First, that there have always been expectations, that I must watch the way I act, dress, and speak. Otherwise men will do or say nasty things to me.
Second, that I am supposed to believe said expectations don’t actually exist. That what others take for granted, I’m supposed to accept as a natural system of values that holds the universe together, instructing me to submit to all things inoffensive to men.
And so when I do something I’m not supposed to, when I end up eliciting what I’ve come to recognise as a uniquely masculine brand of self-righteous anger, I’m supposed to repent and make amends. I’m supposed to placate, and eventually concede.
Thirdly, and finally, that I am not supposed to be a woman, at least not in the sense that ‘woman’ equals ‘human being’. Instead, I’m to be the ‘woman’ that is also ‘object’ and ‘follower’.
I am aware of all this because from the moment I slid out from my mother’s vagina, I was forced, almost instantly, into a world of pink, lace, and barbie. I was told to “play kitchen” while my brother got to race toy cars and break things. I learned very early that to be female is to have no choice.
For as long as I’ve been aware that I am what some would call a non-stereotypical ‘strong, empowered woman’, I have known that it is really only other women who understand what this means.
Where women think I’m strong, men think it’s “so hot that you’re sassy”. Where women admire me for being empowered, men think “this must mean you’re a freak in the sheets”.
I know this because men actually say these things to me.
Take this guy for example. Let’s call him John.
John and I used to be friends. At least until he, after what I assumed would be a harmless conversation about a bad experience I had, decided I was “up for anything”.
This is what popular culture tells me.
Popular culture tells me to believe that this is my time, that #metoo will lay waste to gender inequality, transporting us on clouds and rainbows into an era where women number as many as the men who get to run our country. Where women who are assaulted will no longer be subject to the canons of victim-blaming: “But why you go to his house in the first place? Why you dress like that? Why you so stupid?”
As more and more women become aware of who they are, what they want, and what they’re allowed to do without fear of consequence, I am supposed to believe that I am empowered.
Yet I don’t.
I don’t believe it because the very men who peddle all the seemingly proper values and arguments often also seem to be those who believe the least in them. And what does a woman do in the face of such a situation? A situation we know only too well, where the balance of power is never equal, and we know exactly where we stand.
Take this other guy for example. His name is Samuel. Samuel and I used to work together. He may or may not have been my boss.
But this is nonsense. Successful or not, creepy guys will be creepy guys. And I speak from experience when I say that there will never be a shortage of them.
So this is what I’ve decided. I’ve decided that all women should be done with playing nice, I’ve decided that all of us should stop looking the other way, and acting like everything is just fine.
Because it’s not. If we want true empowerment, we need to take it for ourselves. It is not enough to tell ourselves we are strong; we need to be and show it.
Accordingly, this is what you do the next time someone decides to be creepy:
Step 1: Take screenshots. If a guy is insinuating something rather than explicitly asking you for it, feign ignorance. Act blur until he comes right out and say it. Screenshot everything.
Step 2: Start digging into this man’s life. Who are his friends? His parents? His employers? His exes? How do people think of him? Is he well-respected? Admired? Thought of as a decent guy?
Step 3: Understand that if he has done this to you, he has probably done this to someone else as well. Find these people. Gather more evidence.
Step 4: Shortlist all the people who are most likely to be enraged by his behaviour. Send incriminating screenshots to them from an anonymous account.
Step 5: Watch the world burn.
But this is exactly what Lisbeth Salander, who is known for retaliating against men who abuse women, does in The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Played by the actress Claire Foy, let her inspire you when you catch her in theatres come 6th November.
Watch the trailer now.