The #MeToo tag has taken over social media this week. This isn’t some feel-good viral, however; quite the opposite. The prevalence of the #MeToo hashtag is a reflection of the prevalence of sexual harassment towards, violence against and the intimidation of women, by men.
As a male friend said to me recently, regarding mistreatment of women by men:
“I thought it was a rare occurrence until this hashtag, one-offs that make it to the news. Not something experienced by most if not all women, and sometimes on a daily basis.”
The stories, anger and distress behind the hashtag was always there, always waiting, always needing to be overcome to deal with everyday life. But the #MeToo tag had life breathed into it by the recent exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s actions -his sexual harassment and abuse of women, and the abuse of his position in order to act in this way- during his years as a Hollywood movie producer.
Still, the overwhelming tide of sexual harassment stories shouted via the #MeToo hashtag, or the implications of stories untold simply by use of the hashtag alone, represents only a percentage of the whole. Of the real scale of the situation. There are many others I see commenting on #MeToo statuses on private Facebook accounts, saying #MeToo as a reply to someone else, but explaining they can’t or don’t want to openly #MeToo on their profiles. Which is of course perfectly acceptable and understandable – however it proves that the real number of women affected by sexual harassment in their lives is even more than the already deafening hashtag stats declare.
It’s sad that to find a woman who hasn’t experienced some form of sexual harassment in her life, whether verbal harassment or physical assault, is a rarity. It’s more than sad, it’s distressing, and quite frankly, infuriating, appalling, disgusting and downright wrong.
This whole subject is one close to my heart. I have several personal stories of sexual harassment, abuse, intimidation and violence from men (sexual and otherwise). I like to think I’ve done a phoenix and risen from the ashes of terrible relationships with men, from my misogynistic, violently possessive father, men telling me to smile so I look ‘prettier’ as I walked to school as a child, to an adulthood of groups of men caterwauling their intimidation and harassment on the streets, guys paying me the ‘compliment’ of a grope anywhere from a club to a café in broad daylight, employers hiring me on the basis of looks alone then following up with invites to hotel rooms, promises of promotions and career advances if I ‘behave’ and give them what they want, and the men I previously gave my heart to and bared my soul to; only for them to almost beat the will to live out of me by gracing me with emotional ruptures and the (to this day) physical pain of never-to-heal broken bones.
I’ve experienced an entire spectrum of mistreatment from men.
I've 1 friend who hasn't been assaulted/physically harassed in her life & describes herself as 'v lucky'.
Asked about verbal "yeah, ofc" 😞
— Cara Sutra (@TheCaraSutra) October 16, 2017
Verbal harassment seemed to be a rite of passage for women when I was young. It wasn’t welcomed or celebrated, don’t get me wrong. But it was almost like a ‘test of pain’ when a girl reached womanhood and was out in the world. To be shouted at, leered at, whistled at. Rarely ever from a man by himself, of course; the bravado fuelled by showing off to and competing with the group of men around them. Willy-waving. Rampaging and uncurbed testosterone leading to behaviour encouraged by peers and the media. A coarse blanket with which they attempt to smother their own insecurities.
Not all harassment is verbal, or physical. To this day I experience a more subtle intimidation from men. I guess it’s obvious that the blunt force of verbal or physical harassment will be met with a swift and icy retaliation from a more experienced, more confident me, whether that retaliation is quick wit, a slap or reporting to the relevant authorities.
It’s also difficult to give a woman a quick and anonymous grope online, where I’m mostly found these days, away from darkly lit environments crowded with people, away from the booze which peels away the last vestiges of their inhibitions and which they hope will in turn lower my own defences. But online I am pressured to continue conversations which suddenly turn flirtatious in nature, even with those who should be innocent – business contacts, blog readers, those who initially make out they’re wanting to buy my son’s clothes from a Facebook selling page, for fuck’s sake.
Today: Selling Blue's too-small clothes on FB, get contacted by guy who wastes my time then tries to chat me up. Have to forcibly end convo
— Cara Sutra (@TheCaraSutra) October 17, 2017
Pushing me to give of myself, to demonstrate my sexuality actively, to please them with reciprocated flattery, images, more, more, more. Or what? Or I’m an ‘ungrateful bitch’. An oxymoronical ‘frigid whore’. And many other insults borne from men’s rage at a woman daring to reject their glorious advances.
Let’s look at my life choices. When I finally get to do what I want to do? For instance, to indulge in my FemDom kinks, to be a BDSM Mistress? I’m told it’s because I’m so fucked up. By men. That aspect of me is attributed to the actions of men. Not me. Men. Don’t credit that beauty to them.
When I write a sex blog, when I review sex toys, when I write erotica, when I write about sex as my day job? I’m told that’s because I’m screwed up and I’ve been warped to be this sexualised creature. For men. Because of men.
Men, men, men.
Whatever we women do, they try to make it all about them. Well no, it’s fucking not. My decisions are mine. My life is mine to live and I have risen up to live it. I do whatever the hell I want to do, thank you very much.
The we reach the physical harassment. Not simply the events themselves, but the threat of violence. I’ve actually received a death threat from someone in an online community, because I declined his sexual demands. Because I said no. So he threatened to burn down my house with my child inside.
I was raped when I was 19. By two men I’d thought were friends. They were friends of the man I was going out with, who wasn’t out at the club with us that night, and had told his friends to ‘look after’ me.
They spiked my drink and had sex with me in a variety of ways, and I was conscious but couldn’t fight back, couldn’t say no. I didn’t consent. I didn’t want it to happen. They did it anyway.
Even while it was happening I blamed myself, told myself I’d asked for it. That I’d gone out with them, that I’d worn sexy clothes to the club, that this must be expected when men were faced with a 19-year-old in clubbing wear. In my naivety I was even then, while rape was occurring, blaming myself because I am the woman. I must be to blame for men’s behaviour, no matter how abhorrent and wrong. I’d brought it on myself.
I didn’t report the rape.
I still carry guilt over that aspect, even if I have overcome any guilt from the rape itself, with years of awakening, reflection and support from professionals and friends alike. Perhaps it’s typical for a woman to always feel some guilt for whatever reason, to feel shame. Perhaps typical, but definitely not right.
Three of my ex-partners were physically violent to me, even if those relationships did not include rape. Should I feel grateful because they only hit me? Why does that option even come to mind, albeit fleetingly?
Yes, I still have issues. No, I don’t hate men. I hate those men. And it’s not all men, I know. Quit your thoughtless, unhelpful, persistently damaging chorus. But it’s always been men. And almost all women have experienced harassment and abuse from men.
This has been difficult to write. I have debated about publishing it, because it’s so intensely personal but also because meeting those events and the related feelings head on in order to talk to them makes them feel as raw as the day they happened. I’m in tears writing this, painfully dragging the words from my mind to put them on the page. But this is my story, and I’ve been silenced enough times. Whether by them, or my misplaced feelings of guilt and shame as a woman.
And I want to add that yes, this is my story (well, an incredibly brief summary), and it has been told. But you don’t have to share yours. #MeToo isn’t about yet more pressure on women.
Women don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do.
Women shouldn’t feel pressured do anything they don’t want to do.
Perhaps one day, the first statement will be true.