Why victims of sexual harassment need women to stand in solidarity

[CN sexual assault]

A few months ago someone I thought to be a good friend took advantage of me. He got me blind drunk while he remained sober. He led me to believe that he was as drunk as I was. We had sex.

There is a knot is my stomach as I write – several months on, I am still sickened by what happened. Yes, I was drunk. Yes, that was my own doing. Yes, to some extent at least, this is my fault.

I only discovered the whole story at the beginning of this term (before I thought that we were both intoxicated and “making bad decisions”). I do not know his motivations behind getting me drunk; whether he planned to take advantage of me from the beginning, whether he thought it would be funny, whether he wanted an excuse to break up with his girlfriend, or whether he knew that my embarrassment would isolate me from the truth for some time (I was unable to talk to many friends – those who later told me the whole story – out of shame).

In dealing with this, I have shared my story with people, if only to be comforted by their anger, disgust and sympathy. Condemnation was uniform, but the nature of responses wasn’t. As a scientist, at this stage I must criticise my ‘study’: the sample size was low and consisted primarily of people who knew me well, I included more women than men, and the method of delivery was not the same for all participants. However, I did notice a difference in the way in which men and women responded to my story.

In general, men were angrier and women more sympathetic towards my ‘friend’. It could be argued that women are traditionally more sensitive and forgiving, whereas men are supposed to react more aggressively to wrongdoings. Whether societally or evolutionarily based, these differences are often observed between the genders. However, the women I choose to share such matters with do not fit into such stereotypes. They are strong feminists who are willing to stand up for themselves.

Another argument could be that a few of the men I have spoken to were romantically or sexually interested in me, and therefore wished to gain my trust (now a more difficult feat) and increase in my regard by condemning the incident. Breaking news: it works! These men may also feel protective towards me – one gave me a massive hug and said that he’s sorry that it happened to me, like it’s a big deal, some massive trauma. I never felt that it was more than a sickening inconvenience. I take issue at the protective aspect of his reaction, feeling that I can look after myself. Nevertheless, I would have appreciated some protection that night.

I believe that experience has an enormous impact on the way we respond to other people and events. Most women have seen their fair share of creepy guys and sexual harassment – many of us have to peel someone off our bodies every time we go clubbing. We, as women, are therefore less shocked by these things, and so an incident such as mine does not so much induce rage as a mild sympathy for both parties. Men, on the other hand, do not deal with the same extent of sexual harassment on a regular basis. They may not realise the frequency of harassment in real terms, and thus shock induces the emotional responses I experienced.

Thinking of the dynamic in my family, where both parents have very much equal roles, my father has always been very protective of me as a heterosexual woman. He is the harshest judge of any of my relationships and has been known to make boyfriends he didn’t approve of feel uncomfortable (not deliberately). His explanation for this was that he knows how unpleasant men can be – as young man he had several misogynistic “muckers” (members of his sports teams who he would not consider real friends) Maybe, in direct contrast to my previous arguments, men actually know more about the way that some men view women. Perhaps, the difference is in fact a question of belief in the extent of the motivations behind my manipulation. Possibly women wish to deny this and to trust men, if they have not had reasons not to. I believe this is the case particularly with a friend who knows aforementioned ‘friend’ and does not wish her trust in him to be thus abused.

Despite the tradition of men being less emotional, I have experienced more emotional responses from men regarding an issue of manipulation. However, these responses were mainly protective. There may be a multitude of reasons why women have appeared to react less strongly to my story, or I may show some bias. I believe it is important to stand in angry solidarity, but while I cannot stop blaming myself, where are we in terms of abolishing victim blame?

I am one person. I cannot explain how these experiences affect everyone. I cannot expect that all responses will be the same as mine. I only wish that we stand in solidarity, and support each other as best we can.



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