A Letter to #NotAllMen
CW: Sexual harassment, assault, gender-based violence
To The Person Who Stuck Their Finger Up My Bum,
You must have heard the news, even if you’re not an avid follower of it, about the girl in London. It has been all over social media. Everyone is talking about how awful it is. Women are sharing their own stories of being harassed and/or assaulted and men are asking how they can be better allies. At least, some are. Some are more focused on their own narrative and choosing this as the time to emphasise that they are the good ones.
I wonder which type you are. I think I know, but then again, you could be pretending to care for the sake of your image.
More than anything, I wonder who you are now, ten years later, and if your actions then were a precursor to the man who you turned out to be. If I had seen your face, would I eventually recognise it online as someone accused of something horrible? Did you continue to assault women in the dark? Did you stop?
Not that it matters, but I want you to know that there have been other similar things that happen to me in my life. Incredibly, you’re the least dramatic one. None of them, however, have made me so utterly dumbfounded as what you did. Was it a joke? A dare? I’m full of questions.
The statistic that 97% of women have been harassed or assaulted in the U.K. has been thrown around a lot this week, but I can’t help but think it’s more than that. I’m not sure if you would personally consider that I have been catcalled since the age of eleven by men in cars as I walked home in my school uniform (one time by a man who pointed at me and urged his young son to do the same as they drove by) as harassment.
I’m not sure if you’d consider how freely the word ‘slut’ was used towards me as a teenager at school, when I’d kissed a boy at the weekend, to be harassment. Maybe you don’t even consider what you did to me to be anything other than harmless fun.
My parents may or may not have known where I was that night. Did yours? Being 15, I had to lie about going to foam parties that occurred on the strip of bars I grew up near. I lived on a holiday island, a party destination where things don’t follow you home, except maybe chlamydia.
The whole anticipation of having successfully snuck out and lying to my parents did make it a little more exciting. I kept looking over my shoulder, worried that I’d see a friend of my parents or someone who worked with them who might snitch. Of course, this wouldn’t stop me from drinking. The bars never asked for ID.
I wonder if you were a tourist, unaware that local teenagers were avid partiers from a young age. Would knowing my age have stopped you? Or are you the type of person to blame me for putting myself in an adult situation, because adult women should expect things like that to happen? If you were a local, you would have been certain about the underage demographic that usually spent their weekends here. Either way, I looked 15. I looked too young to be there, but I was.
That summer, an old nightclub had re-opened and started having foam parties every Thursday and Saturday night. You probably would have known about this, as it was right at the end of the strip and no one really went there apart from on the Foam Nights. You might have even found them as hilarious as my friends and I did. I was short enough to be covered completely by the foam, my drink would end up being mostly foam if I couldn’t finish it fast enough, and my hair and clothes would be entirely soaked in soapy water. It was the best.
The mixture of alcohol, having close to no clothes on to pretend to be older, being covered in foam, and not technically being allowed to do any of it, made us lose any awkward inhibitions we had at that age. It made us wild. We felt how we thought grown-ups felt. We kissed each other. We jumped on each other’s backs and danced on tables wearing rubber-rings. We laughed and screamed Top 40 songs until our voices disappeared. To an outsider, we must have looked ridiculous.
If I were to see that group of us at my age now, I would roll my eyes and joke about it being their bedtime. But you didn’t. You saw a chance to do something really fucking wrong. I don’t think you picked me out, that I was the unlucky one. Somehow through the movement of bodies and the way they pushed us together, I would end up being the girl you chose, though.
I felt you push up against me. It isn’t uncommon in loud, dark, crowded places full of drunk people to have this happen, I know. But it immediately felt different than just the crush of people shoving one another. You didn’t move away once you pushed into me. You crowded over me and stood so close behind me that I could smell your aftershave and the cheap alcohol on your breath. Clearly, you were on a budget. I couldn’t see a thing. I was under the wall of foam that came spurting out of the canons and when I inhaled I was swallowing mouthfuls of it like I was drowning.
I’m telling you this, in case you don’t remember. I want to retell you things you might already know happened, but from how I lived it and how I felt it. When you held my waist, I thought that you wanted to dance with me. It happened to me and my friends nearly every time we were out in those places, and I really wasn’t scared of telling a man verbally and physically to fuck off. The alcohol made men more confident to come on to us, but it also gave us the courage to tell you ‘No’. As I got ready to say it and push you away, you did something that I never thought would happen to me. Not at 15, not in public, not when I was wearing shorts. Not ever.
There was no fumbling- you went straight for what you wanted. You slid your hand down my back, down my shorts, and grabbed my bum. In almost the same second, you stuck your finger out and curved it around my bikini bottoms and forced it straight up my bum-hole. Just like that. The whole thing, like you wanted to see how deep it went. My reaction was entirely out of pain. I elbowed you as hard as I could, but I think I missed or at least missed you. By the time I turned around you were gone.
I’ve tried to tell myself, as if it would be less horrific, that you weren’t aiming for my bum. Were you? My memory argues against this, from the way picked your way around, I think you did exactly what you wanted to. When I told my friends, a few of them laughed.
Even now, it’s so unimaginable that it’s absurd to the point of being close to funny. Until it’s just sad.
Did you go back to whoever you were with and laugh about it? Did you point to me and let them know who you had just done that to? They could have encouraged and enjoyed being bystanders. Or it could still be a secret you keep to this day.
You must have believed that you had the right to stick your finger into someone. You thought you had the right to stick your finger in me. I want to know if you regret it and if you ever think about it as I do. I want to know if you have sisters, or a mother, or any women in your life that you respect, that you would protect from the thing you did to me.
I want to know if you’d protect your brother or father or friends if this happened to them. Then there are the things that I have a hard time thinking about. Did you go on to do more, or worse, things? Did you ever act on the things you were capable enough of?
You could be the person to argue that nothing really happened. It was a grope. A boy being a boy. Calm down! A lad on tour getting it out of your system before you settled down and got married, maybe even having a kid. A lucky daughter or son that thinks you’re her hero. I should just drop it, it was nothing. It’s what happens in those kinds of places! I could have prevented it by not being there; not wearing enough clothes; being drunk; not moving away from you and giving you the impression I wanted that, you might say.
The problem with men like you is that you are everywhere and no one really knows who you are until it’s devastating. You have secret parts that, big or small, have affected women and kept the culture of acceptable harassment going. Undermining harassment with “just” or “only” leaves a bad taste in my mouth and can be applied to every type. It’s just catcalling, it’s just a grope, it’s was only an incoherent girl to rape, it’s only another woman missing and found dead.
No, you did not kill Sarah Everard, but what did you do to stop her and other women from being murdered?