Recently a friend tweeted that they couldn’t believe that people still say clichéd sexist things like ‘come on, smile’. I laughed. I know their point was to express amazement at seeing this blatant sexism play out in front of them, but their tweet made me remember that not everyone has to face this kind of misogyny every single day. I think that sometimes cis men can forget what it’s like to be a cis woman or a trans or non-binary person who is subject to misogyny – their privilege makes them oblivious to the everyday misogyny that is my reality.
Content note for rape, sexual assault, homophobic slurs, sexual harassment, and everyday misogyny.
Have you ever planned to learn how to piss yourself when you’re wearing clothes – not for a kink thing, but because you think it would make you less fuckable if someone tried to rape you?
That is my reality: discussing strategies to avoid being sexually assaulted with my friends. I have people calling me darling and sweetheart when I’m trying to go about my day. I’ve had male psychiatrists tell me that they don’t think I’m really depressed. My last boss at a shitty minimum-wage retail job strongly implied that I got hired because I’m a young, thin, attractive afab person. I get asked why I don’t call out a lecturer on mentioning rape in every single class – without a trigger warning, when he absolutely doesn’t need to – and I’m met with surprise when I explain that I don’t speak up because I’m afraid that challenging him will affect my grades.
I live in a country where it was legal for a man to rape his wife until 1991, and where it only became illegal for a man to take a photo of my junk up my skirt without my consent in 2019. I live in a world where cis men are taught that they are entitled to my body, and I am terrified that one day someone will force their dick into my “broken” vagina. I live with that fear every single day, and sometimes I forget that not everyone does. But I think sometimes cis men forget that I – and so many other cis women and trans and non-binary people who are subject to misogyny – live with this as our reality, and that’s more of an issue.
When I was seventeen, I read Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates. The chapter on young women learning, about the experiences of cis women and trans and non-binary people who are subject to misogyny at university, left me shaking. To quote from that chapter, a 2010 Hidden Marks Survey by the National Union of Students found that one in seven female university students has experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. The same survey reveals that nearly 70% of female university students have experienced “verbal or non-verbal harassment in or around their institution”.
Why am I telling you this? Because to many cis men reading this, they are statistics. To me, at seventeen, they were my future. Today they are my reality.
I often get told – as an outspoken, queer afab person on the internet – that I live in a magical, politically left-leaning bubble. I hate to break this to you, but I don’t. If I did, I wouldn’t wake up to rape threats in my DMs. If I did, I wouldn’t get cat-called when walking home from university. If I did, I wouldn’t worry – for a horrible, gaslit moment – that it was my fault that someone shouted ‘nice tits’ at me last week, because I was wearing a vest top that showed off my cleavage. I don’t live in a bubble – I live in a reality where I know that I should hold my keys in my fist in case I need a weapon when I’m walking alone at night.
I think cis men can live in that feminist bubble – not because they are bad people, but because to them feminism is a lofty goal. Yes, the cisheteropatriarchy fucks them over too, but they will never experience the same everyday misogyny as cis women and trans and non-binary people who are subject to misogyny. They might be brilliant allies, but they will still miss times when they could use their privilege to help because they don’t see that low-level sexism that we can’t escape from. Even the cis men who know that the need from feminism is far from over do live in that bubble. They don’t see my reality.
This is my reality: being told to smile and smiling because I don’t feel safe not to smile. I sit quietly while a man in a position of power over me explains that he doesn’t think a man who’s on trial for more than ten counts of sexual assault is guilty because he’s not “that kind of guy”. I tell a co-worker that he shouldn’t use the word ‘fag’ and watch him use it again and again in front of me to piss me off. When I speak out, I’m told to shut up, that I’m being too much of an “angry feminist” and that I need to be polite. I am gaslit about the everyday misogyny I experience, and told that I need to learn to take a joke.
Cis men who are feminist allies, please check your privilege. If you’re surprised that men are still telling is cis women and trans and non-binary people who are subject to misogyny to smile, then you’re not doing enough.
Edit, 10th June 2020: This piece was originally posted with me using the term ‘women and afab people’ throughout it – thank you to Kelvin Sparks for pointing out that not all afab non-binary people are subject to misogyny and many amab non-binary people are subject to this kind of misogyny. I’m sorry my language wasn’t as inclusive as it could have been, and I’ve changed my wording to ‘cis women and trans and non-binary people who are subject to misogyny’.
Vulnerability is hard, y’all, and it would mean a lot if you could support me so I can keep talking about loudly about sex on the internet while being an afab person. If you liked this post, or if you’re a cis man who has never thought about pissing yourself to avoid getting sexually assaulted, please consider leaving me a tip so I can continue to bring you uncomfortable truths about your privilege.