It’s Saturday night. I’m 17. I’m heading to a party for the first time. My dad tells me to be careful who I’m talking to, not to go wandering off on my own, to always keep my finger over my bottle of drink and to ring him straight away if I have any problems. Yeah yeah, Dad, whatever! As if anything is going to happen. Of course I’m more concerned about the excitement of my new outfit, getting all dressed up and seeing my friends. I just can’t wait to grow up!
It’s Saturday night. I’m 18. I’m feeling invincible because I made it through the nightclub doors with my own I.D for the first time. The dance floor is filled with masses of people and I’ve lost my friends. I try my best to look around for some familiar faces before making my way through the crowds towards the smoking area. Amongst the crowd is a man no older than 26, he is with his friends, just like I was a few minutes previous. As I begin to stroll past him I catch his eye and he turns to watch me. He begins to leave his friends and make his way towards me. He is now by himself, just like I am. I ignore him and walk around him. As frightened as I was of his persistent gaze, I thought I had made it out ok, but that was before I felt a tugging at my dress and the touch of a man’s hand moving up my thigh. I desperately tried to scramble away through the crowd, but I was stuck. I was stuck between the blaring of music, people laughing and sipping away at drinks and the hand that was now resting on a place that no one should be allowed to touch without my consent.
Little did I think when I was heading out that night that anyone could or would be putting their hand up my dress, but he did. I got into a panic and pushed the hand away, moving away as quickly as I could without even looking at him again, ready to burst into tears. I guess my dad wasn’t being over dramatic after all.
Where is this man now? How many other girls were pushed to the point of tears? How many other girls have since blamed the length of their dress for this mans actions because they were embarrassed, ashamed or just completely confused and terrified? How many pieces of material have been punished for the actions of a cowardly excuse for a man?
It’s Saturday night. I’m 19. I’m lying in bed beside a boy, completely fascinated by his presence, a presence that I had previously longed for. However, I suddenly feel nervous, unsettled and sick. I don’t want this to go any further than cuddling. I tell him this – ‘Sorry, I’m not really in the mood’ I say as he starts moving his hands over my body. ‘Why not?’ he asked as he rolled his eyes. ‘Just not in the mood,’ I timidly replied. ‘Ok, fine , we don’t have to do anything,’ he says sharply as he sighs dramatically and turns away from me in a sulk.
I stare at the ceiling and wonder if I’m the one in the wrong. I hope he won’t still be angry about it in the morning. I feel bad now. Have I ruined my chances?
It’s Saturday night. I’m 20. I’m having a great night and socialising in the smoking area. A boy I know comes up to me. As we begin chatting he lifts his finger to his lips. ‘Shhh’ he whispers, smiling, as he leans in towards me. I back away from him and walk back towards my friends. However, he follows. That’s what girls love, right? A man who is persistent? Of course walking away means we want it, right? Treat them mean, keep them keen? Wrong. He lifts his finger to his lips again trying to make me be quiet before I even have a chance to speak – ‘1, 2,-‘ Before I had the chance to find out what was going to happen at number 3, I shout ‘Leave me alone!’ By this stage a lot of people in the smoking area can see what is going on, but do they speak up? Is my voice heard through the situation? No, because this always happens. It’s normal and not a big deal, right? Wrong again.
Amongst a crowd of hundreds of people chatting, drinking and smoking I am left alone to get rid of this man who thinks it is okay to try to lure me into kissing him when it is very clear that I don’t want to. He eventually gives up and walks away laughing because of how worked up I got. I mean, it was really funny watching a young woman trying to prevent a young man from kissing her, right? I can’t really stand up for myself and expect to be taken seriously, can I? I think we all, or at least should know the answer to that.
It’s Saturday night. I’m almost 21. I kiss a boy, I did want to though and so did he. I see him again later on the dance floor. We chat and then kiss again, but this time is different. This time, surrounded by blaring music and our drunken friends, I feel his hand creeping up my skirt, beginning to expose my body to his wandering hands and to the drunken crowd surrounding us. This time I was no longer feeling happy about our contact and pulled myself away from him, a struggle at first to escape his masculine grip. I was subtly dancing back towards my girlfriends, making them surround me to prevent him from getting too close to me.
Why did I feel the need to be subtle? To avoid hurting his feelings? What was subtle about the way he so carelessly and thoughtlessly began to explore my body?
It’s Saturday night, 14 years from now. I’m 34. My husband was reading my daughter and son a bedtime story before putting them to bed. I walk in to see that he has fallen asleep beside them. In this moment of tranquility I stare at him and think for a moment. To myself and my children, my husband is a hero in our story, but how does his character appear in the past chapters of other women’s lives?
I wonder where all these boys I encountered whilst growing up are now. Is he the man beside you? Is he teaching his sons about consent whilst beside a woman who is feeling completely secure in his arms? Or has nothing changed?
It is time that the world knows that boys won’t be boys. Boys will be whatever they see and are educated about growing up. In order for our sons to believe in the the safety of our women’s future, we need our friends, fathers, teachers – all men, to believe in the safety of our women’s present. Men are definitely not all the same, but we do need them to think the same way about this issue.