I was ten when a man old enough to be my grandfather stuck his tongue in my mouth. We were at a party after a christening and I was saying hello to lots of people who knew me and I had no idea who they were. This man approached me, I thought to kiss me on the cheek, as the middle classes do. Instead I was met with his old tongue wriggling inside my mouth. I pushed him off and left the kitchen quickly. It didn’t seem that anyone else had noticed this heinous interaction. I kept quiet.
Shame, disgust and fear coursed through me. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened for years, pushed it down and tried to never think about it. If the memory did rear its ugly head I would distract myself with something else. When I did finally say something it was met with “oh, Blah? Yeah, he does that – you have to watch out for him”.
This man’s behaviour was explained away as something I should have guarded myself against. There was no blame put on this man, it’s just something he does. I should have been the one to know better.
Seventeen years later and I still have flashback memories of this event, I still feel panic when I think about it.
I was fifteen when a boy got angry with me because I didn’t want to kiss him in the dark shed at a party. What he didn’t realise is that I was seeking solace in his, what I thought was friendly company, because a boy much older than I had kissed me without asking if it was okay first. He stuck his tongue in my mouth too, and I tried hard not to bite it off. He gave me glandular fever and a guilty conscience when I heard he had a girlfriend.
I have been catcalled for years, sometimes ‘positively’ sometimes ‘negatively’, ALWAYS unsolicited. Always when I have been alone men have shouted at me from the window of their van, from the top rungs of scaffolding. Always I have felt like I want to disappear. My heart drops the second I see a group of men; whether that be on a night out, on a building site or just popping to the shops. I can feel the panic in my body almost stop me dead and assess a new route that I can take to avoid them. I am scared of men in groups, male dominated businesses, being reduced to something to leer or jeer at.
The ‘lad’ mentality terrifies me, it reduces women to nothing more than objects for men to get pleasure out of, whether they think that’s sex or making their mates laugh.
I was in my twenties when a group of four men surrounded me in a pub, making the assumption that because I was fat I would be appreciative of their longing stares, their strokes on my body, their promises to love me until I loved myself. Rubbing my stomach and cupping my bosom. Their ring leader doing the stroking was conveniently placed behind me, whispering his ‘sweet nothings’ in my ear. They may as well have been licking their lips. Making my skin crawl and brain frantically search for an escape route. Thankfully a few male friends came to my rescue and removed me from the situation.
I have endured men touching my bum as they squeeze past me in a crowded place, I have been flashed at on the bus. I’ve been sent dick pics I never asked for. I’ve been sought out by men on Instagram who want to talk about my sexual preferences and experiences. I have let men get away with this behaviour for so many years, mostly because I didn’t think anyone would believe me because of my appearance (I should be flattered they gave me attention, right?). And partly because I have been conditioned to explain it away as “boys will be boys”.
I have accepted that as a woman I will never feel safe walking home alone at night, or in the back seat of a taxi, an empty carriage on a train. I will always cross the road if I see a group of men coming towards me and I will avoid male dominated businesses/shops with every fiber of my being.
I am saddened at knowing that little girls will also endure this societal burden, will deal with sexual harassment, assault and having to live with those scars and the fear of not being believed.
I believe you.
And I want to change things for you.
We need to start putting more emphasis on the men that commit these acts rather than the victim blaming that I see so often. We need to believe every confession these women (and men, I know this isn’t just about women, but I can only write from my experiences) bring to us. If the burden of proof wasn’t so heavily placed upon the victim more people would come forward sooner, and the hideous people committing such acts would be brought to justice quicker.
When I first saw the hashtag going around on twitter, I didn’t think my experiences counted. I didn’t think that mine were severe, dramatic or horrific enough to speak up about. But then I read other women’s accounts and I realised that they all ‘count’. That we have once again be conditioned to keep our mouths shut, just like they all wanted us to.
I understand and fully respect the women that don’t agree with the #MeToo or who don’t feel comfortable or safe sharing their experiences. I want you to know that you are not alone. And I hope you one day feel safe enough to tell someone so the heaviness is no longer just yours.
My mind was racing in the early hours with all of these old memories, some I had forgotten or tried to re-write until now, when I had to come here, my safe space, and just let them out.
“Isn’t it strange how every woman knows someone who’s been sexually harassed but no man seems to know any harasser?”