Men Are Trash, But Women Are Not Garbage Collectors
Euella’s personal account urges us to consider men’s role in ending sexual assault against women.
[cw: sexual assault, rape culture]
When I got upstairs, Harry’s older brother was standing in the doorway of his bedroom…
I was eight. A group of us were at a Harry’s* house for the day and I remember it being really sunny. We spent the afternoon playing games in and out of the garden – first eye-spy, then 40/40, then splat. We had just finished playing a game of football in the garden, when his dad told us to come inside as dinner would be ready soon. We skipped in the house and I went upstairs to wash my hands before having dinner.
When I got upstairs, Harry’s older brother was standing in the doorway of his bedroom, almost hiding behind his door. He told me come in. His voice was almost a whisper. I didn’t know why we had to be quiet, but I gingerly followed him into his bedroom. He was five years older than me so he towered over me as he shut the door and sat on his bed. He told me that, as I was going home soon, I should give him a hug to say an early goodbye. His voice, still barely audible, urged me to come closer to him. Why was he whispering? I felt sticky with discomfort, but I went closer to him. With that, he stood up and embraced me. I stood still, unsure of what to do with my limp body. He pressed himself up against me and began touching my chest. I jumped back and banged my head against the wall, hard. ‘No’ I said feebly. I didn’t sound angry or sad, I was just scared – I didn’t recognise my own voice. I imagine the sound of my friends playing downstairs must have echoed through the upstairs corridor, but I couldn’t hear anything but the sound of my heart punching my chest. I wanted to go, I wanted to go home but he was blocking the exit. He saw this in my eyes, and he said that I could go if I gave him another hug. I think he intended for this to sound reassuring but it was lost on me. I wanted out. I hugged him quickly and left the room. I joined my friends at the dinner table and never spoke of it to anyone.
I thought about him on the drive home. Thought about how uncomfortable he made me feel. I thought I should tell someone, but who would I tell? What would I tell them? I didn’t even have the vocabulary to put what had happened into words. I hug people all the time, what was different about this time? He touched me. I didn’t want to get him in trouble. ‘Coward’, I went back and forth with myself. I’ll just be more careful with him next time. But there was no next time, the universe saw to it that I never saw him again until almost eleven years later.
I thought I should tell someone, but who would I tell? What would I tell them?
I was in a new friendship group and he was living in a shared house with a few of my friends. He had grown into a handsome, charismatic man with a decent job and seemed to get on with everyone. I never did forget about what happened all those years before but seeing him in this way made me wonder if I had dreamed what happened that day. He wasn’t the monster that I had conjured up in my head. He seemed so sincere and funny. I started to question my own judgement, was I too young to remember what really happened? I quietly watched him hanging with my friends, cooking dinner and telling jokes and I concluded that I was wrong.
It wasn’t until I had a conversation with his housemate about him years later, did I start to feel it again. She told me of a night when they all went out and he had gotten drunk. He tried to force himself on her later on that night when she was trying to put him to bed. She told me of how he had pinned her down, and told her ‘she wanted it’. She told me of how he tugged at her clothes and pleaded with her, whilst undressing himself. I searched in her eyes for permission to share what happened to me, or tell her that he was out of line, but I never found it. She dismissed my gaze and awkwardly continued, ‘He was so drunk, bless him’. We laughed nervously – a coping mechanism that we’d both mastered. I couldn’t tell her about what happened to me ten years before, because then this would be serious. This would be something we’d both have to deal with. We weren’t ready for that. It was much easier to pretend that he was harmless. I laughed some more, because if I didn’t, I would cry. ‘Yeah, what a mess’.
It was much easier to pretend that he was harmless.
Silence plays such a big role in sustaining oppression. I never shared what happened with that guy or with anyone else because I didn’t know how to. I was waiting for permission but it never came because women aren’t equipped with the means to talk about sexual harassment and abuse and neither are men. There are so many barriers as to why people don’t speak up, it might be fear of physical harm, fear of being disbelieved and discredited, it might be due to lack of confidence. In my case, and many others, it was fear of accepting victimhood – fear of opening myself up to the fact that men are scary and that I don’t always feel safe around them. We assert that progress has been made, but that’s hard to believe when these stories are shared. I used to hide behind my silence because it felt safer, but now, I’m not so sure.
In recent weeks, the #metoo hashtag has been trending all over the internet and it’s great. It might not always feel like it, but there’s power in speech – no matter how quiet or feeble or scared your voice sounds. There’s something empowering about speaking about something traumatic that has happened to you – but let’s make this clear, it’s also extremely painful too. When my friend told me about what happened between her and Harry’s brother, I spent the whole time staring at the cracks in my phone screen because I was afraid that I might combust from the guilt and sadness and regret and anger and every other emotion you could think of. When she was telling me about her sexual assault, I couldn’t even look my friend in the eyes – what does that say about me and the society I live in? Why is it that women have to pour their hearts out, reliving trauma all for nothing but a nervous laugh and the off-chance of being believed? It’s really quite amazing to see so many women and men coming forward and saying #metoo, but talking about it is not enough.
I call out to you men, don’t be trash.
Everyone’s been talking about Harvey Weinstein and a lot of people are shocked. How could he do that? How did he get away with it? I’ll tell you why I’m not surprised, because Harvey Weinstein had power and privilege and he abused it. There’s absolutely nothing unique or exceptional about him. What needs to be recognised is that to some extent all men, every Tom, Dick and Harry’s brother has privilege and power that they abuse – just like Weinstein. When these women are coming forward with their stories, where are these so called ‘good’ men? What are they doing about it? Where were they? They may not be physically abusing women, but by staying silent, they are just as complicit. It’s trashy. Men are not trash by virtue of having privilege, they’re trash because they fail to acknowledge their privilege. Starting a conversation is just the beginning and sharing my story with you has been bittersweet. The process of pouring myself into my words and placing myself in the centre of a story that resonates with so many women, both frightens and comforts me. The conversation has begun, it’s happening – it’s always has been. But without action, language is empty. I call out to you men, don’t be trash. Act.
* Names have been changed.
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