Harassers adapt to intersectional politics, on campus and beyond
This article contains information about and descriptions of sexual assault, harassment and/or violence that some may find triggering or upsetting.
Unless you’ve been living under a pop culture rock (or, perhaps, aren’t as obsessed with awards season as I am), you will be aware that earlier this month at the Golden Globes, women took a stand. Many of us watched in wonderment as a plethora of Hollywood’s most powerful women arrived at the ceremony wearing black, a Time’s Up pin, and in many cases brought an activist as their plus one. In response to #MeToo and powerful men finally being held accountable for their predatory behaviour, over 300 notable women in the entertainment industry have recognised their relative privilege and set up a legal defence fund for women across all sectors and walks of life that have experienced sexual harassment or assault. Addressing their “sisters”, these women – from Meryl Streep to Shonda Rhimes to Emma Watson – offer one very simple, hopeful and unified message: We stand with you. We support you.
Although some may sneer at this movement – and perhaps even dismiss it as a feeble stance created by and created for the Hollywood elite – it’s undeniably captured the world’s attention. The Time’s Up campaign has already received millions upon millions of dollars in donations towards its legal defence fund, and powerful men everywhere are scrambling to show their support for the movement.
The thing is, not all of these men are what we hope and think they are: many of them are self-proclaimed feminists and liberal, pop-culture darlings; and yet some of them, kept closely to their chests and hidden behind their Time’s Up pins, are the very men that this campaign is trying to protect women from. James Franco and now Aziz Ansari, for example, both have three things in common: they were both Golden Globe winners that night, they were both wearing Time’s Up pins, and they have both since been publicly accused of sexual misconduct and/or harassment.
But this phenomenon of some self-proclaimed “feminist” men actually being sexual predators is not exclusive to Hollywood, it’s endemic in our university campuses too, and very rarely talked about. In the often desperate and sometimes futile quest to get a fellow male student to call himself a feminist, we can sometimes forget that when they do proudly wear the feminist badge, not all of them deserve to wear it.
At the beginning of my first year in Glasgow, I met a boy on my course that was the polar opposite of everything I’d grown to resent about teenage boys during my final years at school: he didn’t sneer or change the subject when we talked about politics – instead, he was a self-identified intersectional feminist and socialist. With a few more years on my side, and having made many male friends since, I’m far less naive to the bullshit novelty of being satisfied with the mere act of self-alignment with intersectional ideals, but at the time, I was genuinely excited to be friends with a guy my own age who shared my beliefs.
The friendship was short-lived. A few days into knowing him, he asked me on a date, to which I said no but that I wanted to be his friend. I’d just gotten out of a difficult relationship and I wasn’t attracted to him anyway. After making it explicitly clear that the only thing I was interested in was friendship and assuming that he’d respect that, I continued to hang out with him, albeit less often. One night, he came back to a small flat party with myself and some friends from a freshers’ event at the QMU. When the night was drawing to an end, I wanted to ask him to leave. I wanted to, but I didn’t – I didn’t want to upset him or have him think that I was being presumptuous about his intentions. He was, after all, a friend. He didn’t want to walk home at night (the party was at Queen Margaret halls and he lived at Murano) and claimed to have no taxi money. I reluctantly offered my bedroom floor but, sensing that something was off, told him that the only thing I was interested in was sleeping.
When I returned to my bedroom after getting changed in my bathroom, he was stood in the middle of my room in his underwear. I didn’t know what to say or do so I just got into my bed, threw a blanket and pillow onto the floor for him and ignored him when he commented on how “hot” it was that a girl had so many books in her room. After ten minutes, he began complaining that he couldn’t sleep because the floor was too hard and the blanket I gave him was not warm enough. Feeling guilty, I told him that he could share my bed. He was, after all, a friend and a feminist.
“I think you’ll feel better if we do something,” is what he said when he did something that I didn’t want him to do and I said no. Like many women feel in situations like that, 18-year-old me didn’t know what to say or do – a soft no felt a lot easier and a lot less scary than a “get the fuck out of my flat”.
“I’m on my period.” I thought that would do it. “I don’t mind,” he said in response, still doing things I wasn’t comfortable with. I wasn’t asking if he minded – I was trying to tell him that I minded. “I don’t want to have sex with you,” I said, not for the first time that night. He said again: “I really do think you’ll feel better if we do something.”
I pretty much stopped speaking to him after that and left most of the many, many messages he sent me unread. I just couldn’t believe how I could feel so violated and uncomfortable while he could simultaneously, being the enlightened guy that he was, be so clueless as to what he’d done wrong.
But I’m not the only student this has happened to. In an open call for women at Glasgow University to come forward with their own stories of men invading what should be a safe space and being far from the feminists they claim to be, a lot more students came forward than I expected.
“It seems now like more male students are calling themselves feminists than not, which is great obviously, but not when they don’t stand by those principles,” one girl in her third year told me. Another student doing a postgrad told me: “At least a handful of guys have made advances towards me and made me feel guilty for not reciprocating; there genuinely seems to be a problem with guys not understanding that coercion does not equal consent.” A fourth year student told me, quite bluntly, “I think this is a huge issue at the QMU in particular because you just assume that a lot of the male students there are allies, but when it comes to wanting to get with someone it’s a different story. I still feel guilty for saying no to men even though I know I shouldn’t. Like it will jeopardize the friendship.”
Seven out of the nine women I spoke to say that they’ve had experiences almost identical to mine during their time studying at university. This raises an uncomfortable question we should all consider:
What can we do, as a society and as a campus, to ensure that we hold men who self-identify as feminists to the same standards, accountability and scrutiny as the ones who won’t? Time shouldn’t only be “up” for the Trumps and Weinsteins among us – it should also be up for the deceptively harmless, faux-feminist James Francos and Aziz Ansaris of the world who exist, undetected and unafraid, on our campus.
Rape Crisis Glasgow: 0141 552 3201
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