As a guy who can even grow a beard, I find myself in a rather weird position these days.
I spent 36 years of my life living as a woman and, while I may not have always felt like one, the world viewed and treated me as such.
With a masculine edge, short hair and a teenage boy dress code, I escaped a lot of the worst that women have to endure. Catcalling was rare as was men following me home. I wasn’t ‘attractive enough’ to bother harassing, apparently, because we all know that’s how rapists operate. Small mercies. It still didn’t stop the fear that comes as standard when the world sees you as female, nor the abuse I suffered between the ages of 11 and 17.
I wrote about football with a woman’s name but without a photo and that offered no protection from the abuse online. I was threatened with everything you can imagine and probably some things you wouldn’t want to, including someone who was going to come to my house to ‘bomb the shit out of that bitch’. They shut up when I told them I grew up in Belfast and could probably hit a bombmaker with the throw of a stone. Not that I’d advise doing that.
Now, all people see is a man. A short one, but a man, nonetheless. My looks don’t matter, nor does what I choose to wear. Men listen to me because I’m a man, not because they can stare at my tits if they pretend to be interested in what I say.
Online, abuse has dissipated and when it does occur it’s a lot more specific to what I’ve said that they disagree with.
Men can try and understand what it’s like for a woman to live in this world, but they won’t ever truly get it. Many won’t realise how walking home at night along the same, quiet road, behind a woman can terrify her. You might not even notice the woman at all, but she notices you. Every time.
You can’t truly understand what it feels like to decide between doing without some life essential or risk going to the shop alone when it’s dark because you’ve run out. Really bad headache? Take the risk to get painkillers or suffer until first light? You decide.
Nor will you ever grasp how it feels to have your opinions and comments start with a negative value, your existence judged as worthy or not depending on how you look, nor what it’s like to be viewed only as a glorified masturbation device whether you consent or not.
I know, I know, not all men. But enough. If men died in the numbers that women do of domestic abuse, the police and government would move in unison to stop it with all the force they manage to muster against black people. If men were raped as often as women, we wouldn’t warn men about walking the streets alone. We would see mass action to find and punish perpetrators, re-educate our children and change our society.
Not all men, but enough.
It’s a surprise women have anything to do with us, to be honest.
The fear they feel is very real. I know. I’ve felt it myself. And I see how women respond to me now. No matter how much I know that if I explained my history they wouldn’t see me the same as ‘all men,’ how does that help? If 75 people out of every 100 (random number as an example) are likely to abuse you in some way, would you give the benefit of the doubt to any of them?
Feminism isn’t about men, but, it needs them. But women need men, especially cis ones, to shut up and listen. They need men to truly understand what life is like out there for them, as much as that is possible, and what it feels like to exist in a world where the most powerful man in the world set the standard of how to treat 50% of the human race – by grabbing their pussies, just because you want to.
Feminism needs men to understand that they lose nothing when women are treated fairly, equally and as human beings with worth. In fact, they gain so much. How much happier would the world be if 50% of the planet stopped having to be afraid? How much better off would families be if women were paid the same as their male partners or counterparts? How much more time would we have if we left women alone to decide what is right for their own bodies?
It’s hard for many men to grasp that they cannot be experts on something, but just like you can never truly know what it is like to live in space unless you’ve done it, you can ever hope to know what it is like to live as a woman unless you’ve done it yourself.
Failure to understand something doesn’t make you weak or less than. Failing to listen to those who truly know does that.
Shut your mouth, open your ears and stand in support.
You are a man.
Help redefine what that means to women.