Fear and the Reasons I Need Feminism

**WARNING; THIS POST DISCUSSES SOME SEXUAL ABUSE AND RAPE CULTURE AND MAY CONTAIN SOME TRIGGERS

Saturday morning after I finished work at the wonderful Garden of Unearthly Delights at about 4.30am, I had an incident.
It started after I bought cat food at a 24/7, and was trying to find a taxi home. A drunk guy was at a phone booth on one of the main roads through town. He sways up to me, slurring; “Hey, do you know what happens of I put fiddy cents into that? Will it just ring and hang up?”
Me; “Dunno. Why, are you stranded?”
“Yeah man, stranded…”
“Here, I got some change, its only .80c, but call a mate.”
“Nah I just need to know how it works”
I explain how the phone booth works.
“Man, you’re awesome! I need more people like you in my life! *fistbump, I start to walk away* Oi, give us a kiss!”
“Haha, nah man. Ill give you a hug, but I ain’t kissing you”
“I’m gonna rip into you”
*wait…* “What??”
“I’m gonna have sex with you!!”
*WAIT. WHAT??* (This is the point where my self-preservation voice panics, and unleashes the   classic-late-night-solo-white-girl-defence-line, and I start hating both myself and this douchebag for reducing me to this) “Yeah tell that to my boyfriend man, see what he says.” *I turn my back on douchebag, and start walking away*
“Fucking, yeah I will!! He’s right over there!”
*Still walking away* “Whatever man, have a good one…”
*incoherent babbling*

I made it into a taxi and home safe in the end, but I went to bed so angry I was physically sick all the next day. Its been a long time since I was so offended, infuriated, and insulted by the actions of a singular being. As I write this three days later I’m still ragingly pissed off.
The irony of this situation is that earlier that night we had a dress-up theme at work of “Prom Night”. Having stayed at a friends house the night before, I had to borrow some clothes and came up with a character story of a creepy pedophile teacher who had put date rape drugs in the school punch.

daterapist I admit, this joke was in bad taste, and contributes to the normalisation of rape culture. But, as comedian and performer of “Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It” Adrienne Truscott (more on this one later) says in an interview “part of the show is what you can make jokes about, whats appropriate and not appropriate about comedy, and who takes offense…” After this encounter, I decided my joke wasn’t really funny anymore, and tipped my hat to the Universe for pointing that out. #AkwardAdmissions

For those that don’t know what Rape Culture is, this article in The Guardian expresses it pretty well. Basically its the idea that other people have the rights to have sexualised power over an individuals body. The majority of this is expressed in men thinking they can take women’s rights to their bodies as their own, but it also happens when women forcibly take men’s bodies, men take other males bodies, women take other women’s bodies, and people of both genders take the rights of trans or intersex people. “The cycle is perpetuated as victims are silenced and blamed, the crime normalised, and perpetrators completely ignored.”
I’ve always considered myself a feminist. Not the man-hating, patriarch-bashing, burn-the-lingerie-and-break-ALL-the-celilings kind. The kind that pulls people up on casual sexism, wears jeans and boots most days but sometimes gets a kick out of wearing a dress and putting on make-up, believes that no one gender is more powerful or intelligent than the other but each have things to bring to the table, can fix my own damn bike, wants Tony Abbot to magically turn into a Schnauzer and spend the rest of his life rolling in sheep poo, walks home alone at night to combat the fear, and is fucking proud to be working with amazing task force of strong and ridiculously capable women in an industry that typically is thought of as masculine.  Its taken me a really long time to be comfortable in my skin, to acknowledge that my body is my own and no one elses, and I am the only one that says what happens to it. The idea that some asshole on the street thinks he knows better negates all the years I’ve spent trying to accept and respect myself against this hostile climate of beauty propaganda and gender-bias touted as cornerstone wisdom.  That pisses me off:  its MY hard work, YOU don’t deserve it!

So, if I’m that confident in my rights as a woman, why did this guy get under my skin so much?
The  Everyday Sexism Project exists to catalogue women’s experience with sexist actions, words or behavior no matter how big or small to prove that as ‘progressive’ as we think our 21st Century society is, the whole thing’s actually a facade.  This story particularly resonated with me, as it explains to me why it felt so shameful to resort to the typical scared-litte-girl reaction of “My (pretend) boyfriends gonna save me!”

“Competition 2013-11-21 00:36

When a man is still trying to flirt with me after I’ve already said “I’m not interested”, I frequently will ask a male friend of mine (who is with me at the time) to pretend to be my boyfriend in order for the flirting man to stop talking to me and making me uncomfortable. This happens to often to not just me but also my friends.
It’s embarrassing to realise that men will respect competition with another man more than a woman’s request to leave her alone.”

