There’s a desperate tedium in catching yourself explaining the same things over and over again. No, a woman’s body is not like a laptop or a house. We are people, not items of portable property liable to be snatched up if not carefully concealed; not buildings that might be smashed open and penetrated if left unguarded. Yes, women have the right to get drunk – raging drunk, dancing on tables drunk, blackout drunk – and not have men stick their penises in us and then claim they couldn’t know we hadn’t said yes. No, women are not the ones responsible for avoiding attacks and assaults. Yes, a woman should be able to go on a packed train without a man rubbing his cock on her, walk through a deserted underpass without getting flashed, keep all the filthy pictures of herself she wants to on her own private phone and not have them hacked and published.
These conversations bore me. I’m bored of myself. What if we did things the other way? What if we took every piece of advice we’ve ever been given by all those well-meaning people who just want us to understand that the world can be a dangerous place and that women need to take measures – just a few moderate, practical measures; they’d barely impinge on your quality of life at all! – to protect ourselves. Let’s start with the booze. It’s a filthy habit anyway, I’ve been meaning to cut down, so why not follow the kindly advice? So no more Saturday nights on the lash. No more Friday nights in the pub having just one more because the conversation is so good and you’re not ready to go home yet, because what if that one more is the one that means the police decide the jury would never believe you? No more drinking at home, and definitely no drugs of any kind. Women can forget about living carefree. Instead, we should enter a sober state of high alert, constantly vigilant for any threat.
With this clean living, we might as well start training ourselves up. Learn a bit of self-defence. In fact, learn a lot of self-defence. The kindly advisers tell us we’re like a house waiting to be smashed into, so let’s change the structure. No more being a delicate maisonette with a vulnerable lower-floor window: we’ll convert ourselves into brick shithouses. Of course, it won’t always be possible to completely avoid the places that the kindly advisers have identified as enemy territory for women, because the kindly advisers’ definition of enemy territory for women is, tacitly, “a place where men are”. Sometimes, however much we might strive to protect ourselves by living totally separate lives, we’ll find ourselves occupying the same space as men.
But when we go where men go, we’ll go as soldiers entering hostile land. We’ll travel in troupes, a street-swaggering show of strength; or in twos, each scoping the surroundings for their buddy and eyeing potential threats; or if singly, we’ll sneak like snipers, spotting danger and taking it out before it even knows we’re there. After all, the kindly advisers tell us that we simply can’t expect men not to harass, assault or rape us, and attack is the best form of defence. A female militia could assert its right to freedom of dress by force, I suppose; but a soldier needs to dress for battle. No high heels that fix us to the tiny spot, no fripperies or frills we could be caught by the enemy. If men hate us so much they rape us and then blame the clothes we wear, let’s dress for the war that’s been declared. Perhaps the kindly advisers would permit us one feminine indulgence: a small scraping of optional lipstick, brightest red. A single slice of violence, intent in the middle of the face.
How could we communicate? Not by any established means. It’s been made abundantly clear that those aren’t meant for women. When we speak or write, we receive invective, abuse and sexual threats. When we send emails, they’re hacked, published, exposed to ridicule and sanction. When we store the intimate records of our private lives, they’re stolen and circulated, and then we’re told it was our fault for having something men wanted to steal – because no woman is entitled to say where her boundaries are and have them respected, not really. So we’ll launch our own closed channels for planning manoeuvres. In public, we’ll run a counter-propaganda campaign: broadcast our own programmes, publish our own papers (on every page of the Daily Femigraph: women doing things, written about by women. It’ll make a change). After all, the kindly advisers tell us men just like reading about themselves and looking at pictures of women, so let’s make our own media instead.
Women are told all the time to live as though we are under siege. That certain public places cannot be open to us, because of the harm that men might do. That certain ways of dressing are an invitation to violence. That our bodies are not our own. That even to have a secret is to incite its violation. That any slip of consciousness is the surrender of our consent. Of course, the people who offer this thoughtful guidance don’t use the phrase “under siege”: they talk about “being rational” or “taking pragmatic steps”. They think that this is “just the way the world is”. What is the rational, pragmatic thing for a population under siege to do? Start an insurgency. Organise an uprising of martial feminism. I am tired of arguing with the people who justify the oppression of women. What if we fought them instead?