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woman_at_the_well

If the title puzzles you, it refers to a Twitter hashtag where women share their experiences of everyday sexism; it is harrowing stuff, and if you are young and female then you get a shock of recognition as you realise that stuff you thought was just your own bad experience is commonplace – and it ought not to be. It was started off in reaction to the murder spree in California by a young man who felt rejected by women; that he was mentally ill and killed a lot of men too seems to have been ignored by the tweeters, but in a way that’s not the point; the point is that a lot of women feel that men treat them like pieces of meat; good for one thing. I have a friend who, on being groped by a man in a nightclub hit him, only to be hit back; she was so shocked she didn’t report it, and it was only later, when her boyfriend went and ‘dealt with’ the other man, that she felt relieved; but should any of that been necessary? Even some of her female friends wondered by she was making a fuss; well, hey, she was right to make a fuss, no woman should have to put up with some lout touching her. Most women, in fact to judge by the Twitter feed, all of us, have had experience of unwanted ‘touching’, and I am glad (and sad) that I’m not the only woman who, of an evening, has walked to the car park with her keys clenched in her fist ready to use them if needed; this insecurity is not, I think, something men suffer from, or quite understand.

Talking this over with older men, I was interested in their reaction, which was to them it is as though younger men don’t actually know how to behave. One colleague told me that when he was a young man, of course he ‘tried it on’, but that consisted of trying to get a kiss, not groping and hitting. He wondered, as I do, how far the problem comes down to what one friend calls the ‘pornification’ of out culture. Pornography is so readily available that I fear too many young men take it as their guide, and if it tells them that women (or is it ‘girls’?) are always ‘up for it’, then I can see how they would be confused when a woman tells them ‘no’.

For me, as a Christian, it has always been pretty straightforward. My faith matters to me, I try to live by it, and that rules out sex outside of marriage. At College this confused some men, but they accepted it; my non-Christians friends found it more difficult; but what a world where women feel they have to provide some reason for not ‘putting out’. I know one woman who ‘invented’ a ‘boyfriend back home’ to keep the wolves off; it wasn’t entirely successful, but it worked well enough for others to take it up. But again, it spoke of the fact that they didn’t feel secure enough to just ‘say no’. Not that it was all high-level harassment. One good friend once said to a man ‘my face is up here’, as he, like others, tended to talk to her generous bosom. One man said to her that it was her ‘fault’ for wearing lowish cut tops; ha! it was his fault for being an oaf; why my friend should have had to dress for his ill manners, who knows? But the fact he felt able to say it was what worried some of us. Perhaps we should all have worn burkas? Indeed, my two friends who converted to Islam, used to say they felt ‘freer’ in their new garb. The general sense of insecurity felt by lone women in public places, especially after dark, is hard to convey, but it was only when a male friend told me to ‘slow down’, that I realised I habitually walk purposefully and swiftly after dark to give the impression I am in a hurry to get somewhere.

Some of the tweets refer to Christianity as part of the problem, but I can only think with some ignorance. My faith has always been a great help, and hanging about with other Christians also helps; it may not stop the guys from coming on to you, but it makes that process gentler.

When my husband left me, I was amazed at the number of men who seemed to think that meant I was now ‘ready and available’, and in one case I had to show one colleague that a ‘girl’ can pack a mean right hook; he was so shocked he didn’t hit me back – but if he had, I have a mean left hook too; Daddy saw to that. The idea that a woman might actually be happy being by herself did not readily occur to many of the men who thought that I was bound to be in need of their company. I’ve been fortunate, my fiance is a Christian, a priest, and respects my boundaries and shares my view about the place of sex. But I begin to fear, sharing experiences with other women my age and younger, that he’s a pretty rare man (better not tell him so). Neo sent me this, which makes a lot of sense. But quite how and when our society lost its way on this one, I don’t know. But if anyone tells me it has nothing to do with contraception and easy abortion, as well as with ‘porn’, then I don’t think I believe it.

What I tend to say is that if you want to know how to treat women, look at Jesus – he got it right. Christians have a great role model there – go thou and do likewise.