A life of retreats

It was how I was raised – to be risk averse. Don’t make trouble, don’t hang out with trouble-makers/trouble venues, when trouble presents walk away.

At school, bullies tried it on. I retaliated immediately, forcefully. Immediately the teacher would appear and the bullies said I started it and I got the blame.

Next time it happened I didn’t retaliate. I waited for the bullies to do something they couldn’t wiggle out of.  I waited. The bullies waited. No teacher arrived. The bullies in the end walked away. Their game was to start something then make their victim take the blame.

In my teens, in peasant Northern Ireland the street harassment from men started. You couldn’t go through a week without being harassed for simply walking down the street. When I was feeling low I thought very seriously about going out.

As a teen when I started to experiment with dressing up, the harassment amplified, and men started to follow me. I back-tracked quickly, not bothering with my appearance. That stopped the stalking and minimised the street verbal abuse.

I went out with my first boyfriend aged 16. He couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I tried to figure out what was the culturalky accepted method to politely indicate to a male to respect minimal personal boundaries. I couldn’t think of any. I realised if you go out with boys that is what they expect. If anything happens, I am the one who bears the consequences and gets the blame. I never sought to go out on a date again.

Out of the blue a friend asked me if I had been sleeping with a different boy. I was shocked. He was someone I was friendly with, that was it. But in Northern Ireland at that time, in common with all peasant societies, if a woman is viewed as “loose” she becomes fair game. A male had been enhancing his own reputation on the basis of lies and putting me at risk in the process, and damaging my reputation in any case. I became cautious about any social interaction with men. After all, I had only talked to him.

In one of my first jobs a superviser arranged for everyone in the small office to be away and spent the entire afternoon pestering me for sex. After that I was cautious about where I worked, avoiding situations where I would be alone with a man.

When I went to university I was stalked by strangers. This was a mystery as I was too poor to socialise and met very few students. In addition where I lived was out of the way and not easy to find.

Often when I found a suitable place with good neighbours, other working or retired people, a disruptive person would move in and drive the good neighbours away with noise, vandalism and bringing numerous shady characters to the house.

So, this pattern recurred. Attack – retreat. I retreated at school, in the community, at work, yet still got intimidated in my own home.

When women are harassed, abused, attacked, raped and murdered there is always this undercurrent. Was she “looking for trouble”?  Was she dressed like a pro? Did she hang out in venues where sexual predators hunt? Was she naive in her social associations?

So this is my experience. Male bullies, older and total strangers, sought me out at school, and the teachers didn’t act against them. The social norms of North Irish peasant society does not condemn men for misogyny and abusing women in public. Male sexual pests at work are protected. I am not pretty and have never done anything to enhance my attractiveness. I avoided pick up joints. I chose carefully where I lived – yet from childhood, through teens, through adult life in every setting – the street, at university, at work and in my own home I have been stalked, hounded and persecuted by men – mostly total strangers.

Women are not attacked because they did anything wrong. My experience proves to me that men are the problem. Society has no interest in the problem. Women are abused, socially excluded and attacked for no other reason than they are women.

Why is this not included under Hate Crime?