If we don’t stop boys ‘just being boys’, men will not stop treating women like toys

Written by Mandy Rhodes on 10 October 2018 in Comment

Mandy Rhodes on the compelling testimony by Dr Christine Blasey Ford

Image credit: David Anderson

Following the compelling testimony by Dr Christine Blasey Ford about what she says happened to her when she was just 15, the journalist Ruth Wishart tweeted that she suspected that most women have memories from their youth about unwelcome sexual encounters about which they remained silent but who will, years later, remember the ‘who’ very clearly if not always the precise ‘when’.

‘Absolutely’, I tweeted back.

The who, is easy, his name, has played on my mind ever since I listened to Ford talk about the hand over her mouth, the helplessness, the humiliation and the fear that has never left her.

I too was 14, maybe 15. It was a house party, maybe a flat. I had drunk a glass of wine, maybe more. My best friend had disappeared with the boy that all these years later she is still with, and I stupidly went into the garden with someone I didn’t know.

He put one hand over my mouth and another down my trousers. He pushed me against a wall and pressed himself against me grinding into me with his groin. He thought he was going to have sex. I thought I was going to be raped.

I managed to get away. I can’t remember how, and I don’t know what happened next and while, like Ford, my memory of an event that happened 40 years ago is not crystal clear, what I do know is that it happened, and I have lived with the fear ever since.

That one incident, that near miss, the thing I got away from, it shaped me. It shaped how I responded to feeling trapped, out of control, not in charge. It shaped my relationships with men.

But I’ve always wondered, did it shape him?

Like US Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, my nemesis was just a boy and it’s a serious question, but should a grown man be blamed for the harm he unknowingly inflicted during his own adolescent struggles with how to behave?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know this. That boy, the boy that was my near miss, was not changed by what became my own personal earthquake.

Twenty years later, I coincidently came across his name again. I was working on a documentary about private investigators and they were working on a rape case. Their client was the boy, now a man, and he wanted them to dig the dirt on his accuser to discredit her account in court.

How could I not think, ‘that could have been me’?

Without exaggeration, women go through life feeling lucky not to have been raped.  It’s a time-consuming occupation keeping safe, while all the time juggling that precautionary instinct with the desire for normal, healthy relations, in my case with men.

Women are tired, we are angry, but we just want it to change. We want men to change.

Brett Kavanaugh, like so many other ‘jocks’ like him, has managed to live a golden life. He may be genuine in his shock about Ford’s account of long gone events. He may even believe she is a liar.

But in some ways, it is that wilful ignorance that hurts the most, the idea that men who may have wreaked such long-lasting damage are so often not even aware of what they have done.

It must stop.

Donald Trump says it is a dangerous time for young men because they can be destroyed by an accusation, but if we don’t stop boys ‘just being boys’ men will not stop treating women like toys.

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