I find this solution more than embarrassing, its also degrading. Not just to myself but also to the men who subscribe to this belief, and the men who are affected by the men who subscribe to this belief. What does it say about our ‘advanced brain’ and ‘civilised culture’ when the only thing that halts someone in their pursuits is “If you hurt me an ape-fisted males gonna bash you cause his ape-fists are bigger than your ape-fists so nyah”? As an intelligent, witty, and somewhat charismatic individual, it degrades me to have to resort to empty threats of implied violence. As a strong independent female, it removes my feelings of strength, independence, and personal power to have to pretend I need looking after by a neolithicly-powered male,  but short of carrying around nail-spiked nun-chucks with mace nozzles in the end, I’m not sure of what other response I can give in that situation to be safe.

clipsalmeme

I am not the only one that feels this way, though clearly this is still a topic that’s up for heated discussion.  We recently had a three day car-race festival in my hometown, the Clipsal 500 that co-incides with many other arts and cultural festivals in the same month.  It is rare that the arts crowd meet the outer suburbs bogans in any other scenario, but for three days in March the streets are flooded with car-banded t-shirts and Bundy Rum-fuelled sunglass tans. Local online rag InDaily sent a few reporters out to OP on increased sexual harassment incidents during festival time in general and the Clipsal 500 event in particular.

The comments in the resulting articles are an amazing example of the debate and diatribe surrounding women’s rights in Adelaide.  This article by Liam Mannix on the work of the YWCA to promote awareness to government and civilian alike on the prevalence of harassment during February and March at gained heated criticism from the public attacking the male journalist for his treatment of the woman social worker spearheading the campaign.  They called him snide, patronising, and unfit to report due to the lack of published data as opposed to anecdotal evidence.   THIS article, written by female journalist Louise Pascale while she was out with YWCA’s women’s safety survey team during the Clipsal weekend attracted an equally intense response, with comments crying everything from “Down with normalisation!” to “But you get to see bikini-clad girls on the beach all the time, what’s the problem?” to “Us blokes get harassed too, why do women get all the attention?”.  Its an interesting read if you want to think about the juxtaposition of the general Adelaidian’s opinion on women’s rights, and I’m pretty aggravated by some of the responses. The ancient advertising stereotype argument aide, the press seems to have a magical ability of stirring things up while keeping the status quo the same, and I think this definitely has to be altered before we start seeing a change in the perceptions of how we can and can’t treat women in the public sphere.

wtf

This image was run in the Murdoch Press-owned Adelaide Advertiser Newspaper with the caption; “The Clipsal 500 will be in Adelaide long enough for young Jayden’s interests to mature.”

The thing that surprised me most though, was how many people are too willing to put this kind of attitude of sexual objectification down to particular event or group of people that attend such events .  My initial Facebook post about the verbal attack had many people comment “What the fuck?”, “Are you okay?”, “How dare they?” etc etc.  These comments are mostly supportive, and made me feel justified in my anger, but in the long run, but they’re not changing anything. Like more sympathetic comments in the InDaily articles, they just seem to a be a trigger-response to a damaging topical incident.  When posting the articles and follow-up articles I’d read, the comments from my feed were more along the lines of “Oh, thats Clipsal for you!” and “Damn Bogans… when will they learn?” Its this kind of complacency of harassment and objectification that keeps the cycle perpetuating, and not just in festival time. People come to expect this behaviour year-round from loose louts and ladies alike, and no one really gets angry when it happens in Festival season cause “Well, there’s more people in the city, you just have to accept it’s gonna happen more often.”

Well… No.  No way. I’m calling bullshit on that one.
Complacency is the biggest killer no matter what issue it is that you’re targeting. But as angry as I am about the way some women are treated, the line of where it stops being a joke still confuses me.  While women like  Sam Taylor writing for Vice magazine clearly states that she loves the ‘extra attention’ while out and about, there is definitely nothing funny about being told some random dude will “rip into you”, or, as in the Laura Bates article previously mentioned, would “hold a knife to that”.
Adrienne Truscott, one half of strip-comedy duo The Wau Wau sisters, and comedienne in her own right has produced a show on that very topic. (See? Told you I’d get back to it.) I’ve only read one review (in conversation) so far, by the awesome Fleur Kilpatrick on her weblog ‘School For Birds’ (who, by the by, I illustrated an article for not so many days ago) and you should all go and read it because the people discussing the show are far more eloquent than I.
Basically Adrienne opens the show with the line “So, who here has been raped? Okay. Who here is a rapist? Well now statistically that can’t be true.”, and its all confrontation from there.  Throughout the show, she periodically steps over where my moral compass would put the line, though I may have been especially sensitively since I saw the first performance the night after I was told “I’m gonna have sex with ya”. I’ve seen much performance art, and not many shows leave me walking out with such a feeling if disquiet. She discusses normalisation of rape culture through the work of other famous comedians (all men), and uses her character to portray the ridiculousness of  victimisation comments- “She was drunk…” (As Adrienne swigs cans of G+T onstage), “She was provocatively dressed” (as she strips off four denim jackets while not ever having pants as part of her costume) “She was loud and flirty” (As she laughs and jokes and flutters her eyelids and tell stories about how she roofied some guys drink and dragged him home to her apartment and tried to fuck him unconscious on the kitchen floor but he couldn’t get it up so she forced Viagra down his throat and then invited The Girls around for champagne and a free ride… sound familiar?)
The show explores this strange blur between Okay To Laugh and Not Okay To laugh, and she dances through this grey area forcing us to consider and reconsider what is Right and what is Wrong about our boundaries and our ethics.  I left with my head spinning; was my pedophile rapist joke too far? Did that guy on the street corner actually think he was being funny? What makes a stereotype in a sitcom different from a entendre about that trashbag cougar in the corner? If its okay to make nigger jokes when your a black man, and gay jokes when your a lesbian, why isn’t it okay to make comments on these issues as a woman? Why do some men feel they can get away with this shit on stage, but we can’t have a civilised discussion in a public forum?

