03 Aug A Letter to Men
I have tried to write the feisty piece, the one that tells you to educate yourselves on your own entitlement and problematic actions, and to stop doing them.
I have tried to write the academic piece, the one that does the educating, that argues what this entitlement and these problematic actions are, where they come from, why they’re harmful, and to stop doing them.
But now I’m broken.
Do you have any idea how draining it is to be perpetually angry, to be constantly ready to call you out, to have nuanced arguments on standby, to be used to ignoring the triggering things you say for the sake of moving on in the ‘debate’, to have to politely listen to your arguments and pretend that it’s not the hundredth time I’ve heard them?
There is no metaphor, simile, adjective, or adverb in any language that would accurately articulate how draining this is, so I’m not going to try, and you’re going to have to take my word for it.
This is not an angry call-out piece or an academic discourse piece. And not because those aren’t important or effective, but because I’m exhausted and I’m pleading with you. It bruises my pride, my self-worth, my politics, my whole identity to do this, and to allow you to think that you are entitled to this, but I am about to beg you to please stop doing the things that you do, on behalf of all womxn and LGBTQI+ people.
1. Please stop hitting on us aggressively.
The other day I only just made the train before it left the platform, so when this man opposite me locked his eyes onto me, I thought it was because I had drawn attention to myself by running onto the train.
When an uncomfortable amount of time had passed and he was still staring at me, I made eye contact, smiled to say hello, and then put my earphones in, trying to communicate that I had cognisance of him.
When I looked at him again after some minutes to make sure that I was not imagining how it felt to be stared at, he jerked his head toward me, and made sure to show me that he was checking me out with his eyes.
When I got off the train and knew that he was following me, I walked towards a direction of the station I was actually not intending to go to in order to be in an area with the most people around me. This direction took me to an escalator where I felt the man rubbing my arm gently behind me. I took a step forward and moved my arms in front of me, only to hear him follow my step forward, and to feel his attempt to push his hard-on into me.
I eventually managed to lose him, but I spent ten minutes on the train anxiously wondering if I was reading too much into his uncomfortable stare. Six minutes desperately trying to stay with large groups of people because I felt so unsafe. And three minutes being too scared to do anything about a man trying to touch me without my consent.
Now I know you’re already fuming, obviously it’s not okay to put your hard on against a random womxn, I don’t do that.
But you do, because I started to feel unsafe and uncomfortable as soon as I felt the man’s gaze, because even if you, Mr Not All Men, would have stopped looking at me after a few minutes, you would have checked me out and then moved on with your day. At whichever point you would have stopped in this ‘exception’ of a scenario, I would have had the same amount of discomfort. Probably for a shorter amount of time, but I would have been uncomfortable nonetheless. This is because I did not consent to you seeing me in a sexual context, and it feels highly violating and unsafe for you to not care about that, and to do so anyway.
2. Please stop automatically assuming we are candidates for sex, solely by virtue of the fact that we are not men (your equals).
I met a man in a class I was taking, found him nice enough, and went for a beer with him. It had been a bad day, so I had put lipstick on to make myself feel pretty hours before I had even made arrangements to meet him.
Almost instantly there was a remark about how flattering it was that I had worn lipstick for him, and this was followed with numerous comments about the two of us having sex. Even some problematic ones about how much I needed to drink to ‘have sex’ with him.
I had shown no interest in this man, had made no implication that I was looking for someone to have sex with and had even made reference to my involvement in a complicated relationship.
I cannot logically understand, why you think it is okay to see me as a sexual prospect when no allusion to this has been made by me.
And I’m not even going to address the comment about me drinking enough to ‘have sex’ with him, because you should all know why rape is wrong already.
3. Please stop physically obstructing me when trying to speak to me.
I have too many incidents to give you a specific example of men blocking me to try and speak to me. If you have to physically stop me from leaving your space in order to keep me talking to you – you are keeping me in your space against my will and are being forceful and violent and scaring me.
And I don’t mean aggressive, typically violent, like holding me against a wall. I mean when I’m walking down the street, please don’t walk into me, continue to walk right next to me whilst ‘chatting’ to me, and making it difficult for me to turn a corner or some benign equivalent. If you start trying to talk to me, and I’m interested in talking to you back, I promise you I will stop, make eye-contact with you, and actively engage in our conversation. Here’s that absurd little word again, I will consent to our interaction.
4. Please stop judging your own actions by your intentions instead of how they affect other people.
This is the big one, and it’s in here because it’s a general rule that covers a lot of things I’d ask you to stop doing if I had the word-count to do it.
I know a lot of you have read this and actually felt good about yourself because you would never do any of these things. But I am telling you that you all do. Whether it be in a different context, as a different variation, in the absence of stopping a friend from doing it, or with the friendliest, most innocent intentions.
The responsibility on your behalf comes in recognising that the space you occupy is inherently violent. Not because you were born genetically violent, but because you live in a society that endorses and perpetuates male violence. And not even the kindest heart in the world could make you immune to such deeply entrenched social conditioning.
But it can’t stop at recognition, you have to make a decision to actively work to behave in a way that is different to your social conditioning. And before you let your mind go I already have, that’s why none of this applies to me, this decision is rooted in finding out how your behaviour affects other people and adjusting accordingly.
I’d like to be a strong enough writer to end this off in such a way that leaves you feeling profoundly affected with an unexplainable sense of responsibility, even if you intellectually disagree with everything I’ve said.
I hope to be this writer one day, but right now, I feel too much illness to feel enough drive to backspace whole sentences and look up synonyms and spend ages swapping the conjunctions.
I feel sick with fear of my own body. I don’t want to go out tonight because I don’t want to have to ignore advances, make sure not too many of my feminine traits are visible, wait until another girl goes to the bathroom so I don’t have to go alone, keep my hand over my drink, monitor that I’m not laughing too much in case I come across as interested, etc.
It’s too exhausting, can’t you see that? It’s too violent and too traumatic to constantly be trying to prevent my own assault with every little thing I do.
So please, if I can put my pride aside and beg you to listen to me and plead with you to stop scaring us, can’t you put yours aside and consider what I’m saying?
¹ This article is addressed to cisgender heterosexual men i.e. men who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth and are sexually attracted to womxn.