enough, though sadly, I’m used to it. I’m used to be evaluated by passing males like I’m a fucking object. And don’t even try to tell me that I’m fucking “asking for it.” I’m sick. I’m pale, I move slowly, I was wearing jeans and a beanie and a scarf, hair unbrushed, no makeup. And even if I was wearing a fucking miniskirt, bustier and high-heel boots, no one has the right to make me feel intimidated.

I walked on. Pretty quickly, I became aware of a prickling in the back of my neck. Because I had my ear phones in, I couldn’t hear anything. I glanced over my shoulder.

He was Right. Fucking. Behind. Me.

He had turned around, and started to follow me down the street. He was staring straight at me, walking with that heavy stomping stride.

I was terrified.

I suspect that, because of the way he was moving. he may have had mental health issues, but that’s neither here nor there. In fact, that possibly made the situation more dangerous. I pulled my ear buds out so I could hear him walking behind me, and went on another few meters. He was still there. I thought frantically about what to do. There was no one else around. So I ducked down a driveway and pretended the house at the end was mine.

I sped down the drive and hid around the corner from the road. When I’m walking, I usually don’t take my cellphone because I like to have a tiny break from being online all the time. I could see a car in the garage, so I was preparing to enter the house and ask them to call the police if he appeared.

He didn’t. I stood against the wall, peering out, for 4-5 minutes, then walked back out to the road and stared in every direction. I couldn’t see him so I went in the opposite direction to where I had last seen him going, back the way I had come.

Now I’m utterly exhausted because I pretty much ran home, which is the worst thing I can do for my health. Did I overreact?

So, we won, yeah? Women get to go to work now, so they shouldn’t have to be frightened, walking in their own neighbourhood in broad daylight? They can wear what they want and not be objectified? They can pose for art and not have it be a media fucking sensation? (For the record, I think Stephanie Key’s pictures are awesome and brave.)

You know the worst thing is, to me? Is when my own sex don’t get it. When I point out the disgusting sexism of those fucking KFC ads with the “man burger” or whatever the fuck it is, where all the women are portrayed as stupid, whiny, or sluts, or all three – and women look at me blankly. It breaks my heart.

When I was in hospital I read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman.’ I know she polarises people but it was the first modern feminist thing I had read and it opened my eyes. The part that particularly stayed with me is when she talks about being polite.

“…we must recall the most important Humanity Guideline of all: BE POLITE. BEING POLITE is possibly the greatest daily contribution everyone can make to life on earth.”

She asks the question, ‘How can you tell if some sexism is happening to you?” And her answer is “What ultimately aids us is to simply apply this question to the issue:  Is this polite?”

I’m not sure I agree with the whole point, but it’s a useful tool to apply to some situations. If you don’t call it sexism, if you call it manners instead, it changes the conversation. Is it rude in an advert to portray women as stupid, whiny sluts? Yes, yes it is. Is it RUDE to follow a woman you don’t know down the street and intimidate her into having a panic attack in her neighbours’ yard? Why yes, yes it fucking is.

Moran says “…even the most rampant bigot on earth has no defense against a charge of simply being rude.” While I have to say I have met many a bigot who I am absolutely certain would still try and find a defense, I get what she means. Men shrug the accusation of sexism off. Accusing men of being sexist is met with casual laughter, confusion, sometimes anger, most often defensiveness, and always – ALWAYS – the counter accusation that the woman who called them out is extremist. She’s being silly. She’s PC gone mad. She’s a lesbian. She’s a bitch.

Dudes, if that’s what being a lesbian is, then count me the fuck in, because I’m not seeing so much going for the other side right now.

A while ago while on holiday, I met a guy, a friend of a friend. We met in the afternoon, and I went for drinks with my friends and him in a pub that evening. We had a nice time and found out we had quite a bit in common. It was getting late so we left, and were on the street about to head off to our respective hotels.

He grabbed my hand and started walking towards his hotel, away from mine. I yanked it back and laughed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have laughed – he was obviously offended – but I was shocked at his assumption that since we had had a couple drinks together, I would be going back to his hotel with him. My laughter was caused by surprise and nerves. We stood awkwardly for a second and then I said ‘See you tomorrow’ and walked away.

For the rest of the holiday, he didn’t speak to me. I fell ill the next night, and when I was sitting in the street crying, he stood a meter away from me smoking a cigarette, and never said a word. I thought I deserved that.

I blamed myself. I even hadpeople tell me that I shouldn’t have flirted with him, that I’m too flirty and it gets me into trouble. I carried around the guilt and the shame for ages. I tried to stay constantly alert whenever talking to men in case I was giving them “the wrong idea.”

Until one day I stopped, and I thought: What the fucking fuck???

This is what is known as Rape Culture. This is what is known as Victim Blaming. This is what is known as Totally Fucking Unacceptable Because of what had been burned into me growing up – women ask for it, women shouldn’t talk to strange men, women shouldn’t be too friendly, women shouldn’t wear short skirts – it took me months to accept that what had happened wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong.

Hey, you know what stops sexual abuse, assault and rape from happening? If PEOPLE DON’T ABUSE, ASSAULT, AND RAPE OTHER PEOPLE.

So call me extremist if you like. Say that my expectations of being safe, owning my own reproductive system, equal workplaces, and not living in fear are unreasonable. Tell me women have already won and that I’m a bleeding heart liberal.

Just, if you’re a woman, please don’t tell me you’re not a fucking feminist. Because we need every bit of help we can get.

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About writehandedgirl

Sarah is a writer who is passionate about social justice, feminism, politics, and cats. She is a columnist and poet and currently lives in Nelson. You can follow Sarah on Twitter (@_writehanded_) or read more of her writing at writehanded.org

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