Over seven years ago at about 2am, on a warm September night, I was violently mugged.
On a residential street in Islington, North London, I was jumped from behind and thrown to the ground, punched in the head into the pavement, ordered to empty my pockets and told that if I made any noise I’d be stabbed. The whole event lasted probably less than 15 seconds and as scary and horrible as it was, it’s only in the last year or so – while trying very, very, very hard to understand the world better – that I have realised something that was absent from my thoughts while the attack happened and in the many years afterwards that I spent worrying about it happening again. I was never, not at any point, ever, worried about being sexually assaulted by my attackers, both the real ones and later imaginary ones. This, I have come to understand during my intense and relentless reeducation over the last year, is the most extreme example in my life of my male privilege.
The lack of fear of rape, in this situation, exemplifies the different experience I have as a man, compared to a woman. While I was being mugged, with no other people in sight, two strong, young, men had me on the ground in the middle of the night and I didn’t worry about, didn’t have to worry about, sexual assault.
As a man, I take things like this – this lack of fear – for granted. My muggers wanted my money and my phone and that was it, and I knew that if I gave these things to them they’d let me go, and they did. It isn’t fair that most women have to worry more than I do. And the reason why they have to is because – as indicated by the last weeks’ posts – ALL women experience, at some point, sexual threat. Men: we need to change the way we behave.
Maybe this sounds like a big ask, but that’s because it is. It might be difficult, it might lose us friends and it might make us feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or ashamed due to our past behaviour (none of us are completely innocent, are we, let’s be honest), but if we – as people, rather than as men – want to make the world a better place, we – as men and people – need to work at it, too.
We men need to listen, we need to accept culpability and we need to stop ignoring the things that women tell us about their experiences. I’m sorry if me speaking about this is being listened to more than the words of ANY woman who has been unfairly ignored. But I think my silence, on this topic, would be as good as me denying the existence of the hashtag that’s been shared by pretty much every woman I know.
It’s difficult to not be incredibly moved by these posts over the last few days, and the sheer ubiquity of this experience – and the secretive way in which multiple men have asked me if I’d realised how endemic sexual harassment towards women is – indicates the massive gulf between male and female experience.
I’ve been trying very hard and very consciously to be a good person for a while now, and it has come at quite a heavy personal cost, both psychologically and financially. I don’t want to be part of the problem, but not being part of the problem – when you’re a cisgender, [effectively] heterosexual, able-bodied white man with a university education and some nice clothes – is f*cking hard and requires energy and effort on a daily basis.
I’m continuing to pay attention to my actions and – crucially – my inactions. I will keep trying to be better, because I know it’s the right thing to do and I know that anyone trying to stop me doing what I know is right should be ignored.
I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying and I’m trying to try harder.
Life isn’t easy for many people, but it’s easier for men, and that isn’t fair. It also isn’t fair that most energy to change this comes from women. If we all work at it, together, maybe we can make life a little bit easier, maybe, for everyone. Maybe I shouldn’t be commenting on this, as a man. But I didn’t want to stay silent, because I want to let women know that they are being listened to, they are being heard. I’m sorry.