I am tired. I am tired of having the same conversation with male friends over and over again. I am tired of men that think it is acceptable to touch me on nights out. I am tired of being made to feel unreasonable when I talk about it. I am tired of men that excuse those men that have been inappropriate towards me or other female friends.
I want to make it clear: I do not care if he is a ‘good guy normally’. I do not care if he ‘drank too much’. I do not care if ‘he does not know better’.
There is always one guy in every group that is a bit off with women
I care that I am forced to accept unwanted groping and sexual advances as normal on a night out. I care that my female friends and I feel unable to talk about our experiences, without having men explain to us that this is normal.
In order to have an open and honest conversation about sexual assault and harassment at university, we have to address the drinking culture. This culture that tells some men that after a few pints all girls are fair game – ready to be treated like meat. Nothing reminds you that spaces do not belong to you like someone groping you on a night out.
Efforts to downplay groping and other forms of assault and harassment are everywhere. On last week’s Have I Got News For You, Ian Hislop described an abuse of power by a male MP as ‘not high level crime, compared to say Putin or Trump.’
The only woman on the show that week, Jo Brand, responded by explaining: ‘It does not have to be high level for women to feel under siege in somewhere like the House of Commons […] if you’re constantly harassed, even in a small way, that builds up and that wears you down.’
There is obviously a large difference between the House of Commons and Durham nightclubs , but the conversations we need to have remain the same. Being groped on a night out might seem like a minor issue, but when it happens nearly every time you go out you start to change your behaviour.
It does ‘wear you down’, as Brand claimed, especially because often you do not feel able to call it out in a cramped, dark club, faced by a guy twice your size; you often feel powerless. You can start to go out less, change the clubs you go to, dress differently, but even these changes do not make a difference.
There is always one. One guy in every group that everyone knows is a bit off with women. ‘Lovely’ when sober, but two pints down and he’s ruining your female friends’ evenings with unwanted advances. Call him out. When your female friends talk to you about it the following morning, do not excuse him. Do not tell them that normally he is a nice guy or that he just acts like this when he is drunk.
You feel as though you are the problem
Firstly, this tells your female friends that you do not deem this behaviour unusual – you think it is a normal part of a night out, which is terrifying. Secondly, it silences those friends. It tells us that you do not think these actions are important and you do not value us, women, and our experiences.
Tell him. Take him to one side and talk to him about the way he treats women. Explain that there are boundaries. On nights out keep an eye on him. Protect your female friends. We should not be thrown under the bus for you to have a fun evening. These conversations are not easy. They never are. But they need to happen.
Every part of the conversation surrounding sexual assault has become dominated by excuses. Ironically, it robs the perpetrators of their agency. It silences the victims and makes it harder for us to speak out. When you are told that the person who assaulted you is actually ‘lovely’, you feel as though you are the problem. You feel as though you are being unreasonable for talking about it.
We need to centre conversations surrounding assault towards those who have experienced it and work towards a culture that condemns the perpetrators.
Photograph: Alan Levine via Flickr and Creative Commons