I just walked into the disabled loo in my office – yes I know this is frowned upon, but it has a full-length mirror – and overheard a conversation between two men outside the door. The first comment I heard as I walked in, and chose to ignore. The second man’s response I heard while I was in the cubicle. It took me a few seconds to register it, then a few seconds more to go over it two or three times in my head to ensure I heard it correctly.
First man (aimed at me): “You’re not disabled!”
Second man (aimed at first man): “She will be by the time i’m finished with her.”
Now I usually don’t blog about sexist remarks, cat-calling, that sort of thing. There are fantastic projects doing this on our behalves, plus, I don’t think it would make for particularly enlightening or insightful blogging.
However, this, I feel I need to put out there. Partly because of the shock I feel at hearing these remarks from men in my place of work, but also as a reminder to other women that they MUST speak up against these comments.
I cannot be sure of the intent of his remark, whether it was intended to imply that he would rape me so violently I would be left disabled, or that he would beat me so badly I would be left disabled.
I suspect it is the first. For two reasons: violence against women in the guise of beating is not generally considered to be appropriate to joke about between two men who are probably on acquaintance level. Most men, I think, would balk at another man saying he thinks it’s OK to punch a woman, for example.
Rape jokes are more acceptable. Because rape is normalised. Maybe the man making the joke didn’t even realise he was implicitly talking about rape. Maybe the other man was as shocked at me at hearing a guy utter such a disgusting thing. I hope so. I know most of my male friends would be.
I am disappointed and sad for a number of reasons, aside from the fact that the men made a comment about me when I work on the same floor of their office and have probably smiled at them when they have been in the queue for the tea machine, or even sent them an email.
I am also sad at the thoughts that ran through my head as I stood in the toilets:
1) “Be REALLY sure that’s what you heard. Could you have misheard it? You have to be sure…”
2) “No-one would believe you if you reported them. It wouldn’t be considered serious as it was said ‘as a joke’. There are two of them, they will defend one another and they will call you hysterical.”
In stopping to make sure I was totally convinced at what I heard, they walked off. I can never report them. I feel powerless.
I share this story partly for my own catharsis. I met up with my boyfriend at lunch to get a hug and remind myself of an amazing man in my life who supports my fight for equality and against a culture of rape. He was equally angry, but told me I need to forget this and move on. He is right. There’s nothing I can do now directly.
I can only urge women to speak out, try not to hesitate, report these things when and where you can. If no-one listens, at least other women will see you speaking out and think “I will do the same next time”.
Today, like on so many other occasions, I didn’t shout. I wanted to and I didn’t. And I hate that when something like this happens, I end up feeling disappointed in myself. I feel mute.
That is why I am sharing this story. Because I need to gather the strength to keep on fighting, to shout SOMEWHERE if I can’t do in the real world. I need to remind myself to put that anger into making a change.
Image from Ms Magazine.