As a heads up: this article deals with various and explicit levels of sexual assault and might be triggering for some people.
I also want to say that in the following I am speaking of women, and I mean all self-identified women, but of course it also effects trans men and non-binary people, as well as some cis men: I don’t want to exclude anyone, we all face the consequences of misogyny. The degree of those consequences evidently vary regarding class, race, disability etc, which I won’t be unpacking in this post but I felt the need not to leave it unsaid. The article by Vera Papisova touches on this briefly, which you can read here.
So this morning I listened to the Trump Tape and even though it evoked some feelings of disgust in me I have to say, it is nothing that I haven’t heard before: Not just once or twice but as constant repetitive canon. Welcome to the fantastic world of misogyny.
Kelly Oxford started already a brilliant Twitter awareness campaign with the #notokay, so please check that out to get a flavour of how common sexual transgressions are. I have to admit I am frustrated and I am not sure if I should write about this, because there are thousands of articles out there trying to raise awareness about rape culture, sexual violence and misogyny in general: in the end everyone knows what is going on. But here I go and try anyway to give you a taste how frequent and indeed “normal” sexual assaults are. They are so “normal” that we don’t even count them anymore, so “normal” that we just brush them off, often followed by assertions that it wasn’t that bad, it was just banter, boys will be boys, it could have ended worse. I never reported any sexual assault. Partially because of frequency, partially because I didn’t believe it was important or bad enough – didn’t want to make a big deal out of “nothing” – and probably it had a whole lot to do with internalised guilt, shame and doubts of complicity: “Why was I alone at that time of the night on the street? Why was I wearing that dress? Why was I playing with the boys in the first place? Why did I end up in a room alone with him? Why did I drink that night?”
I tried to remember the first experience of physical or verbal transgression and many vague memories come to mind from an early age. I guess the first bigger event that I remember in detail was when I was 8, maybe 9 years old, and a bunch of the boys from my class dragged me into the woods and tight me around a tree and just left me there: “cause I deserved it”. Silly childhood games one might think. They did not know any better. They were just boys.
Another episode was when I was 10 and a 13 year old boy told me to lie on top of him as part of a “game”. But he was only 13, and nothing really happened, so what is the big deal?
A few years later, I think I was 12 or 13, I was waiting for the tube and an older guy, maybe in his 70s, came up to me and asked me if I could help him. Me thinking he needed directions, I came closer and he offered me money to go with him up to his hotel room which he stated was close by. Maybe he mistook me for someone older? Maybe my 13 year old self looked like a 20-something year old? Maybe I was wearing revealing clothing that could lead to certain assumptions?
When I was 16 I got raped at a house party during a school trip. I just recall dipping in and out of consciousness, likely being spiked. I was told afterwards that I was not his first choice, and that I wasn’t “all that pretty” so I should not bother making a fuss out of it, cause he can have any girl. The school trip lasted another 5 days. But maybe if I didn’t had a drink that night? Maybe if I stayed closer with the other girls? Maybe I gave signals that I wanted it? Maybe if I fought, it wouldn’t have happened?
When I was 19 a guy pulled a knife out and held it against my throat, because I rejected his advances on the street. People from a bar next door had to step in. Why was I out alone in the evening anyways? Should I really be surprised that eventually someone will take it the wrong way? Then when I was 22 I was visiting a friend in Paris, we came out of a lesbian bar and a group of guys followed us through an ally way. After declining their offers, they tried to attack us “fucking dykes”. A bouncer from a nearby club had to step in after we called for help. Why didn’t we take a cab home? Walking down an ally way, what were we thinking?
When I was 24 my partner at the time and I were on a break, one day she asked me to help her with something. After I made clear that I want to go home now, she pushed me down, pulled my trousers down and said “I am so sorry but I just have to do this, for me”. She apologised a few weeks later, said that she thought I was crying and fighting against it because I was being “emotional”.
When I was 25 my boss gave me a back rub and put his hand on my thigh while pretend to read through something on my screen. Isn’t it a nice gesture to get a back rub at work?
Am I being too sensitive?
This is not an exhaustive list. I can’t be bothered to try to remember every single time someone grabbed my ass, or a different body part, followed me at night or insulted me for not wanting to talk to them. Neither can I be bothered to recollect the times someone did inappropriate remarks in a work, school or university setting, or wanted me to return a “favour”, or thought that I owe them something.
What I am trying with this is to make painfully clear what we teach our kids and also our adults. We as a society – and it doesn’t matter if we talk about the US, UK or Germany- are in utter denial what is going on. We still put the blame (mostly) on women or search for a fault in their behaviour for enticing sexual assault. We pretend we are so progressive, we know of course sexual assault is not ok – but when it comes down to it we still hear the same excuses, which we internalise and recite like a mantra every time something happens: maybe it was my fault?
The way Trump talks about women invites this kind of behaviour: objectifying, sexualised, disparaging, dismissive. But it is not a Trump thing. It is an everyones thing. And it is clear as day that this is not a straight male problem either. The amount of misogynist bullshit that I have experienced in LGBT or queer places is just as uncountable. We talk the same way about women: who is a slut or not, assessing when she is giving it up and what does it tell us about her, trying to make our dates more drunk than we are so we have an easier game, grabbing people’s body parts without asking: we do the same exact shit. And I am tired of it. I am tired of guys pulling up in their car at night when I am on my way home and getting all worked up that I don’t want to talk to them, I am tired of women trying to grab me at a club, and especially I am tired of hearing this constant machinery of excuses;! Why should I keep tolerating this behavior?
My experience is not special. It is not a unique individual single case. This is common reality.
It doesn’t matter what I wear, if I take a cab or not, what time I am on the streets or if I have a drink or refrain: sexual assault happens anywhere and everywhere, whether I show my legs during a midnights stroll or I am tucked away in my jeans at home – it doesn’t matter and we need to stop pretending that it does.
We need to watch out for each other. We need to speak up and call people out. We need to check our own behaviour.
All of us.