Thirty-five years later, I’m tired of the same old. Another day, another stranger who thinks they were entitled to critique my appearance. I’m on telly for a few minutes, speaking about the misuse Katie Price gets, and there it is – “ping…ping…ping…ping,” drives my mobile as my inbox fills with hate, nearly always with a nasty sexual edge.
It’s mine, you see. They are too big or too little. Emily Atack, my face is calling saggy, or I’ve had too much Botox. My, it’s too wide, or I’ve lost too much weight, and my curves – skinny doesn’t suit me, according to one message. According to another, being fat doesn’t seem to work for me, either. Nothing, it depends, seems to suit me. The implicit or explicit message is “don’t be seen and won’t be heard.”
I’d love to thank the senders for pushing me as a fighter. I’m a survivor, and I’m strong. But those statements do nothing for my power, strength, or resilience. Those messages are filthy, foul, and undesirable intrusions into my life, and I can give no thanks for that.
Unfortunately, saying that I refuse to receive it will only provoke more messages, which is how it goes. It’s not because these people don’t comprehend consent – the lack of support gives them a thrill.
The other day, I supported my mum in getting out of the car. She’s 73, and she’s got Parkinson’s disease. A group of three lads went by. They looked at about 20. One urged the other and said, Fancy a piece of granny? How they guffawed. Because it’s not really about what we’re sporting or how we’re acting at all, they’re just excuses. The real fun for spineless men like that is telling whatever you like, safe in the understanding that the woman or kid in a show of you has no alternative to your attempt to grab power.
“It’s so out of power, and the only way that those that love you can handle it is to change you,” Atack says. Her background reflects that of so many women and girls. And what can we do about it? No one knows, so women and kids are constantly told how to protect themselves.
We must not ignore that all the while, Andrew Tate’s clout is growing in classrooms, so boys are trained that women’s voices – and personhood – count for nothing. And in full knowledge of the hate that will ensue, I’m heading to tell you what I think: we should stop training girls that we’re “peeking out for them” by telling them what to wear.
Instead, when we’re worrying about the sexualization of girls, we should question them about their lives and adventures rather than assuming we know best. When the institutions supposed to protect us are found to be part of the problem, we stop making excuses for them and hold them accountable.
We must stop acting like it’s a shock when girls and youthful women tell us that sexual harassment and misuse are endemic in schools. Of course, it is, and it was endemic when I went to school – what’s occurred in the meantime? The MeToo movement? We’re currently undergoing a comprehensive backlash against that – thanks, partly, to men like Tate – so I’m not persuaded much has shifted in attitudes toward women and girls.
Much of this behavior is addressed by simply hearing women and girls. Just listening, without running to judgment, without comment, without guidance on how to avoid unwanted sexual attention. Much of the damage done to women and girls could be prevented by hearing and believing rather than jumping in with “she must have made it up.” What that says – and here’s a head for the predictable trolls out there who creep in the comments of articles like this by female writers – is “I’m guilty of this.” It says that you don’t like to do anything to change the status quo because the belittling and disrespect of girls and women suit you just fine.