I spent Sunday crying. Not actively or anything; just every now and then tears would fall out of my eyes and down my face. This happens sometimes, just like the accidental forty-minute showers and the fifteen minutes sitting on the side of the bed because working out what to do next is just Too Hard.
There's never been a time in my life when I didn't have hands-on knowledge of gendered violence, some of it directed straight at me. This has never been theoretical for me, but always personal. Any time the news is full of something like Isla Vista, or the self-confessed serial rapists who called themselves the Roast Busters, it's all sitting not moving and silent crying again. And a lot of the time, it's not engaging, because for women like me, engaging is simply too hard.
I say all of this to explain why I don't want to have the discussion I don't want to have. It's not that I think it's not necessary, or it's not valuable, it's because it's too fucking hard for me. We do need to talk about how this bullshit, this fear, cripples the lives of women. Read the #YesAllWomen hashtag. Read Laurie Penny's column. For the love of kittens don't read the comments. Those conversations are important, but right now, I can't engage with them. For the sake of my sanity, I need to have a conversation that focuses on hope and positive action. Also, I'd like to think that here, we don't have to start the discussion from first principles every time.
What I want to do is move on to the questions I've seen several times in the last two days, almost entirely from men: What can we do to stop this? And while the onus is, and must be, mostly on men, when I say "we", I mean all of us together.
I don't want to talk about This One Guy. While this is Not All Men, it's so far from Just This One Guy it's intensely not funny. This is so much not an isolated incident that I could have written this column just by cutting and pasting things I've already written. This guy was a Creeper. Whatever else was going on in his head and in his life, our society provided him with a handy script to play out. There is nothing in that video we haven't all heard before.
These guys, with their funny jokes about how we owe them sex, their comments about our tits and our clothes, who only see women as Potential Sex, they’re part of our lives, something we live with. Something we’re expected to work around.
...there’s all our collective experience of what sometimes happens when you say No clearly and politely. The times that’s the point at which the “compliments” become abuse. Because Jesus, chill, and get a sense of humour, and you’re probably a lezzer and you’re too ugly to fuck anyway. The times that’s the point at which the abuse becomes assault.
This narrative is classic entitlement misogyny. It's this guy, a little further down the line. Entitlement misogyny sounds something like this. "Okay, I've played this level a whole bunch of times, and I can't get through it. I've done all the things on the list, and it's not working. Tell me what the trick is. Give me the cheat codes. Tell me how to get sex out of women. This stupid fucking thing must be broken. I put my coin in and I am owed some sex." And who hasn't thrown a controller or punched a vending machine at that point?
So, what do we do now? How do we break this narrative?
The last few days, I keep thinking about something I said to Jolisa re: Crossbow Boy:
I believe his problem, being a lower-class bloke with a very limited paradigm of acceptable male behaviour, was that he just didn’t know how to cope with what he was feeling. In a very real sense, violence was the most acceptable way for him to react to the situation. It was what was expected. If we want to stop this kind of thing happening then perhaps what we need is a new generation of sissy men for whom it is permissible to go to bed with a tub of ice-cream and cry when your girlfriend dumps you.
In other words, we need to let men out of the Masculinity Box. We need to be accepting of men having actual real emotions and accept them finding healthy ways of processing them. A man crying needs to be more socially acceptable than a man punching, and it's not.
Something I realised recently (I can go a really long time without realising things) is that basically my favourite people are men who have lots of female friends, and vice versa*. If a man has female friends, I can be pretty sure he's not That Guy, because that guy doesn't see women as people, just as machines for dispensing sex.
And there we've kind of hit the heart of it, in that old feminist cliché: it's about seeing women as people.
More specifically, I think it's about teaching our kids to see all people as people first, and their gender well down the line. That means no gendered toys. It means encouraging your sons to play with girls, your kids to have friends of all genders from the earliest age. It's about utterly rejecting "boys don't cry" and "ha, you got hit by a GIRL!". It's about giving them media to watch that doesn't reinforce gender stereotypes, and surrounding your kids with adults who are Good People, who don't make sexist jokes at Christmas.
And I know, as every whiny liberal cry-baby parent does, the pain of raising your kids like this as much as you can, then sending them to school or kindergarten, and having it all undermined. They come home and suddenly they won't read science books, because they're for boys, or they won't read at all, because that's girly. Your daughter comes home confused and sad when her male friends won't play with her any more because it's not cool. It sucks and it's awful, but the more of us who try, the better it gets. I crave a future devoid of gender-based school bullshit.
There are a whole bunch of tiny little actions we can all perform repeatedly, and they will, agonisingly slowly, make a difference. (While I was typing this list, it turned out ScubaNurse was typing one of her own. You guys will have them too: share.)
- When women speak about this stuff, listen. Give them space to speak. If you don't know what to say, it's often a sign you shouldn't be talking. Believe them, and appreciate the value of an insight into an experience that isn't yours.
- When it feels safe to do so, call your friends, family, co-workers, etc, on their bullshit. You don't have to fight every fight, nobody can do that, but do it when you can.
- When someone else does the bullshit-calling, back them up. Be the One Other Person. Don't be the guy who enables and excuses That Guy.
- Learn. I can't fathom why smart, educated people get so pissed about "feminist" terms they won't even bother finding out what they actually mean. There's a power of information out there, and you can find it by yourself. Get started with this fabulous video explaining what objectification is.
- When you have the spoons, and the people doing the asking are being genuine, take the time to share, and explain. Try to be the person who changes a mind, even if it's only one. I've had people tell me I've changed their minds, and if there's a better feeling than that, I can't talk about it in public.
- Be a good example. The 'when' for that is 'all the fucking time'. Be a good example for your kids, and other people's kids, and total strangers in bars.
- If you can't be the one who helps, help the people who help. Donate to a rape crisis service or a women's refuge. Take a friend out for a beer and a vent. Send a feminist blogger some cake she can eat while she reads her hate mail. Just say thank you. It makes a difference.
*I didn't mean "female friends who have lots of men", but when I examine the proposition, it holds up, so...