Just say no?
Consent. How easy is it to define it? When girls are brought up to be polite and boys to speak their minds. When women who achieve and express themselves have been written out of history. When men still earn more than women on average. When rape within marriage only became illegal in the UK in 1991, in the US in 1993, and in some countries is still legal. When the first thing people comment to a girl is how pretty she is. When girls are dumbing themselves down to fit in and not be bullied. When a boy harassing a girl is because he must like her and boys will be boys. When pornography portrays the abuse and subjugation of women. When women in the media are sacked for getting old. When women being ambitious are ‘power grabbing’ but for men it’s normal behaviour. When women are still ‘girls’ when they are 25. When women do most of the housework and childcare even when they have a job too. When women in powerful roles are judged for how they dress but powerful men for what they say. When a woman who says ‘yes’ is a slut and a woman who says ‘no’ is frigid. When in rape trials the victim is interrogated for longer than the accused. When speaking up about sexual abuse is just attention grabbing and makes men feel uncomfortable. When a grope is just harmless banter. When a woman is told that, ‘It’s not all men’ (yes, we knew that) in order to silence her. When adventurous women are told to #makemeasandwich. When a woman has reached the end of her tether from being taken for granted and she is told she is oversensitive. When an angry woman is ‘hormonal’. When a woman’s illness takes longer to be diagnosed because she’s perceived as a neurotic female and not taken seriously. When the man in the meeting says, “Thanks, love, I’ll take it from here. Go and make the tea.” When men’s football is football and women’s football is women’s football. When men make business deals excluding their female colleagues. When men appropriate the work of women to claim the profits for themselves. When it takes women-only shortlists to get women into parliament because of the underhand tactics keeping them out. When a man is mansplaining to a woman something that she has just explained to him. When a man tells a woman how to do her job when she is more qualified and experienced than he is. When women who speak up for women’s rights are ‘frigid man-haters’ or ‘hairy-legged lesbians’ (surprised?) When strangers on Twitter send a woman death threats because they don’t like her song. When a woman receives death threats for saying it’s not ok to threaten and attack women. When a woman is murdered every three days by her partner or ex-partner. When beautiful young women are disfigured by acid attacks. When a woman is torched by her husband’s family. When women are silenced even by other women for making a fuss about rape. When a woman changes her mind in the middle of a first date because he said something that made her uncomfortable but then he turns angry. When a man makes demeaning sexual comments about other women in front of his wife. When a man shows affection in public by gripping his girlfriend’s neck. When school boys make hit lists of girls to be raped. When a woman dare not report domestic abuse because she fears her children will be taken away. When she sees he has a machete behind the settee.
When, just when, can you call it consent? When you can see how the power balance lies. When the man in front of you is three times your size, drunk and pinning you against the wall, flashing a leery grin, and snarling, ‘Hello my pretty.’ When you are scared of the look in his eyes. When the man on top of you suddenly declines to use a condom. When he’s pressed all his weight to your body. When he’s pressed all the weight of the patriarchy against you, just how loud do you think you can say no?
What can we do sisters? When the weight of the patriarchy is pressed against us? It takes courage to stand up for ourselves against such a force. What we need to do is stand up for ourselves and for each other. When we all speak up together our voices will be heard. The #metoo movement is the beginning of that, as is #ibelieveher and #heforshe. Both women and men can stand as allies against abusive, domineering behaviour, and against inequality and injustice. There will be those who try to shout us down—the last desperate voices of a dying ideology. They will fight hard and nasty. They are fighting for an entitlement of centuries standing. They think it is the natural order because they have grown up in it, and because it benefits them. Like the abolition of slavery and apartheid, the battle is long but it will be won.
We can keep in mind that centuries of inequality have biased perceptions and therefore influence the course of justice. We need to change from the default state of assumption that a woman is ‘asking for it’ when she is sexually assaulted and recognise the trauma that she goes through to stand up in court and be cross examined. We can call out those who objectify and disrespect our sisters. This is not ‘political correctness gone mad’. The world is mad and we are the ones who can see it. It takes a little effort to find new ways of relating, but it is not going to destroy you to recognise the rights of women to respect and equality. Is your masculinity is so fragile as to be threatened by strong women? Surely not. A man who can respect and honour women, in touch with his gentle self as well as his strength is truly a man worthy of respect. It takes courage to recognise our vulnerability and seek true connection.
We have moved closer to employment equality but there is still a long way to go. Women still have to battle for appropriate levels of respect and acknowledgment in the workplace. We need to call out those who patronise women in the workplace, those who judge women on their appearance before their abilities, those seek to appropriate the achievements of women. We need to insist on acknowledgement of our intelligence and capability and appropriate levels of pay to reflect that. We have the right to expect these things just as men do. The feminine approach to life is undervalued in the workplace. And look where that has got us to—the greed and cruelty of the planet-destroying, people-destroying insanity of capitalism.
Feminine does not equate with weakness. Feminine power has a different quality to masculine power, but it is not lesser by any means. We can complement, balance and moderate each other if we collaborate. It is not that one energy is better than the other, but that when they are out of balance, it is destructive. The most important things we can do as women are to speak out from our place of feminine power, support our sisters, respect the men who have the courage to stand with us as allies, and stand in support of others who experience unjust prejudice and abuse, including people of colour, immigrants, queers, the disabled. The most important thing those in positions of privilege can do is listen, listen, listen and direct others to do the same. Because people can speak for themselves.
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas stood up and spoke out against gun violence. They stood together. Because #enoughisenough
The victims of Harvey Weinstein stood up and spoke out against sexual violence. They stood together. Because #enoughisenough
Protestors in support of the woman in the Dublin rape case stood up and spoke out against injustice. They stood together. Because #enoughisenough
There were backlashes against all of these who spoke out with courage and dignity. Of course there were. But that will no longer stop us from speaking our truth. We cannot be silenced. Because we are too many.
The tide is turning.
We say NO
And we say it damn loud.
©️Janey Colbourne 2018