Originally published by Sex, Politics, and Social Justice.
Hi Friend of the Cishet-male Persuasion,
You’ve stumbled into my life at school, job, mutual friend or online profile. You’ve seen I work for “feministy” organizations. And you’ve thrown down your male-feminist card to the arena.
First of all, congratulations (I know you wanted that). I’m sure you’re genuinely interested in gender equality and social justice. You’ve already told me what a burden your privilege is, and “thank god for sexual liberation, AMIRITE?!” We talk about toxic masculinity. We talk about the pressures of patriarchy. We talk about our favourite progressive cartoons. You dominate the conversation still, but not as much as some others. So, it’s going great.
Then, you start talking about sexual assault.
You speak of sexual assault as if it’s an abstract event. You assume 50 percent of the participants in the conversation don’t know what wandering hands and tight grips on your body feel like. Like, I’m not uncomfortable.
Let’s set the record straight: it’s cool you want to discuss gendered violence. Most men cringe at the thought of being blamed or accidentally blurting “not all men” (a mortal sin). But, you also need to recognize your experience is radically different than that of a woman.
As a woman, I am more likely to experience sexual assault. My nationality, age and ability will affect my likelihood of being attacked, but regardless of that, only 8 percent of all incidents are reported. I know you empathize with my experience, but as a woman, I am also more afraid of perceived experiences. Just one example: women are twice as likely to be fearful of using public transportation at night.
As an enlightened man, you know these statistics by reading online, you’ve done your research. And this is exactly my point – you’ve read it without the sting of experience, or the fear that if you aren’t already this statistic, it is possible you will be. When can we say, not all women?
If I offer my story with that guy on the bus – cut – guy in my room – cut – guy in the park – his reply is commonly, “EXACTLY! And so, I…” then it is his story that interrupts mine and I regret opening up.
This piece is my delayed interruption to the narrative that’s been playing out in cafes and bars for too many years. Your interest is keen and needed. But, your thoughtful silence and learning is even more necessary. Please listen, as an ally, before spouting off the statistics that women live and survive through every single day.
Do not pretend like my sisters’ and my own sexual assault is the same as yours or your brothers’. I am keys between fingers and shrinking in my chair. I am muted headphones and “sweet tits.” I am crossing the street, picking up pace, looking back and wondering, Am I Safe?
Let’s talk about sexual assault. Please. But, first let’s acknowledge when we do, that it doesn’t only happen to women that aren’t me. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, free of you. It might be a memory that feels a hell of a lot like a tight grip on my throat, so excuse me if I stutter.
A Forgotten Feminist Woman
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