I want to talk about two very separate conversations that I’ve had recently. One was with a man and one was with a woman, and both involved walking home in the twilight hours.
The man I was speaking to was upset, he was upset because a group of women walking home crossed the road when they saw him walking towards them. They thought of him as a possible threat, and the concept of that upset him.
The woman I had a conversation with was upset because she had crossed paths with a man who had then proceeded to follow her after she did not respond to his catcalling. She was upset because she was scared she was going to be attacked. She ended up waiting in a newsagents for 30 minutes until the guy left so that he wouldn’t be able to follow her to her home.
Now I won’t lie to you, I find it very difficult not to be biased in this scenario, because to me being thought of as dangerous and being in danger are not comparable. Being upset that someone might view you as a rapist is not the same as potentially being raped, and unless you live an extremely protected way of life that is the very real threat that looms on women if they dare to venture outside their front door past 8pm at night.
We’re taught to walk with our keys between our fingers; to phone someone or at least pretend to be on the phone. Don’t wear revealing any clothing even if it’s boiling hot outside; don’t drink too much and don’t even think about taking a shortcut on the way home, in fact double the length of your journey by only sticking to well lit streets. Try not to make eye contact, but still be polite and smile; try not to encourage men because that’ll get them excited, but don’t ignore them because that’ll make them mad. Kick them in the balls, make a scene, don’t fight back, scratch them, and above all always shout ‘Fire!’ Because more people will pay attention than if you shout ‘Rape!’
And yet here I was, after a lifetime of being taught how to avoid being raped by a man, listening to a man complain that women are scared of him. Damn right we’re scared of him, because no not all men, but enough men. Enough men that majority of my friends can recount the time they followed home, or catcalled, or sexually assaulted. Why would we have been taught how to protect ourselves in such a vast amount of ways and in such a vast array of situations if there’s nothing to be afraid of? How comes myself and so many of my friends have had to deploy these tactics to avoid being attacked, harassed, or worse if there’s no threat there? It’s almost as if there is a real threat there.
So what were boys being taught whilst girls were busy learning all this? Well they were being taught that pushing girls over in the playground is an appropriate way of showing affection, and that name calling just means that you like her. If she says no she doesn’t really mean it, they should try again and again until they wear her down. What weren’t they being taught? Well it appears that they weren’t being taught not to rape people. They weren’t being taught the importance of consent, and they certainly weren’t being taught to respect women’s autonomy and their right to say no.
Whilst men are worried about being thought of as rapists, women are worried about being raped. You tell me which one is worse.