Kirsty Strickland: Why it's time for me to speak up about sexual violence

CommonSpace columnist Kirsty Strickland shares her experiences in a powerful bid to highlight how normal brutality has become for women

This article contains descriptions of violence

IT'S been a painful week for women. As more and more have come forward to tell of the grotesque behaviour and abuse that Harvey Weinstein subjected them to, it’s sparked conversations among women of their similar experiences. 

Most don’t involve A-list celebrities or influential film producers. But through them all, there is a common thread weaving and joining their experiences: power.

Those men who have power of over us in the workplace, power in our schools, and the power to make or break us in even the smallest of ways; the power to allow us to start out in our careers, or continue in them without being labeled as that woman who is oversensitive or the one who kicks up a fuss and can’t take a bit of banter; that power imbalance marks women and girl’s lives in so many ways, but often it takes other women coming forward and speaking out before we feel the safety in numbers we need for our truth to be believed.

To those men who ask, "why now?", "why not come forward sooner?", I say this: look around you. Look at how the Weinstein story is already being skewed.

To those men who ask, "why now?", "why not come forward sooner?", I say this: look around you. Look at how the Weinstein story is already being skewed. Listen to the derailers, the deniers, and those inferring the women are lying. 

Listen to the phone-in shows, the TV panel questions which ask, "should we give him a second chance?", "why didn’t Emma Thompson/Hilary Clinton/another woman not stop this man’s predatory behaviour?"; listen to the 'casting couch' analogies, and the blame being placed at the feet of women for not stopping the man they refer to in Hollywood as "God".

Listen to all that noise; that deafening chorus of blame and then stop for a second, and realise: women hear it, too. We’ve heard it our whole lives, which is why, despite walking around with the scars and memories of the violence and harassment etched into our skin and minds, we stay quiet.

One woman’s voice often isn’t enough to cut through the din, but women speaking together helps elevate our voices. It doesn’t drown out the noise of detraction and dismissal – not by any stretch of the imagination – but it does give us that feeling that we aren’t alone. 

That amplification reminds us that we didn’t do anything wrong that time we were harmed. We didn’t bring it upon ourselves because of our failure to adhere to some blueprint of how women should behave to navigate life without our bodies being violated.

Listen to all that noise; that deafening chorus of blame and then stop for a second, and realise: women hear it, too.

I write about violence against women a lot. I immerse myself in the horrors being committed against women and girls every time I do. There’s not a day that goes by where a news story depicting male violence doesn’t grab my attention. And yet, there is something about Weinstein and his decades of abuse that made me, probably for the first time, evaluate my own experiences. 

Maybe it’s because so many other women are doing the same. Maybe it’s because the dynamic of male power is one that I have so many bad experiences with. Or maybe it’s just because I’m just so very tired of this shit.

My life, like so many others, has been marked by instances of violence. Some big, some small, none that I can ever 'get over' in any kind of meaningful way. I carry them with me, in my writing and in my life, like a bag you’d quite like to put down but that’s got all your important things in it, so can’t.

In my younger years, there was a teacher who made me stand in front of the class, leering at my newly- developing breasts as he instructed to me to say "I’ve been a very naughty girl" over and over again. The same teacher gave me detention when I refused.

Another teacher turned up at one of my first jobs working in a bar and asked me if I had sensitive nipples, as I poured his pint. That same teacher used to praise me for my writing and offer extra tuition. 

We’ve heard it our whole lives, which is why, despite walking around with the scars and memories of the violence and harassment etched into our skin and minds, we stay quiet.

This happened in the same bar that I quit three weeks later because I couldn’t smile while old men licked their lips at me and asked me to bend over as I fetched their drink.

And then there was another workplace, where I asked for a new shirt because from the side you could see my bra between the top two buttons and male customers kept staring and commenting on it. The manager there told me no, because it was good for my sales.

There was the beeping, the shouts, and the men making obscene gestures from cars when me and my friends were in school uniform. Later, there was the groping in nightclubs, the rough pawing of breasts, hands up skirts, and the ones who would grab your head and force it into their crotch to the laughs and jeers of their friends.

There's the men you like, the ones you pray will treat you a bit more gently and be a bit more kind. There was the man I fancied when I was a teenager, who whispered in my ear that he liked me too; the one who led me outside where I thought he was going to kiss me. He said that his friend liked me too so "just give him one kiss, and then I’ll get you a taxi home", and then he stood and watched as his friend tried to grab at my tights to put his fingers inside me. He watched as I ran away crying.

Power.

My life, like so many others, has been marked by instances of violence. Some big, some small, none that I can ever 'get over' in any kind of meaningful way. I carry them with me, in my writing and in my life.

I’ve never had so little power as during the period in my life where I was homeless and bouncing from place to place. I always had people I could stay with, I was never on the streets, but still, you don’t like to impose on people or overstay your welcome. 