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TBH, its taken me over a week to write this blog post, as I keep finding more information, opinions, and voices that keep blowing my mind on the debate…

“It looks much more like an attempt to control women, or at least to remind them that they are occupying public space which does not “belong” to them.  This is not something that can be proved by discussing individual cases, or indeed asking men whether that is their intention in calling attention to women’s bodies as they drive by.  But it’s certainly possible to ask men whether they’re being totally honest when they insist there’s nothing irritating or threatening about someone they don’t know addressing them out of nowhere…  Men are used to being offended and angry when people intrude on their right to be in public without being hassled or annoyed… It is only when women point out the daily pressures placed upon them that so many men claim that the streets are totally non-political, and anyone has the right to do or say anything to anyone else if they’ve chosen to go out in public.  Women have spoken eloquently about the links between street harassment and sexual violence and the intimidating effect of dealing with it every day.  And the way men themselves negotiate public space shows that we understand a lot more about the issues at stake than many of us will admit.  It’s simply dishonest to pretend we don’t, and that therefore we shouldn’t urgently listen to women’s voices when they tell us what it’s like in the streets for them.”

–Jam Bloo0mfeild in his blog post “The Freedom of the Streets- Men and Street Harassment”

This is one of the things I think some men don’t understand, the men who ask you what the big deal is about street harassment, say they’d love it if it happened to them, or suggest you just “take it as a compliment”. It’s not a simple, one-moment experience. It’s a horribly drawn-out affair. The process of scanning the street as you walk; the constant alert tension; the moment of revelation and the sinking feeling as you realise what is going to happen. Countless women have written to me about the defence mechanisms they put in place – walking with keys between their knuckles just to feel safe – wearing their earphones so they can keep their head down and ignore it. The whole process of going out, particularly at night, can become fraught and difficult…Why don’t you just take it as a compliment?”
Founder of  Everyday Sexism, Laura Bates in an article through The Guardian on why street harassment is so damaging.

The internet is in an uproar, and everything I read provokes more feels in me. I’ve been trying to take these conversations out into the real world, and the scary thing I’ve found is that most women do feel terrified to walk home/take a train/go to the pub/sit alone in a cafe/have unlocked car doors while driving/make friends with a stranger due to fear and the feeling of vulnerability that has been drummed into their heads.  
Eight days now and over three thousand words after the incident, I’ve managed to piece this chaos in my brain into a blog post, though I am reluctant to get involved as this whole issue smacks of the blame game and that makes me uneasy.  It seems the majority of society says we should be cringing at shadows and if anything bad happens its our fault for not having any self-defense mechanisms, for wearing/not wearing clothes, for falling asleep at a party or any other plethora of empty excuses.  Its our fault for being scared when we’ve just been told over social media that a famous six-foot heavy American thinks its funny if a woman gets gang-raped by five guys. It’s our fault for not kissing the drunken stranger on the side of the road who you tried to help just cause he wants it. And worst of all, its OUR FAULT men don’t respect us cause WE manipulated them.
I’m sorry, did I tie you to a pole and dance naked around you and give you enhanced interrogative 
drugs so you could run your tongue off at me?  No? Well then shut the fuck up and keep your scare tactics to yourself, cause I will continue to walk the streets at night and feel safe regardless of your beer-sodden squawks.

IMALADYDAMNIT

Basically, this is just one example of why I need feminism, cause NO ONE should use rape as a scare tactic for not getting what trifles they want, and NO ONE should be objectified while trying to help someone in need. No one should be objectified unless they want to be (everything’s a fetish, and that just adds another layer to the debate), and no one should be at the risk of harm while trying to get home from work.
I’m scared every time this happens I get a little less sympathetic and a little more distrustful of humans in general and guys in particular. I don’t want to end up as a scared shell of my former self, or have to give up dancing at three am when all my friends have gone home, or avoid seeing the stars on a crisp winters night in the burbs.
I need to help make this fear and harm stop not just for me but for all of us Ladies, and this is why I need Feminism, to give me the strength to call it and say “Rape jokes are bad, mmmkay? Let me tell you why…”

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