#MeToo: I was six the first time a man made me feel uncomfortable

I’m tired of having to be sensitive to men who consider themselves ‘good guys’

Louise McSharry: “Sharing our experiences isn’t enough. It should be. Unfortunately, it’s not.”

Louise McSharry: “Sharing our experiences isn’t enough. It should be. Unfortunately, it’s not.”

 

I was six the first time I remember a man making me feel uncomfortable. My mother had popped into the shop for a minute, leaving me in the car (it was the 1980s, that kind of behaviour was still ok), when an adult man leaned into the window to simulate oral sex at me with his fingers and tongue. I didn’t understand the gesture, and when my mother returned she told me he was being disgusting and not to mind him.

Since #MeToo, spawned by the Harvey Weinstein revelations, where women are detailing incidences of sexual assault and harassment, I’ve been reflecting on my own experiences.

It’s mostly a blur of inappropriate comments and gropes. A few incidences stand out in my mind though. There was the time a man sat beside me on an empty train and put his hand under my school skirt when I was on my way to my Irish dancing class at age sixteen. Three years later, on a crowded dart, a drunk middle aged man shouted at me that I was a whore, before sitting on my lap, grabbing my breasts and licking my face. The man sitting beside me, who had been full of chat before the incident, said nothing, even while I shouted “I don’t know you, get off me!”

The boss who leaned over to me

There’s the boss who leaned over to me in a crowded pub to whisper that he reckoned I’d be “really good in bed”. The friend of my boyfriend who asked me to lean in a certain direction so that he could “get a good look” at my breasts. I could go on, but I’m tired. I’m tired of listing these incidents in order to get men to take me seriously when I say that they have a problem.

#MeToo

It is a man problem, by the way. I’m not supposed to say that, because some men get upset, but as I said, I’m tired. I’m tired of bending over backwards to be sensitive to the portion of the male population who consider themselves “good guys” but so resent being in any way connected to tales of sexual harassment and sexual assault that they want us to shut up about it.

Of course, there are good guys. They’re genuinely doing their best to listen to their female friends when they tell them about the horrors they’ve experienced at the hands of men. They’re working hard to rail against socialisation which tells them to turn the other cheek when someone makes a sexist joke or lewd comment. If they’re really honest though, most of them know they are complicit in some way or another.

Perhaps they turned their heads when they heard that one of the lads in school had had sex with the girl who had been so locked on Friday night that she was barely able to stand. Maybe they laughed uncomfortably on Grafton Street last Christmas when a colleague lifted the skirt of a girl’s Santa suit and smacked her bottom. Maybe they ignored claims that a guy they hang around with did something to one of the girls because they think “he’s a good guy” and she’s “a bit nuts anyway”. Maybe they knew it was all wrong but said nothing because they don’t want to be a square, or the fun police. I get it. It’s uncomfortable to call out your friends on bad behaviour. But do you know what’s more uncomfortable? Sexual assault.

Remember #yesallwomen

This week on social media, women have been detailing their bad experiences with men by tweeting #MeToo. There is strength in numbers, and I’m certain that many women have felt comforted by the volume of contributions from everyday people and some of the world’s most famous women. Unfortunately, I don’t know that it’s going to be that effective. After all, we’ve done this before. Remember #yesallwomen in 2014?

Sharing our experiences isn’t enough. It should be. It should be horrifying for any man to learn about what women are forced to accept as normal behaviour. Unfortunately, it’s not. Some men just can’t believe it. They literally can not believe it, so they don’t. They argue with us, they ignore us, and in the worst cases, they silence us. So, we’re in a stalemate. We’ve stood screaming at the top of the mountain that this is a problem, and there’s nothing else we can do. Now it’s men’s turn to do something about this problem. As fathers, as brothers, as sons, or maybe even just as decent human beings.

Start a conversation with your male friends, guys. Ask them if they’ve heard us. Tell them you believe us. Tell them you’re making it a priority in your life to shut down any behaviour which might make women feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Then actually do that. Call it out when you see it. Listen to us. Believe us. It’s the only way this stuff is actually going to end. The bad guys won’t listen to us, but maybe they’ll listen to you.

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