There was one man who I met through a friend who was delighted to have me stay. He’d make me lovely meals and light candles and beg me to remain in his flat whenever he needed to go out. For a while, it was just what I needed. I didn’t see the insidious nature of it then, and didn’t really notice that I’d went a while without checking in with friends or family. He made sure he was all I needed.

He scared me sometimes. Sometimes I left and went to a friend’s house, just so I had some space to breathe. He’d text me constantly. Sometimes loving, but often angry. He’d describe violent things he wanted to do to me. I brushed it off, dismissed the way his words twisted in my gut like a knife. 

I told myself he would never actually do any of those things he described, he just had issues because he loved me and didn’t like it when I left him, and that when I went back we’d be happy again and he wouldn’t have cause to make such threats. I needed him. I did go back.

He was so happy to see me and said that he’d not stopped worrying about me since I’d left, that I needed him to take care of me. He made me soup - I said I wasn’t hungry but he sat and watched me eat it. He’d stocked his fridge with all my favourite foods, got wine for me and would top up my glass before I was finished. He didn’t drink.

I wish that this was an exhaustive list of my experiences of male power manifesting themselves into abuse. It’s not. Some are still too heavy, too important and scarring to lay down.

One morning not long after I returned I woke up and he was animated, pacing. He thrust open the curtains and half-dragged me out of bed. He said he had something to show me. We went into the spare room and on the bed was a mountain of papers. "Sit down," he said. "Read." 

I started to and immediately began to feel scared and sick. The papers were court documents, lists of the charges against him by his ex-wife. Her testimony. The things he did to her in public and private. Horrific details in her own words that made me want to run and not look back. He was watching me as I read, but offered no explanation. 

I asked why he was showing me this, though I think on some level I understood why. He was telling me not to leave again, showing me what he was capable of. He sat next to me and held my hand as he called his ex-wife names. Psycho bitch. Cunt. Whore. I could feel the walls closing in. His face was twisted with a mixture of anger and delight, and he started to kiss me. 

I tried to gently untangle myself from him, but he was strong, and his hands were encircling my wrists. I tried to appease him, reminded him that I had my period and asked if it would not be better to wait for a few more days? He said he loved me. I said I love you too, words said out of fear, rather than conviction. 

He asked: "Do you really love me, though?" I said I did, but I really didn’t want to do this just now. I had a stomach ache. Should we get some breakfast? Could I get a shower first?

For as long as the Harvey Weinsteins, the managers, the teachers and exploitative boyfriends of this world have power, there will be some that use it for their own ends.

Would he stop? Please could he stop? He didn’t answer, but pulled my underwear aside and held my legs apart with his forearm. He grabbed the string of my tampon, roughly yanked it out and chucked it on the floor. I lay there while he did what my begging couldn’t stop him doing, as he grabbed my hair and was cruel and rough with me in a way he had never been before. 

My brain floated to a different place. I remember focusing on the tampon in the corner of the room, lying on his beige carpet, and thinking how strange it was that he’d did that considering what a clean freak he was. He left me there, bleeding onto the papers now scattered across the bed and said he was going out for a run. 

I watched him out the window and then grabbed my suitcase, some pound coins from his side table, and left. It wasn’t until I was at the bus stop and a woman asked if I was okay that I realised I was crying.

I wish that this was an exhaustive list of my experiences of male power manifesting themselves into abuse. It’s not. Some are still too heavy, too important and scarring to lay down. They are too painful to offer to the freedom of the page.

When men give "as the father of daughters" as a reason why they care about sexual violence, I often wonder if that is them absolving themselves for past actions. Were these men not able to see us as breathing, feeling, bleeding humans until they raised one themselves?

That’s why I’m speaking up, as so many women have this week. Not because my story is unique, or newsworthy or different. But precisely because it isn’t.

I know for me, I worry about all our daughters, not just my own. It didn’t take me having one of my own for me to realise the pain they may have to feel, because I know how universal and almost inevitable our experiences as women are.

For as long as the Harvey Weinsteins, the managers, the teachers and exploitative boyfriends of this world have power, there will be some that use it for their own ends. To hell with the destruction and broken bodies they leave in their wake.

That’s why I’m speaking up, as so many women have this week. Not because my story is unique, or newsworthy or different. But precisely because it isn’t.

If you have been affected by the issues raised by Kirsty, you can contact Rape Crisis Scotland for help and information.

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Comments

Doreen

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 19:13

Strength in numbers. Much love to you, Kirsty. #MeToo

pclive

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 20:33

weeme56

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 23:39

I have relative ..through marriag..e in court this week against her Dad for sexual abuse. 3x he has been able to 'postpone' the trial in 2 yrs. The girl was 17 now nearly 21. 'What if he gets off?, everyone will say I am a liar' she keeps saying. If they 'postpone it again I fear it will be too much for her. He has more rights than her!

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