A few months ago, a picture popped up on my Facebook timeline of an article in The Times by Caitlin Moran (who I have since become a major fan of), written in the wake of a human rights lawyer publicly shaming a senior lawyer for saying her LinkedIn picture was “stunning” and the response people had to her for doing this.
When I first read it, I thought it was great. It made sense to me the way it discusses the fear of being attacked – it articulated things I had struggled to put into words until that point. And I left it at that. Then, whilst scrolling back through all the photos and screenshots saved on my phone, I rediscovered it hidden away amongst pictures of friends exploring art galleries in Aix, pumpkin carvings, Halloween puns and silly things that made me laugh when I saw them (like signs saying “You are the result of 3.8 billion years of evolutionary success. Act like it”). So I decided to re-read it and it made me realise something. Before when I had read it, I hadn’t paid much attention to the second half of the article, I was distracted by how much I emphasised with the first. This time though, I realised something: I’m annoyed. I’m annoyed that for so long I’ve felt like other people can determine your worth. Because they don’t. They really, really, REALLY, don’t. It made me angry, and I think it’s because one of the many things which has contributed to my ever-increasing anxiety over the years – the constant worry of being evaluated by every person around me and thinking everything going through their minds must be negative because I struggle to see anything good about myself.
So, seeing as the article isn’t available online without having a subscription to The Times (#studentbudget), and zooming in on the blurry picture I have is a tad inconvenient, I’ve decided to type it out here, for both procrastination purposes (it’s currently way past 2am, I’ve been trying to sleep for 3+ hours, the sleeping tablets I’ve taken aren’t working and I have to be at the doctor’s for 9.30am – I don’t remember when I last saw that time) and so that it can remind me that you don’t need other people to define who you are.
It is the eternal cry of men: “I don’t understand women!” Women are mysterious to men: they do not understand why we take so long to dress; the number of shoes we need; the way we can suddenly lose all confidence. Out excitement about tiny things – tiny cups and saucers, tiny monkeys, tiny ribbons. A tiny ring.
But those are the tiny things that you don’t understand. It doesn’t matter if you never understand those things at all.
Here are the two big things that men truly don’t understand about women. The two things that, if you knew them – if you truly understood – would change the way you act, and raise your sons to act, overnight.
The first is: we’re scared of you.
Not all of you. Probably not most of you. We feel safe with our fathers – unless we have been unlucky; and our husbands – unless we have been unlucky; and our friends and brothers – unless, again, we have been unlucky.
But we are scared. Of what you can do.
Try to imagine, for a moment, what it’s like to live on a planet where half the people on it are just…bigger than you. We are smaller, and softer, and we cannot run as fast as men. We know you can grab us, and we would struggle to get away. We know if you hit us, we’ll go down. We know if you decide to kill us, there’s not much we can do.
Every time the murder of a woman is reported on the news, we hear the detail – “Traces of skin were found under her fingernails, denoting a struggle” – and we know…that’s all we can do. Scratch. We think about that more than we would ever admit to you. You don’t want to sound insecure, or morbid, around you. We just walk down any dark street with our keys between our fingers, going. “Please, not tonight. Let me get to my door tonight”.
Here’s comedian Louis CK’s routine on women and men: “Globally and historically, men are the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women. By comparison, do you know what men’s number one threat is? Heart disease. Guys, if you want to know how brave a woman is every time she says yes to going on a date, try to imagine that you could only date a half-bear, half-lion. ‘Oh – I hope this one’s nice!’ That’s being a woman.”
Sometimes when you think about the stats on sexual assault – 90 per cent of women know their attackers; 1 in 5 women are attacked – it feels like a fact too awful to be acknowledged.
One in five, man. If those were your odds on the lottery, you’d already have pre-emptively bought the car. One in five means you often look round a room of your girlfriends and think, “Which one of us will it be?”
If your teenage daughters are in the room – with their big, smiling faces and their awkward, beautiful, perfect trust in the world – you feel so panicked, you go into the kitchen and hold on to the sink.
There you are. Scared again. But you don’t go on about it to the men you know – because that would be morbid. So men don’t know how scared we are. That’s the first thing you don’t know about us. How scared we are.
The second big thing you don’t know about us is, we’re exhausted. So, so exhausted. We have less money than you – the pay gap, illegal since 1970 yet still, astonishingly, here, means we effectively work for free for 57 days of a year. That’s exhausting. We must have babies, quickly, before our eggs die, but while we also work – that’s exhausting.
And since we were teenage girls – since the moment we went, mortified, to buy that first bra, and left the safe, unisex world of childhood to become “a woman” – we’ve been judged and commented on. Catcalls in the streets; relatives saying we’re too fat or too thin. Comments in year books or on Facebook; hairdressers saying, “You have a mannish jaw.” “Uncles” at weddings, and bosses at parties, and friends of friends, rating you on your face – saying if they “would” or “wouldn’t”, scoring you out of ten, as if you’re a gadget for sale on Amazon, or livestock at a fayre.
People touching you, evaluating and owning you – until you find yourself saying, almost as a recurring mantra, in your head, “F*** off! Stop talking about me! F*** off, and stop being the voice in my head! Stop telling me you have decided my worth.”
And, so, yes. Yes, I do understand why human rights lawyer Charlotte Proudman “perv-shamed” and older, senior lawyer – Alexander Carter-Silk – when he contacted her on LinkedIn and told her her picture was “stunning”.
In the furore that followed, he – and a million other commentators afterwards – seemed confused by Proudman’s reaction. It was just flirtation! It was just an appreciative comment! This is what men and women do!
But men do it without knowing we’re scared and we’re tired. So very, very tired.