#NotAllMen – but #YesAllWomen: 'She can't even remember.'
#YesAllWomen – a bit of background...
Last week, after a throwaway comment – which was, I'm pretty sure, meant in jest – from a Snapchat follower, I took to Twitter to talk about why, sometimes, I seem anti-men. You can read the thread here. Since I shared my stories – of casual harassment and sexual assault – I've received dozens, maybe several dozen, messages of support from women who, sadly, totally get it. When we talk about a rape culture that is pervasive throughout our "modern", "liberated" society, we are correct in stating that we're not talking about all men. What we are talking about is all women. #YesAllWomen
I wanted to reproduce some of these stories so that we can all see, once and for all, how insidious this attitude is – and if you're still in doubt, take a look through the replies I got to my tweets. They range from mild – "that never happened; who the fuck would want to harass you?" – to slightly less mild – "your fat ass wouldn't even elicit a whistle if it was on a spit roast." What kind of society do we live in where a woman talks about being harassed and gets greeted with violent, misogynistic, sexist imagery that some men (#notallmen, to be clear) seem to think is okay?
Well, it looks a little something like this...
She can't even remember – Anonymous, 2016
The Brock Turner case stirred up a lot of unwanted memories for me. I realised however, I’m not the only woman out there who recalls on a somewhat similar event at one point in her life. It’s more than just me who has been harassed, assaulted, or even raped. It’s more than just me who has feared speaking out, for fear of being told, "You can’t remember anyway."
I was 17 years old and had just finished my Leaving Cert. I was out with two friends in our local pub, finally relaxing after the stressful few months we’d just endured. I had two drinks – vodka and white (I still remember). I expected nothing more from the night than a few laughs with my friends, and maybe a bit of a hangover.
A man stood nearby, in his late 20s. I recognised this man, a cousin of my cousin; I’d met him before at a wedding. Being friendly, I said hello. I’ve never regretted a simple "hello" more in my entire life, and I probably never will. We chatted for a few minutes. We talked about my cousin, and how well suited him and his wife were. We talked about their new baby, how cute she was and how much they doted on her. We talked about the wedding, and what a laugh it was.
My friends had wandered off at this point, so this man offered me a drink. I remember everything up until this moment, drink number three.
The next thing I remember is being by the pier with this man. I was hysterical; screaming, crying, shaking. “Let me go home,” I was screaming. “Please, just let me go home.” I was beyond the point of drunk. I was highly intoxicated with some sort of substance, and I had a feeling it wasn’t alcohol. He was putting his hands on me, hugging me, comforting me, and I was in floods of tears. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what had happened to me. What would happen if I ran off? What would he do then?
I tried to walk off and he followed me. Eventually a taxi stopped for me, after I’d walked halfway home. He was still with me, I was scared what he’d do if I told him to go. I got dropped at my house, and he knew there was no following me then. I had missed calls from my friends, voicemails and texts asking where I’d gone. I lied. I told them I had been with another friend. I thought it was my own fault that this had happened. And how could I explain, when I didn’t even know what had happened myself?
I woke up the next morning, with a feeling I could never describe. I felt dirty, I was so dizzy I could barely stand up. My heart was thumping in my chest. I felt sick with worry, I felt suicidal. I felt suicidal, and I didn’t even know what had happened to me yet. I blocked it out. Thinking about it made me feel nauseous, I couldn’t deal with it. Whatever had happened, it hadn’t happened to me.
A couple of weeks later, I found out what had happened to me. I found out what had happened to me on the dirty ground of the pier through a friend of a friend of a friend.
This man had confided in someone about what he’d done to me. He’d spiked my drink, and then he'd had sex with me. The fact that you would even confide in somebody about spiking somebody else’s drink is shocking. What does that say? Are these things just accepted? Is it something to laugh about? Is this just the new way to get quick sex now?
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to accept the second part of that story. I was raped, and I can’t even remember it happening; but I couldn’t decide if this was better or worse than knowing. Who would believe me? I could already hear the voices saying, “She can’t even remember, how can we trust her?” I didn’t want to accept the fact that I’d been raped, and it didn’t seem like a big deal to those who had found out. So I kept it to myself.
I stopped going out as much after that. The pub where the events of that night began gave me anxiety. Every time I did go out, I lived in fear of seeing him. Luckily for me, he moved to London and I moved away to college. I didn’t have to live in fear. But fast forward two years later, I started working in that pub. He moved back home. Every night at work was a game of Russian Roulette for me. I didn’t know how I’d react if I had to serve him a drink. Would I have a panic attack? Would I scream at him? Would I glass him? Whatever I did, it wouldn’t be a tap on the emotional anguish he’d inflicted on me.
On my last day of work I had a panic attack. I was behind the bar, and my thoughts ran away with me. For some reason, I started to think about that night. I’d blocked it out for so long, but now it was all coming back. I couldn’t stop it. I needed to get out. I had a panic attack in the bathroom, where a gaggle of tipsy women tried their best to help me. I went home. I told my parents I was fine, that it was nothing. I never went back to work again.
I never said anything because I was afraid that it was my fault. I’m here to tell all you girls and women that have experienced something similar, that it’s never your fault. I should have gone to the doctor the next day, but I was in denial. I was afraid it was my fault, that my body had an oddly low tolerance for alcohol that night. I knew that what I was feeling the next day wasn’t a hangover, but I was afraid of what the doctor would say to me, to my parents. I was afraid I’d get ridiculed for drinking spirits. It still wasn’t my fault.
I was afraid that people would ask, “Well, why were you in a pub when you were underage anyway?” It still wasn’t my fault.
I was afraid that people would ask, “Why did you take the drink?” We’re always taught not to take drinks from strangers. It still wasn’t my fault.
I was afraid to come forward and say something, after I’d found out what had really happened. I was scared that people would ask, “Well, why didn’t you tell anyone in the first place?” I was scared of being judged. Nobody seemed to find it odd that he’d spiked my drink and raped me. I thought people would tell me I was being overdramatic, that I was causing a scene, ruining lives. But the only life that was ruined in this was mine. (It still wasn’t my fault.)
We live in a society now where unfortunately, it’s seen as normal to prey on drunk girls. That girl you were chatting up earlier, who only seemed mildly interested? I bet she’ll be interested now that she can barely stand. Until we start saying no, this is not okay, it’s going to continue to happen.
Even though I knew something bad had happened to me that night, I didn’t say anything because I couldn’t remember. By the time I found out, I felt that it was too late. It’s never too late to come forward with these stories, and tell men that preying on young, drunk, vulnerable girls is never okay.
The extreme circumstance of spiking someone’s drink to get your own way, is definitely not something that should be looked upon lightly.
I don’t go out in my home town any more. I had to move away from my family permanently, because I knew I wouldn’t find a new job at home. I steer clear of guys I don’t really know on nights out. I jog home from work at night. I’ve learned self-defence. And I’m always, always on edge.
We don’t report these things because they’re seen as the norm, but we need to. Until we start to take action against these men, it will keep happening. Men need to learn to say, "No, that’s not okay," when they hear their friends’ talking about how they scored last night and "man, she was wasted"; when they see a friend propping a girl up at the bar; when their friend confides in them that he spiked a girl's drink and raped her on the pier. It’s never her fault.
If you'd like to share your stories – and we all have them, from mild to extreme and everything in between – I'd be glad to listen (or read). Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. (It's never your fault.)