Boys Who Hit Girls and Boys Who Don’t

CW: violence against women, sexual harassment, assault.

Let me tell you a story. Today, a friend of mine jostled into a man on a rush hour tube. The man turned around and threatened to punch her in the face. She cried.

Let me tell you another story. Once, when I was walking home in the dark, a man ran towards me and screamed in my face. When I leapt backwards away from him, he laughed hysterically. I went home, turned on all of my lights and sat in the corner of my living room between the sofa and the wall. And I cried.

Let me tell you another story. A while ago, there was a post circling around the internet about a man who noticed that the woman walking in front of him had sped up to get away from him. He walked faster and so did she. Eventually, she broke into a run. When she tripped and fell, he ran past her and screamed “Who are we running from?!”. A lot of people shared this post. A lot of nice male friends of mine shared this post with notes on how funny it was. They laughed. I bet the woman cried.

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In at least two of those stories, the men involved thought they were kidding around. Not having been there for the first, I can’t say for sure whether the threat was a thoughtless, idiotic, off the cuff remark or a genuine threat. But here’s something I am sure about: being able to frighten women and think that you are joking or that we shouldn’t take it so seriously is an act of supreme, huge, massive privilege.

When you say or do something like the guys above did, you know that you don’t really mean it. Here’s the thing: we don’t.
We don’t know until we’ve ignored your shouts of “Hey beautiful!” whether you’re going to throw a bottle at us or not.
We don’t know until we’ve awkwardly returned your smile at the bar whether you are going to shove us against a wall and assault us or not.
We don’t know until we’ve refused to laugh at your inappropriate sexual joke whether you’re going to tell your friends that we were throwing ourselves at you or not.
We don’t know until we’ve pulled you up on sexist language whether you’ll send us photographs of mutilated women or not.
We don’t know when we sit next to you on the bus whether you’re going to start masturbating at us or not.

None of those examples are hypothetical.

I don’t presume to speak for all women here because I can’t. So I’m just going to speak for me. I live my whole life in the knowledge that pretty much every single man I come into contact with is stronger than me. In every interaction, I carry that thought in the back of my head: that you could hurt me if you wanted to. I’m smart, I’m funny, I’m brave, I’m strong, I’m confident and not one of those things would stop you killing me if you decided to.

I am afraid of you. And the numbers back me up in being afraid of you. The numbers say that actually, it’s quite likely that I’ll be seriously hurt by a man in my lifetime. It’s only a matter of time. It’s only a matter of who. It’s basically a miracle that women get out the door in the morning with that knowledge hanging over them. The only thing that stops me living in fear all the time is sheer, indefatigable stubbornness.

We have no idea whether your “joke” is a joke until it’s too late. When you make jokes like that and I give you the hilarious, terrified reaction that you’re looking for, I’m doing that because I’m afraid that you’re going to hurt me. I’m afraid that you’re going to kill me. So I’ll let you choose. You can be funny, or you can be frightening. Because trust me, you can’t be both. Violence isn’t always committed with a fist. Just because we’re not bleeding doesn’t mean you haven’t hurt us. Weigh your damn words, boys. They’re heavy.

9 thoughts on “Boys Who Hit Girls and Boys Who Don’t

  1. ANON says:

    Wait a minute haha…that’s absolutely crazy. You’re afraid every day that someone will kill you for no reason? Just because they’re male? You’re lucky you live in the UK. Look at America where almost anyone could have a gun and kill you for these very reasons you stated here. So everyone in America should live in the fear and trepidation you’ve portrayed here because…well something might happen? Small men are scared of big men, big men are scared of bigger men but the need to activate fight or flight shouldn’t wake up with you in the morning. Granted, in the situations you mentioned you could say, where they in the “wrong place” and the obvious answer is no – but should they be scared that will happen to them again the next time they jostle into a man or walk home alone at night? Absolutely not. At least I’d hope not. That would be terrible 😔 And a luxury afforded by the fact that actually, our society here in Britain, is not as threatening as our american counterparts.

    • fionalongmuir says:

      Oh I am SO grateful not to live in the US. The number of women this year who have been shot and killed in the US is horrifying (as, of course, is the number of men who have been). I’m not saying I spend my life terrified but the thought is always in the back of my head. If I hear footsteps behind me when I’m walking alone and I turn around and see a woman, I feel relieved. Stuff like that.

  2. Alan says:

    It’s not nice to feel threatened and scared, I’ve seen too much violence to wish it on anyone. I try to avoid following behind women at night even if they are on the same route home. I’d rather take a detour than scare them. If I am on the same side of the road coming towards them I’ll cross over. I’ll never forget the lady who recoiled in horror when I paused briefly to say “Excuse me, you’ve left your lights on”. It’s not nice to think you can scare someone just by being you.

    • fionalongmuir says:

      I know, it must be horrible. Massive thanks to you for bearing it in mind though, seriously, I appreciate it. Hopefully someday we’ll live in a super awesome equal world where women don’t have to be scared of men and men don’t have to worry about being scary.

  3. This was so wonderfully written and raised a really important issue. It’s very easy for people to turn situations like these into humourous ones, or dismiss them as insignificant, and I’ve never understood it – violence towards anyone is unforgivable but especially when it’s done to control, torment and frighten – for both women, men and children. I really hope that as more people talk about this we’ll see a change, and people will become kinder and more thoughtful. You’ve got a smart head on you and it’s inspirational, Fiona. Thank you for sharing this! – Tasha

    • fionalongmuir says:

      Yooouuuu are so lovely. Thank you so much. I still don’t really know exactly what I wanted to achieve with this post, I kind of just felt like I wanted to talk about it.

  4. This is a really tough topic. Thank you so much for addressing it! I know exactly what you mean. Whenever I walk alone in the dark and someone is following me, I have a hard time shaking those thoughts as well.
    We surely cannot live in fear all the time, but we cannot be in denial of the risks either. It’s very difficult to find the balance here. Addressing it is the first step to make people aware, and awareness can help fight the risks.

    I’m happy I found your blog, you’re an amazing writer :)

    Have a wonderful week!
    Beate

    • fionalongmuir says:

      Thank you so much Beate! I’m so sorry about the delay in replying…decided to take Christmas off :) It is really tough and I just thought that me speaking my mind, even if I don’t really know what I’m trying to say, might make another girl feel less alone. Hope you have a brilliant weekend, thanks so much for reading.

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