Today on my (personal) Facebook timeline I shared a blog post by Laura Munoz entitled “To men I love, about men who scare me”. Those engaging with it concurred that the article was way on point, and it was even a web-literary meeting place between myself and a close friend who’s ideological agenda is often different to mine. Happy Thursday! But later, in the comments section (on my own account), I found myself in an interesting discussion where I felt suddenly compelled to recount a story about being threatened with sexual violence in a public space a couple of years ago. I felt moved to share it as it had been brought up in conversation earlier in the day, but almost as soon as I had, the fear, remorse and lamentation of the bareness of my soul descended:
- Have I overshared?
- Have I been inappropriate?
- Will I lose friends because I so publicly recounted that story?
- Will other parents think that me sharing that somehow makes me a bad parent?
- Will everyone who reads it think I was being a bit dramatic or oversensitive?
- Should I feel ashamed of myself?
To which, unanimously, my head answered in the affirmative. *Shit – delete it, surely only like one person has read it by this point, there’s still time to get rid of it…delete? Keep? Oh it’s too late now, you’ll look crazy if you delete it now…ffs*
I felt it all over again – shame, humiliation, embarrassment, vulnerability, fear, threatened even, like I had done something wrong. Like in my tale, by sharing my tale, it was I who had committed the offence. And THAT is the whole fucking point.
For whilst I’ll write this post and go to sleep and likely forget all about it, the story of how I felt after coming out with a sexual harassment tale – which after all, is what this is – the problem remains, that I am the one who is forever ashamed of that situation. Forever feeling grubby and angry when it comes to mind. Forever feeling like he will always have the better of me. Forever the thought that maybe I invited it – was I slouching too much? Looking too comfortable? Looking too present? To entitled to the space I was in? For really, there’s somewhere inside of me, kept on low heat at all times, that *knows* it should feel like it was my fault. It’d be easier if it had been my fault – for then I’d have the power to throw it away as some silly mistake.
When I was growing up, the narrative of blame-the-victim and don’t-overshare-or-you’ll-embarrass-yourself was so normalised that it catches me out today still, despite all I know. I’m not talking about in close family or even among friends – although of course we’ve likely all internalised that message for sure; I mean at the level of formal education and just ‘this is the way it is’. When you’re told something is how it is and you hear a few bullet points – jeez, even without the damn bullet points – as a child or young adult, well that’s just how it is, I guess.
*This is why I don’t do this*, I thought to myself after my final comment, *this is why I never talk about these things out loud*. And yeh, that’s the whole problem yo, THIS is why women don’t do this, why they don’t share the sexual-harassment shit that happens to them on a regular basis. Because when you grow up with victim-blaming being the norm, the discourse,the whole story – it’s your responsibilty not to get attacked and it’s your responsibility not to tell anyone when you’ve been threatened, to control the flow of information – you see no other option. And if I – a feminist/women’s rights blogger – feels this physically sick from the inside all the way out after regaling a micro-section of the internet with one of surely a hundred such tales of threatened sexual-violence, then what chance does anyone else have of being able to stand in their own story?
[Having had a few detailed conversations around this issue since I first published the post, I want to add that the common rhetoric that if a woman is threatened with sexual violence it’s somehow a compliment is one of the most common myths. I want to make it clear that contrary to the narrative that many may have been conditioned to believe which causes them to victim-blame by default, there is a huge difference between expressing that you’re attracted to someone and sexually threatening them. Telling someone how much you like them or are attracted to them is a beautiful thing. That’s not what the issue is. Another common response to feminist challenges to victim-blaming is to yell ‘oversensitive!’ and consider that the final word. Appreciating the beauty of someone = good, lovely and beautiful; sexually intimidating them or forcing your view of their body upon them = not). CC