Outside a racing-green pub one night in 2015, a man pulled me into him, kissed me and put his hands on me. It was unwanted contact. He had just declined my offer of friendship: “I have enough mates; I would rather fuck you,” he said, right before his body touched mine. I kept quiet about it, filing it away as an unpleasant interaction – a transgression neither forgiven nor forgotten, but not worthy of anyone else’s attention.
Last Thursday, I decided to tell this story publicly, naming him on Twitter. Other women have told me, by private message and WhatsApp, that he has behaved similarly towards them. That’s why I acted. His predatory behaviour was an open secret in the media industry, in much the same way Harvey Weinstein was untouchable by rumour until recently. This man issued a generic apology on his Twitter for “sub-optimal” behaviour and then deleted his account. I received a private message – “Kate I’m sorry” – which I have taken as an acknowledgment of his actions. He has since lost his jobs at GQ and political newsletter The Spoon.
The reactions to my story, particularly from men, have been so utterly predictable they could be straight from an instruction manual on how to wilfully misinterpret, malign or belittle a woman who dares to speak about a man’s transgression. I have been accused of lying or doing this for publicity or attention. Several men on Twitter have lectured me about my decision to drink alcohol in the presence of someone I didn’t know that well. One said, and I quote: “He can’t be held responsible for your decision to meet him.” I should say now that women so rarely lie about their experiences of harassment and assault it is statistically negligible. It is not a publicity stunt, an act of greed or a selfish ploy. I am exhausted that I even have to point that out and, frankly, I don’t know what sort of perverse glory these people imagine women like me expect to grab from speaking out.
Maybe I am brave – I spoke out explicitly because I wanted to protect and do right by other women and I refused to stay silent about a man’s incorrigible creepiness – but that doesn’t mean I feel strong
For me, there has only been confusion, fear, shame, rage and anxiety, somewhat dulled by the kind messages I’ve received from strangers and friends and the underlying belief that I’ve done the right thing and this is a conversation that must be had. As for my choice to drink wine with a near-stranger, I would not change my behaviour and do not believe the onus is on me to do so. My only mistake in this whole scenario has been expecting decent behaviour and perhaps friendship from a man who is clearly not capable of it. Beyond that, I stand by my actions and sigh, deeply, that I should even have to justify them.
This is, of course, par for the course with being a woman touched without her consent. Dare to speak aloud about a man’s transgressions and you must endure aggressively sanctimonious advice, bitter disbelief and slights on your character. This is the price we women pay for the courage of candour and I am exhausted by the predictability of it. Here I am now, in my living room alone, covered in biscuit crumbs, scared and exposed and angry. I have been relatively stoic on social media, diligently ignoring anyone bland and hateful enough to roll out tired untruths about women lying, me lying, men wronged and reputations unduly damaged. But I am vulnerable, I am human, I am shaken. Obviously, I think women should speak up when they’ve been hurt or abused or harassed, if they can and if it is right for them – it is important that we take Hollywood’s new protocol of disclosure into our own lives where we can. But it’s not easy – we still live in a world where a man’s reputation is more important than a woman’s safety. Where a man’s dignity trumps a woman’s honesty. Where a man is worth more than all the bravery a woman can muster.
That word has come up a lot in the past days: bravery. Women and men have thanked me profusely for my bravery in speaking out about something that didn’t feel right to me. But bravery is elusive, and difficult to feel when you’re using it. Maybe I am brave – I spoke out explicitly because I wanted to protect and do right by other women and I refused to stay silent about a man’s incorrigible creepiness – but that doesn’t mean I feel strong. Actually, I feel small. I feel exasperated by the very experience of existing as a woman in a society that does not listen and does not believe women. I feel a dull, exhausted sense of triumph and relief that one man has seen real consequences for his actions. I am buoyed, as ever, by female solidarity. But whatever admiration I have for other women who’ve come forward is marred by a profound sadness that so many of us live in such regular fear and discomfort. I am proud of every friend, every stranger, every Ashley Judd who has shared her story, and I am proud of all those who’ve quietly survived it.
I am proud, I think, of myself.