TW: This post discusses sexual assault and rape.
A heavy sadness has been growing in my heart for some days now. It arrived when I opened Laura Bates’ Men Who Hate Women and read about the vicious and violent threats she has received from men throughout her career, simply for voicing her opinions.
My heart grew heavier still as I watched Promising Young Woman at the cinema last night.
A book and a film both released in the past 12 months. Both cover the abuse of women. Both shining a blinding spotlight on what women know to be true – we are not safe.
The fact I need to put a trigger warning at the start of this post demonstrates just how unsafe we are – almost every woman I know has experienced some kind of abuse at the hands of man. And when many of us write about women standing up for themselves, we also include the words – if it’s safe for you to do so. We write this because for many women, it’s not safe to speak up.
I had to put Laura’s book down after reading the first 20 pages. I will pick it up again but I need to steel myself to proceed (and I haven’t even got to the really confronting parts yet).
However, I did watch the entirety of Promising Young Woman and I would describe it as brilliantly written, incredibly confronting and disturbingly accurate. It shows what women know to be true and also how men and some women dismiss, cover it up and justify it to themselves.
The film centres on Cassie, a young woman who dropped out of medical school to care for her best friend, Nina. Nina was raped while drunk during college and her rapist got away with it.
Cassie is on a mission to seek retribution.
Promising Young Woman could only have been written and directed by a woman. Its realness is unavoidable. I also feel it should be compulsory viewing for every girl, woman, boy and man over the age of 16.
The frequent refrain of “but I’m a nice guy” provided many teachable moments. Male characters knowingly took advantage of a woman who was drunk yet, when caught out, excused themselves with “but I’m a nice guy” and somehow reasoned away their culpability. Men and women dismissed rape as no big deal with comments about how the victim was drunk and asking for it.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
It reminded me of when I was at my post-formal party. It was the end of high school and my whole year went to a school mates’ property to get drunk and celebrate. I was a fairly naïve 17-year-old but even so, for some reason, I asked a trusted male friend if he would look out for me. I knew he would be sober but I wouldn’t be. Later that night, I remember one of the guys from my year (a seemingly nice guy) with his hands all over my breasts and the rest of my body. If it wasn’t for intervention of my sober male friend, things could have got out of hand very quickly.
Interestingly, back then, it didn’t register as an invasion of my physical space or assault. I don’t think I mentioned it to anyone and I certainly didn’t confront the perpetrator when I was sober at school the next day. Instead, I felt like it was just one of those things that could happen and you lived with it – having a guy put his hands all over you, intimately, when you were drunk was something that could happen and you lived with it. There was also an underlying theme that, somehow, you should feel good if a guy noticed you in that way – like you should be grateful for their attention.
No one had ever talked to me about how vulnerable women can be in those situations, what could happen and what my rights were to protect my own body. Clearly I knew enough to ask a friend to look out of me but that wasn’t from any direct conversation. I guess it was a more innate understanding of what kind of world I lived in as a young woman. It was just what we lived with.
But I’m sick of living with it and I’m tired of hearing people say that a woman asked for trouble because of what she was wearing or because she drank too much. Equally, I know that just because some guy shows you attention doesn’t mean you should be grateful for it. I’m also so sick of perpetrators getting away with their crimes because everyone thinks they are “nice guys” and “women often lie about these things”.
Women don’t often lie about these things. Why would we when, by making a formal police report, we open ourselves up to condemnation for being a slut and somehow asking for it? Or worse, victims are dismissed by police because a perpetrator “comes across as decent guy” when interviewed. Yes, it happens. Still.
There’s no doubt Promising Young Woman rips the scab off and exposes the darkness beneath. It’s a darkness we all know is there. Some of us try to ignore it, some of us feel powerless to stop it, many of us have been victims of it. But. We. All. Know. It. Is. There.
So please, take your brother, husband, boyfriend, father and male friends to see this film. Have the difficult conversations that arise afterwards. And for God’s sakes, all you men out there who sincerely want to help women: start listening to the experiences of the women you are supposed to care about, believe them and step up. Because women are still being raped and assaulted by “nice guys” and we need your help to stop it.
And as for you “nice guy” perpetrators out there. I hope you meet a woman like Cassie very soon.