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Do you know what it’s like to be terrified of entitled men and what they are capable of if they want something? That something being your body, specifically. A man in a room full of women is excited and lucky, a women in a room full of men would be absolutely terrified—surely, you can see that something is obviously not right there? Ever since I was young enough to understand the way "men" work in this world, I have been subjected to the dehumanising and gross behaviour of them. I remember on my 16th birthday, I was in York with my mum. On the way back, a man who must have been at least 65, stared me down whilst licking his lips as we were waiting for the train, before going on to make comments: "Wouldn’t you like to come home with me darling?" "I’ll show you a lovely time sweetheart." Even when my mum physically stood in front of me, he continued. I remember exactly what I was wearing that day, skinny jeans that were too big for me and a massive hoodie—I looked like a child. I was a child. I remember exactly how I felt on the train home after, a feeling that I had felt many times before, and a feeling that would and has stuck with me until this day. It's a horrendous feeling. Imagine fear, helplessness, disgust, a sickness in the bottom of your stomach, and a crawling under your skin all mixed into one. It’s a feeling that too many girls know all too well.
As I reached 16/17, the stories started. I heard more and more stories about girls my own age—sometimes older, sometimes younger—having similar or even worse experiences. I don’t need to describe what I am talking about for you to imagine the stories I heard. And those stories never stopped. It’s still a constant flow both online and offline of heartbreaking, butt-wrenching stories. And it didn’t stop for myself either. When I was 19, a man followed me home one night. All the way to my doorstep where he then continued to grope me and try to put his hands down my trousers. If my housemate hadn’t walked down the stairs that night, and at precisely that moment, I don’t know what would have happened. Well, I do. And I’m sure you do, too. I remember exactly what I was wearing that day, too. Black jeans and a huge coat, no makeup, and my hair in a scruffy bun.
Writing those last two paragraphs was hard. I’m shaking. But I have to relive those moments, and countless others, constantly. It feels as though it never stops and I feel so helpless most of the time. Now, this next bit is probably going to piss some people off and all I can say is: If this next bit does annoy you, then you are the exact person I am trying to get through to. Hopefully, it has never and will never happen to your friendship group—you find out that your mate has sexually assaulted someone (or many people). Now I get it, that’s a tricky situation, and it’s difficult and awkward. But let me tell you something else, that situation you are in or thinking, "Should I still be mates with this person?" or "Can I forgive what they have done?" is nowhere near as hard of a situation as that victim is in right now. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have to cut a mate off than get brutally raped. Too many times I have heard, "It’s too awkward to tell them to leave." Well, guess what? It’s more than a bit awkward when a young girl who has enjoyed herself at a party wakes up to find a disgusting man inside of her. Finding my language a bit vulgar? Don’t worry, it’s basically a Disney movie script compared to some of the language I have heard shouted at myself and other female-identifying folk.
Now, before you "it’s not all men!" hooligans say something, I know that. I’m not stupid. But think about this: If you spent the same amount of time you waste saying, "it’s not all men," and instead spent that time calling abusers and their supporters out, or even just making women feel a bit more comfortable, don’t you think things would improve? Stop spending so much time trying to prove you’re not part of the problem and accept some responsibility. And if you're someone who gets mad when you are called out yourself for saying sexist or entitled comments, then you need to take a good look at yourself and your morals. You might be annoyed and feel like you’re being lectured constantly, but just know this: Until you change your act and become a complete ally, someone is always going to call you out when you say those things. I’m not going to stand back and let any boy or man diminish the constant struggle that women go through just for a few giggles at your grotesque joke—it’s just a joke about rape to you, but to us it’s real life.
If you think this is aimed at you then yes, you’re correct. The shoe obviously fits. Sometimes I think it will take me being brutally assaulted in front of the men in my life in order for them to take this problem seriously. I have never felt like a single man really cared to completely understand this problem, and why it affects myself and so many other people so massively. I get it, you have no idea what it’s like to be sexualised and threatened. But maybe you could just dig a bit deeper and at least find some empathy? (A side note to all my male friends and family: I love you all dearly, but I can, hands on heart, say not a single one of you has ever shown true compassion or solidarity when it comes to this topic. You might think you have, but telling me that your blood is boiling doesn’t mean much when the next day you continue to hangout with an abuser or assaulter.)
So, what can you do to help? First of all, quit with any and all sexual abuse and assault jokes. Unless you yourself have had an awful experience and that is your way of dealing with it, you have no right—absolutely none—to joke about something so real and life-destroying. Next, you could start using those vocal chords of yours and call out others in your life and stand up for those who need your help. If you see a girl being made obviously uncomfortable by someone, say or do something, even if it’s just asking the girl if she’s okay. And thirdly, but probably most importantly, stop sexually assaulting people!