I read Estelle Tang’s piece in The Guardian this morning. Consequently, I’ve been moved to speak.
I often see posts online like the hashtag #yesallwomen and I agree with them wholeheartedly. Then I go about my days keeping my business to myself. Because, that’s how I was raised in Irish society – don’t talk about the ‘bad’ stuff. I was never, I don’t think, directly told to ignore it – the bad stuff, but I was certainly frequently told not to talk openly about it, or not to talk about it too much, or to try not to focus on it too much myself. That kind of societal ‘drumming in’ of keeping sadness and badness to yourself has definitely been to my detriment. I’m sure others can happily process things without discussing them and working them out. I can’t, I need the discussion, the chat, the writing, the process. It’s just me. How I work.
The taboo that is sex in Ireland—the Ireland I knew at least—led me to keep an awful lot of my life secret, even at times from myself. Anything of the body being considered ‘dirty’ takes a lifetime to shake off. ‘Denial is not just a river in Egypt’ and all that.
I’m edging ever-closer to dual citizenship having been in Australia over three years. So, I have recently seen the #yesallwomen posts and watched and read the #misogyny debates; through my newer, thankfully much more liberal and open-minded Irish-Australian eyes. Agreeing with some and strongly disagreeing with others; but all of it in my head.
Now, I want to speak out. Thank you to Estelle for inspiring me.
- When I was all but 16 I was waiting for a friend and his mother. We were attending a play in The Gaiety, Dublin. I was standing at St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre entrance wearing a cute multi-coloured velvet skirt (above the knee), a shirt, a velvet jacket, opaque tights and block-heeled shoes (yes I was semi-grunge, it was the 90s). I was doing work-experience in Trinity College Library at the time, and had changed for the play, into my new outfit, in the toilets. I’d put on very little make-up and was feeling happy, if a tiny bit self-conscious (I was 16). Please note at 16 I was often told I looked around 12. I was very short 4′ 6″ and a very skinny size 2-4. Then this old man sidled up to me. Looking back he was probably 40. I thought the old man was a tourist looking for directions. He whispered into my ear: “How much? We can go to a hotel.” I was mortified! I just looked at him and said: “No! No!” and turned my face away. He moved along swiftly. Two other people were standing waiting there too, a middle aged woman and a man in his 20s. He looked at me apologetically. And she, looked at me and said: “It’s probably what you’re wearing”. He looked appalled at her statement and started to say ‘no’, I think, but I looked at the two of them and said: “I know what to do”. I dashed up the escalators to the toilets on the third floor and changed back into my ‘work clothes’. Later I met my friend and his mother. I apologised for my poor dress telling, only him, what had happened. He said “Jesus!”. But, that’s his catchphrase. It was years before I wore another ‘mini-skirt’.
- When I was 21, I was living in Nice, France with my Irish friends for the summer. On our last day there I decided to get a henna tattoo in the main square. I repeat the main public square full of tourists and traders and children playing. This older man was doing them for a reasonable rate so I asked him to do a celtic design on my lower back. My girl friend went off to do some shopping and agreed she’d be back in an hour. I thought this man was taking a long time massaging my back and told him so. He said: “No, no, all is fine”. He continued to paint the tattoo on, then after an age he was rubbing some oil over it to protect the design, and suddenly, he shoved not one, but two, hands down my shorts into my knickers and was squeezing my bottom. He leant over and whispered into my ear: “We can go to my apartment; it’s not far”. I said “Non!” (This entire exchange was in French BTW). I was mortified! I was in a public square and didn’t want everyone to know what was happening to me: I was young, I was Irish, and I was mortified. When he eventually extricated himself from my pants; I stood up, turned to him, stared him right in the eyes and said, just to him, in broken French: “No! I am leaving. Do not follow me!” Convinced, then, I had encouraged some sex-crazed old man to chase me through the backstreets of Nice; I spent the next 30mins jogging around them: petrified. Eventually, I made my way back to the main square to find my girl friend quite distressed at my disappearance. I told her what had happened and was instantly forgiven. Later on, I told my male friend (same one as above) and he said “Jesus! Perhaps you should have gone to a woman for the tattoo.”
- When I have taken the train & bus (Europe, North America, Asia & Oz) I have been subjected to the inevitable crotch-in-ass every time there’s a crowd. Do I invite the crotch-in-ass simply by standing in a carriage or on at platform at rush hour? Or there’s the countless hand-grazes to my breasts or behind. Uninvited. But also, unreproached. At times, I have glared at an offender, but I’ve never spoken up loudly so everyone else could hear me. You know, I’ve been young, Irish, mortified.
- I’ve had the professors, work colleagues, strangers talking to my breasts and not looking once at my face. And, I’ve had the unrequested comments and/or catcalls.
- I’ve had men kiss me, when I’ve clearly said no; as I obviously was just playing hard-to-get. And, I’ve had men do more. Demand more.
- I even once had two men brazenly invite themselves up to my hotel room for the night, when I was sitting alone in a beer garden minding my own business. I only got rid of them when I told them my father was less than ten feet away. Lucky for me, eh? But, I did then have to get my father to escort my 30-year-old self to my hotel room, and stay until I’d locked the door. I don’t think any of that event was ok. No aspect of it; at all.
I have had all the above and more. But, I never spoke out until today because I was young, I was Irish, and I was mortified. Well, now I am saying #yesallwomen because I want to stand together with all of those women. I want to say, “Hey, me too!”, I know what it’s like. I just didn’t know how to respond before now.
It’s not just the sex part, it’s not just the disrespectful advances, it’s all of the multi-faceted misogyny and more. I have been young, Irish, and mortified. But, not anymore.
“I want to believe that a misogynist shooting people dead in the street will matter to people for more than the length of the news cycle. And that when said shooter explains that his motivation is as simple as a profound hatred for women, that we believe him.”
Again, thank you to Estelle. I know, I feel, exactly what you meant when you said:
“What do I want? I’m not sure. Maybe keep your eye out; read the #yesallwomen hashtag for more examples of what women have to deal with on a daily basis; don’t pay attention to the people who said Rodger’s wasn’t a misogynistic crime; and don’t make rape jokes? I’m not entirely sure. I guess I just wanted you to know.”
And, what do I want? I now know. I just wanted you to know. #YESALLWOMEN – even this one.