Juliette Cule

Sticking to your feminist guns

It’s easy to feel like a passionate and empowered feminist when I’m sitting comfortably with like-minded people, condemning the patriarchy over a cappuccino, but throw me out into a world where the patriarchy is still the law and suddenly I don’t know where my lines are, I don’t know how to voice them, and I’m wearing a bra so aren’t I going against it all anyway?? My friends are well aware of my views, and many a night ends in a semi-sober discussion of how we can contribute to making the world a fairer and more equal place for everyone involved. So why is it that when I come across someone who goes directly against these strong convictions of mine, I feel unable to stand up for myself and instead tend to smile and nod, or remove myself from the situation, leaving the perpetrator potentially unaware of how their behaviour is affecting those around them and of why their actions are offensive.

For example – I was out recently with a small group of girlfriends, chatting animatedly over a few drinks, clearly not expecting or requiring anyone else to join us. Suddenly, my chair was dragged backwards and we were surrounded by a group of adult men eager to get involved in what they clearly saw as an open forum. They proceeded to act like they were treating us to their company, and when I asked them, politely, to leave several times, their merriment turned to disdain and they seemed genuinely bewildered – ‘what’s wrong with her?’ they grumbled. Our group once again closed in so we were just chatting to one another, and we proceeded to ignore them which resulted in me getting a kiss on the head and the declaration that ‘she loves it really!’. This was quite enough and we left.

I do not love unwanted physical contact, I do not love persistent men who feel you should be grateful for their attention, and most of all I do not love the assumption that I am not aware of what I do and I don’t love.  Why, then, did I feel wholly unequipped to defend myself and set these men straight? Why were we the ones who altered our plans and left? I am well versed in my opinions on unwanted physical contact, harassment and the rigid expectations of how women should behave, and yet when these situations arise I clam up. I have tried to outline the reasons for this, specifically in a bar setting, and have depressed myself by coming up with the following:

  • The pervasive rhetoric employed by men, women, drinks adverts, rom coms, society at large, that women should hope for and be grateful for ANY attention – giving some men a ridiculous sense of entitlement on the dance floor, at the bar and even in a small secluded table in the corner. As soon as you reject this attention, you become the one at fault – I’ve encountered in multiple and various forms over the years ‘moody bitch’ , ‘frigid’ and even that ludicrous concept that if you don’t like THIS man you can’t like ANY man – ‘are you a lesbian??’
  • Further to this, the concept that women are an aesthetic addition to any bar, should therefore always be smiling, pleasant, and welcoming should a man choose to engage with you – ‘cheer up love, it might never happen’, and again that classic ‘moody bitch’ – it’s a good all-rounder I find.
  • The sense that the bar is not your territory – you have put yourself out there into a world where unwanted physical contact is a risk and a consequence of leaving the safe-haven of your home, and like the prolific victim blaming in our judicial system, if you are doing a sexy dance move and your bum gets groped, well, you were asking for it!

These men have been supplied with a patronising and intimidating come-back for every reaction you can have, from laughing down your response, to telling you to ‘get back on your leash’. It is bizarre that they have been equipped with gormless rhetorical replies through ‘lad culture’ and the media, whilst some women (myself included) are still struggling to find the voice and strength to fend off such intimidation.

So, how can I feel braver for next time? It frustrates me endlessly that the very perceptions I want to dismantle result in me clamming up and sitting tightly, waiting for the ordeal to end. Does anyone else have a similar stabbing panic, embarrassment and discomfort when cornered and receiving unwanted chair-drags and head-kisses? Or even better, any tried and tested techniques for mastering that inner critic that denies you a voice in this on-going battle? 

-Juliette Cule

4 thoughts on “Sticking to your feminist guns

  1. In the situation you described where your company was interrupted by head-kissing and presumptive, er, ‘gentlemen’, I do believe you leaving was the strongest stance you could make. To try and get the cads in question to understand that they were intrusive by calling them out and asking them to piss off would just result in agro and they would find some way of justifying it to themselves. This way you embarrassed them which was probably the most effective move you could do. This all being said, I have witnessed many more groups of girls acting entitled to a man’s attention and, being a woman myself, it is just cringeworthy to watch.

  2. Have you considered the possibility that these men were just — for the want of a better phrase — ill-bred, and that any rational analysis of their behaviour, or your reaction to it, is unhelpful to you?

  3. Pingback: Dr Samuel Furse » The Patriarchy

  4. Personally I believe that people hate to admit when something is their fault and they have brought it upon themselves because it’s an ego bruising experience. For men, this is generally amplified dramatically (especially in front of other males) and of course any knock back couldn’t possibly be because they are unattractive/monosylabic/generally unwelcome, it has to be the fault of the object of their affections in order for them to save face.

    I don’t think that their retorts come from anything they’ve learnt from any outside stimulus, it’s a defensive reaction they’ve developed after huge numbers of rejection. Unfortunately they lack the capacity to understand that the problem isn’t everyone else, it’s themselves.

    This is why I feel unisex toilets are a bad idea. If this “man” thinks it is ok to behave that way in public towards you, how much worse would it be in a secluded area? I’m not saying that every sleazy guy automatically becomes a rapist when not watched, but that if he were able to corner you somewhere more secluded it would be far more difficult for you to leave and I’m sure he would have been even more persistent.

    Women shouldn’t have to experience this sort of idiocy and shouldn’t feel they aren’t able to tell the man to get lost in case it gets worse.The problem is that most people’s natural reaction when confronted by a larger threat is to shrink away from it, but it’s only by confronting that feeling and by doing the opposite that men like this one may actually learn something. If every woman was able to stand up to leering neanderthals like this guy then eventually, in a manner like Pavlov’s dogs, men who think is acceptable behaviour may learn that it doesn’t work and may change tactic.

    It’s “men” like this who give men in general a very bad name.

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