“It’s not a gender issue.”
If you’ve read any online comments since Grace Millane’s horrific murder, you’ve no doubt seen that one.
“And don’t meet Tinder dates alone.”
“But it’s not a gender issue.”
Only, it is.
It’s tragic and it’s horrifying and every person I know has been hit incredibly hard by the unnecessary and awful death of a young woman that none of us knew.
Every woman I know has been hit, it seems, even harder.
Are we experiencing some kind of collective survivor guilt? Maybe. Because I’m sure I don’t know a single female who hasn’t, at least once, found themselves in a situation where they’ve had that gut-wrenching realisation that, “this could go horribly wrong.”
And this week we’re all thinking of those moments. And we’re thinking of the times that we were truly scared. And we’re shedding tears for a beautiful young woman because, despite having considered the possibilities and the what if’s over the years, we can’t fathom what she went through.
And we feel guilty for comparing our own moments. Because they pale in comparison. But they all add up to a massive, real problem.
So, yes, these crimes are a gender issue.
Because male violence against women is a very real, very specific thing. And it happens far too often.
And I’m tired. I’m angry. And this week alone we’ve had very public, very violent, very real crimes against women. And they’re a few of many.
It’s disheartening to look back over your own run-ins with violent men over the years and consider yourself lucky.
I’ve been thinking about mine all week, like I think most women have. Because they’re not rare. You’re not so much lucky to avoid physical or sexual violence as a woman. You’re lucky if you escape them unharmed.
When I was 16 I was lucky. An older man approached me and told me he liked to sit outside my school to watch the girls. He told me he wanted to get some beers so he and I could go somewhere quiet. I declined, he bought beer and then followed me onto my bus, sat directly behind me and followed me as I got off at my stop. I was lucky. I was able to run into a dairy. And I was lucky. Because the lovely couple that owned it sat me behind the counter and called my dad.
I was lucky, as an adult, that my rapist chose to get up and leave after. That my only physical harm was a few bruises.
I was lucky that the man I stood up to after he was extremely violent to a woman close to me, chose not to act on his threat against me. After calmly promising me that I’d pay. He told me, “never let your guard down. Because years from now, when you least expect it, I’ll get you.” It took a couple of years before I stopped thinking of him whenever something unnerving happened. But I was lucky. He simply threatened me. He never acted on it.
I’ve been told many times that I’m very lucky that the man I took to court for abuse never went to jail because, “if he had you’d never be safe again.” He’s a free man, I guess I’m lucky.
I was lucky when, years ago, a man tried to get in my car, yelling and banging on the window and trying to force the door open when I managed to shut it. He let go when I drove off. I was lucky.
I’ve been followed. I’ve been groped. I’ve met people online that seriously creeped me out. I’ve literally had someone joke, with a smile on his face, while we were in bed, that he could “do anything” and I’d be completely helpless.
And none of these are all that rare. My experiences aren’t extraordinary. Far too many women have far too many similar recollections.
And I’m lucky. Because they’re simply memories and lessons learned. And when you’re a woman there are so many lessons to be learned. I’ve been told them all, by both men and women.
“You let him into your house, what did you expect?”
“You can’t lead a guy on and then change your mind. You don’t want to wind him up.”
“What were you doing out on your own anyway?”
“You’re asking for trouble wearing that.”
“That’s just part of being a woman. You can’t let that bother you.”
“If you were that scared why didn’t you scream?”
“Surely you gave him some reason to believe you were interested.”
“You probably shouldn’t have antagonised him when he was already angry.”
Grace Millane did nothing wrong. The multitude of women who have been brutally attacked and murdered in our country at the hands of men did nothing wrong.
We’ve all been in unfamiliar countries or places on our own, and we should be able to do so and feel safe.
We’ve all chatted to strangers in bars or online - sometimes we’ve gone home with them. Sometimes we’ve been drunk, or high. Sometimes we’ve been wearing short skirts and high heels. Sometimes we’ve flirted. Sometimes we’ve turned guys down. Sometimes we’ve been out, late at night, on our own. Sometimes we’ve been obviously drunk in the back of taxis.
We shouldn’t have to look back on those moments and think: I was lucky.
Am I accusing all men of being rapists and murderers? Fuck no. I have a plethora of wonderful, protective, kind-hearted men in my life who I love and adore.
But I’ve also known enough men with the potential to snap, or who simply have deeply ingrained ideas when it comes to women to know that we have a major problem.
And the responsibility to change our culture falls on all of us, collectively.
I don’t know the answer. But it has to start somewhere. Respect boundaries. Stand up to jokes that just aren’t funny anymore. Realise that not travelling alone or avoiding Tinder isn’t any real solution.
Teach our boys to keep girls safe as much as we teach girls to keep themselves safe.
But it’s not a gender issue, right?
To Grace - I’m so sorry. And may you Rest In Peace.