I am driven by fear. I always have been. I’ve just recently discovered the truth around my fear of men.
*Trigger warning – below I discuss perpetrators of sexual violence and abuse.*
Last week, my best friend (male) and I were talking about everyday sexism. We were back and forth about our anger that women experience everyday sexism and suddenly I said “I am frightened every day.” And it shocked me – because I am – I just didn’t realise it up until that conversation. I experience sexism every day. I experience verbal sexual abuse regularly. I am objectified, dehumanised, sexualised by a significant number of men. This has resulted in a high level of anxiety every time I have to be alone in public. I am frightened of men – most men, all of the time.
So, yes, I thought – maybe that’s why you are frightened. But something was not ringing true here – this felt more personal. The majority of males in my life – from childhood to now, have been abusive, absent, irresponsible, violent and manipulative. So, I started to try and recall personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse. I have experienced domestic violence too (often with the same individuals) but for some reason, it is the potential for sexual violence that I am most frightened of. I compiled a list – this list has absolutely floored me as I had not ever recalled this many incidents. The majority of perpetrators were white, heterosexual men.
Verbal sexual abuse:
Far too many incidents to recall.
Most recent: “Look at that! The legs on that…what a sexy bitch. Darlin’, you are fucking beautiful: perfect specimen” – 2 men in a car as I walked home.
Sexual assaults (one-off incidents):
Please note – I believe I have been assaulted many more times but these incidents stick out because they went further than what I had experienced before this.
1 – 2 teenage boys at a U18 disco
2 – 20-something year old man at a fairground (I was 15)
3 – Trans* woman in a nightclub
Sexual abuse/rape (more than once/continuous):
1 – Step-uncle (between ages of ? – 7)
2 – Stepfather (between ages of 9-13)
3 – 20 year old boyfriend (I was 13)
4 – Boyfriend 1 of 1 year
5 – Boyfriend 2 of 1 year
6 – Boyfriend 3 of 6 months
For all of these experiences of sexual violence and abuse, deep down, I blamed myself. Even though I knew that not one of those experiences was my fault, I blamed myself.
Why do victims/survivors self-blame? Well society deems it so. The patriarchal system that we live under facilitates victim blaming. You need only read a book, browse through a magazine, watch the news….do anything to see rape culture and victim blaming in all of its hideous glory. Blame and self-blame is a powerful tool – it silences, minimises and creates the conditions for fear to grow and dominate.
My account of self-blame was informed by this but specifically, I did so for two reasons:
1) To have had some part in it means I can protect myself from it ever happening again. Yes, victims/survivors sometimes do this – self-blame so that they can better protect themselves in future. It can assist in reducing fear. It helped in that I thought I could stop myself from becoming a victim. I was wrong. It happened again and again.
2) I was told it was my fault because of how I looked. “I can’t help myself….no man could” “you are SO beautiful” “I can’t control myself around you” “you are bewitching” etc etc etc.
I self-blamed to control my safety and I thought that my physical appearance had made me somehow responsible. This makes a lot of sense as to why I desperately hated my physical body for so many years (see here).
I don’t like being driven by fear – I hate it. So, how do I stop being frightened of men? Well, more men being decent human beings would help for a start. Take my best friend: I’ve known him for 7 years. He has male privilege and other privileges. But he is aware of them. He challenges himself – and others – every day. He believes that feminism is the only thing that helps to make sense of this world. He is pretty much wonderful. But all this aside, he possesses the basics of what it is to be a decent human being. He is respectful, caring, supportive, gentle and my family. It is he who has supported me to move through my fear and trust again.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have the fear. I don’t think all men are as decent as my best friend – they’re not. But my fear is now something that I manage to bend and shape to keep me safe without keeping me imprisoned. Despite the efforts of most men, no one has ever succeeded in keeping me prisoner and I’ll be damned if I let fear defeat me.