To all the boys who don’t understand
Stay safe, our mothers teach us. Don’t go out alone, or at night, but if you do then don’t walk home, or use public transport, or get a taxi. Make sure you don’t wear your hair in a ponytail because it’s too easy to grab, and make sure your clothes aren’t too bright or too revealing. Make sure you don’t attract any attention from men, at all, but if you do then just make sure you’re nice. But don’t lead them on, that can make it worse. If they ask for your number, don’t give it to them, unless they try and call you to check if it’s actually your number, in which case you should give it to them but then block them as soon as you can. Hold your keys between your fingers, scream fire instead of rape, pretend to be on the phone, make sure someone knows where you are and what time you should get home.
If you get home.
We are trying to live, but you are killing us. If I am stabbed in the back, they will ask why I didn’t turn around. If I am shot in the head, they will wonder why I didn’t dodge the bullet. If I am thrown down the stairs, they will ask why I didn’t fly. We take our lives into our own hands each time we leave the house, and we do all we can to keep ourselves safe, but it still isn’t enough. We’ve been scared since the beginning of time, but you refuse to see it. Our caution has been mislabelled as aloofness. Our fear misrepresented as anger. I feel exposed so I try and keep myself small. Our personalities are moulded by this ever-present threat of attack- what could we become if this was neutralised? How much of our power, curiosity and desire is stifled by an overwhelming need to keep ourselves safe?
Women are unified by harrowing experiences in a way that you will never understand. It is through our trauma that we bond. It’s a shared look, we see our anger reflected in their eyes, I am you, you are me, this is a fight that neither of us asked for but I’ll do whatever I can to back you up and keep you safe. From the minute we are born we are protecting ourselves from this unstoppable monolith, that terrorised our mother and our mother’s mother. It will follow us around for the whole of our lives, and if we have a daughter it will come for them too. It kills, rapes, beats, slaps, threats, spits, humiliates. But it also removes condoms covertly, shares revenge porn, gaslights. It undermines, it uses our work as its own, it riles us up and then calls us a psycho. It can be found lurking in offices, supermarkets, shared houses, bars, clubs, Parliament.
You may be confident that you are not a part of it; you may be immersed in this culture that frames us as weak and untrustworthy, but you personally would never hurt or kill a woman. Good for you. But your friend is thrown out of the club for groping a woman, and you leave with him. He threatens his girlfriend with violence, and you console him. He makes a joke about rape, and you laugh, because it’s only a joke. Pay attention to the way you and the men around you talk about women, do not give them a safe space to exhibit their hatred of women. They feel like they have a right to control our bodies, and your silence is compliance.