If you’ve been on the internet at all recently you’ll know two things; you’ll know what happened on Game of Thrones (whether you wanted to or not), and you’ll be aware of a certain hashtag dominating Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and magazines.
Enough people have put down their thoughts about #Yesallwomen that I really didn’t think it was worth throwing my voice into the mix, but as I scrolled and scrolled (and scrolled and scr—) through a staggeringly long list of experiences I would never wish upon anyone, it occurred to me how little I really know about what women go through all the time.
Just all the fucking time.
In the golden days of university and a full(ish) head of hair, I was walking through the centre of Sheffield in the early hours and spotted a young couple having a row. I didn’t think too much of it at first; a couple, most likely drunk, raising their voices after a night out isn’t exactly uncommon.
The man got louder, more animated, and more aggressive, so I headed towards them thinking that maybe the proximity of another human being might cause him to take a breath and calm down a little. No such luck. As I neared, the young man grabbed the woman by the throat and slammed her back into the shop shutters behind her. He had his face right up in hers and was yelling something. She was crying and asking him to stop.
By this time, I was more or less on top of them, so I shoved the man back and told him he needed to take a walk and calm down. At this point, he threatened to cut me if I didn’t walk on. I couldn’t see a knife on him so (perhaps stupidly) assumed he was full of shit and shoved him again, this time he fell on his arse.
He was already pissed off before I arrived and now he’d been unceremoniously dumped on his backside, but he wasn’t a particularly big guy. I know that doesn’t necessarily matter, but I out-heighted him by about seven or eight inches. I could see him doing the maths — he had absolutely no way of knowing that I’m bloody useless in a fight — and all he saw was a guy of six-feet-two who’d shoved him about a little bit. So he left.
I was relieved that he hadn’t come back at me — I really am something of a soft-lad and it has to be something big to make me risk getting into a fight. I don’t like it and I’m not good at it. But if I felt relieved, I could only wonder how the woman felt.
She had stopped crying but was still clearly upset and was actually angry now as well. With me. She told me I should have minded my own business and that I was an interfering idiot, adding, ‘What do you think he’s going to do when I get home?’
My offer to call the police and wait with her further convinced her that I didn’t ‘have a fucking clue’. Then she called me an idiot again for good measure and walked off in the same direction her boyfriend had headed.
It was a while before I thought I understood why she was pissed off with me.
The situation with her boyfriend — shitty as it was — was perhaps one she was familiar with and knew how to handle; knew what to do or say to reduce the risk of it escalating. The notion that anyone should have to do that — to go along with some abuse for fear of further abuse — is a sickening but familiar one. I can’t stomach it, but there’s a survivalist element to it. If I just take this, he’ll eventually cool off. If I just ride this out, it won’t become much, much worse for me.
When I intervened, I felt like I was helping. It didn’t even occur to me that any relief bought for her by my interference would have to be paid back in full, with interest in fact, later. Because I hadn’t, and haven’t, had to live with that.
More recently, when some friends told me they had taken to wearing shorts under their skirts or dresses because they were fed up of being surreptitiously groped on nights out, it blew my mind. Similarly, some university friends — exchange students from Italy — flat-refused to go to nightclubs in the city because of how often English people would grab them, rub up against them, or grope their bums under the pretence of just trying to make some room as they passed them in a crowd.
This was all stuff that not only did I not know, but which hadn’t even occurred to me until it was pointed out. It’s also exactly the sort of thing that has been tweeted millions of times under the #Yesallwomen hashtag.
The hashtag, when read without bias or preconceived notions about its intent, is supposed to be enlightening. It isn’t saying ‘all men have been guilty of…’ it’s saying, ‘all women have been subjected to…’, and the sooner people stop reacting as though it’s the former the sooner we can all start to learn something.
To misquote one of the #Yesallwomen tweets, which I have been unable to (re)find and therefore correctly attribute, if someone is angry and it’s not your experience, sit down, shut the fuck up, and take notes.