“Grab that Pussy” / Not Okay
I’ve struggled a bit with the column I wrote last week. It was ostensibly about Green Rooms, but towards the end, unplanned, I wrote about an incident where my bottom got touched by a man in a pub. It was a small incident. It didn’t bother me terribly, I didn’t feel intimidated, and I have no bad feeling towards the man who touched it. The thing that niggled me afterwards was my own reaction. That once I had allowed myself to admit that it was ‘a bit off’ touching a woman’s behind (and not just the rump, but the jackpot) I then felt bad. I felt like because I hadn’t made a fuss about it on the spot, because I had continued to sit and talk to him afterwards as though the arsecrack-fingering had been a mere accidental brush, that I had lost my right to say that it had happened at all. I felt rude, like I might offend him by writing about it. I felt guilty, like drawing attention to it might reduce me to some hideous screaming woman, making a needless fuss about a non-thing. And then, later, even more worryingly, I worked my way through that damaging litany of self-attacks that women can turn upon themselves. I thought “Don’t make a fuss about it because you’ll look like you’re drawing attention to yourself and people will take one look at you and think “Ugh. Who would want you?” Women do that. That is a standard progression of thought for a lot of women. Don’t make a fuss about having your bum touched because people will just look at your bum and think “you should be grateful anyone wanted to touch that, love.”
So I struggled with that. And I shouldn’t have done. I know that much.
If he had done it to a friend I would have been furious. If I’d seen it happen to a female in a pub I’d have to be held back from making things ‘uncomfortable for all’, especially if I’d had a fortifying beer or two – I’ve had a man against a wall by the throat for calling a friend a bitch before – but because it was ‘just me’ I feel, even now, writing this semi-apology semi-excusal of my column, that I am expounding far too many words on something that should just be left to slide away in silence. Perhaps I am not very good at protecting myself. Perhaps I feel like I don’t deserve the respect that I would demand for other women.
Meanwhile, in the bigger more important world, Donald Trump had his campaign seriously damaged when some old news drifted up from the buried flotsam of his life. A 2005 tape of him boasting that he just leans in and kisses any woman he likes, that he can get away with anything, and that grabbing a woman’s pudendum is his entitlement and that they’re not going to do anything about it because he is him.
I’m not sure what’s worse – the inference that he is special and women can’t say no to him because of his money and power, or that any man could be a similar winner in sexual situations if only he just had the balls to take it by force. Women appear to be even lower in his rank of respect than stocks; at least those you have to pay for. Women you can just take, right? “Grab that pussy.”
Meanwhile on Twitter, an LA writer named Kelly Oxford waged a powerful attack on female sexual assault with her campaign #NotOkay. She posted details of her own sexual assault and asked other women to follow suit. To share their stories, to speak out. It is not an easy thing to do for anyone, ever, but ten million stories later and growing, it seems clear that a lot of women were grateful for the encouragement, and the platform, the audience, and the recognition.
Perhaps something in seeing a woman as strong as Hillary Clinton being corralled by the bully-boy power-prowling in the dirty war for the presidency brought something out in us too. A collective courage. Fire. A female complicity. Sisterhood. Even Hillary Clinton, potential president of the United States of America, was not being graced with respect. Her stature as a woman and a wife was being wrestled to the mud; the inference being not that her husband wasn’t a good enough man, but that she wasn’t a good enough wife to make him want to be a better man. Even Trump isn’t stupid enough to say “maybe you just didn’t put out enough, Hills” but we all know his thoughts are not far off that level of sophistication, if not worse. God knows what his actual inner monologue is. Where George Bush’s would have been the aural equivalent of tumbleweed scrubbing up against barbed-wire, Trump’s must be a circle of Hell’s worth of machismo and pussy-pummelling misogyny that would burn a tape to cinders should you try to record it for presidential posterity.
Anger flared up in me as I watched Trump parade his besuited cock around with menacing arrogance, his loathsome grimace as hard as a Mount Rushmore forefather, and anger raged around me as I read the unending stream of women’s brief history of common assault. Each story reduced to the 140 characters of a standard tweet. The editorial brevity of those heinous everyday wrongdoings packed a powerful punch. Millions of them. Millions. In a day. Just one day. Millions. They were all out there these women, waiting to speak.
I felt the hot rush of tears as I read them, remembering all the times I have been forced into a situation, all the times I have been touched or pushed or stuck in a corner. In stealth on a busy platform or tube or corridor, blatantly in open space, on beds, in doorways, or casually in social situations. Throat grabbed, hair pulled, knees between my thighs, hands between my legs, fingers up my arse. Trapped in a car seat. My face held between thumb and forefinger, pulled towards their face, seemingly saying “I dare you to stop me”. Told I know I “want it”, even after I have said no, even when I have been on the brink of tears. All the times I have bucked or talked or faux-laughed my way out of a situation, ever polite, and then ‘felt bad’ and never made a fuss. What a good girl. I think it has taken me years – I do mean years; right up to the present day – to fully properly accept that it is wrong. It is wrong for anyone to be treated like this by anyone in any place at any time; wrong. And I am still not strong enough to turn around and smack someone down in my own defence. Because it is scary being a woman. Sometimes it is wonderful. But sometimes it is scary. It really sometimes is.
So I tweeted my own 140 character list of assaults I’ve experienced over the years, a mere random selection typed out in about thirty seconds to join the others. While typing it I felt dirty and guilty and stupid, like I had brought it all on myself, that retrospectively chronicling such a list was somehow trying to invoke old spirits, a ouija board of pointless accusals, that the brevity of a tweet was in itself a disrespectful handling of a subject that affects many women far worse, that my contribution was not helpful to any cause, and that voicing it was the social networking equivalent of running around the streets in a negligee, tits flapping about while squealing “don’t look at my tits”. I nearly deleted it about fifty times. But a while afterwards, leaving it out there, I felt stronger knowing it was out there, joining the ranks of others, most of whose suffering had been far worse than my own admissions.
But I’m still feeling timid and apologetic writing this. I still feel guilty and a bit stupid. I feel a flush of shame for knowing it has been printed and that I am now, as I must, posting it. And that means we just have to keep going, being that open, feeling that anger, letting others know that they are not alone, that it is not freak occurrences but every day – every day – and that it is not okay. It is not okay. And we have to keep acting like we know it is not okay. Every day. And feel the sisterhood of millions beside us if we need to, because they are there.