Wednesday, 18 October 2017

I Post #metoo

John Berger's book, 'Ways of Seeing', which I read for the first time last year, made me cry.  Specifically the third chapter.

"A man's presence" he writes, "suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you." In other words, it is a presence of power.  In contrast, "a woman's presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her" (1972, p. 46).  He is writing in the context of visual art - specifically in a discussion of the meaning of the female nude.  And his text is almost as old as me, but still it resonates. 

Berger's thesis hinges on the idea that men survey and women are conscious of this surveillance. I think there is a deep truth in his work. My collusion with the consciousness of being looked at  was built as I grew (don't paint your face, don't wear a short skirt, be modest, don't lead him on, don't go to the disco, don't, don't, don't) became my very fabric, my stooped stance, my lowered-eyes demeanour.

I grew up colluding with the idea of my sexuality as troublesome, Eve-like, and it felt burdensome, sinister. I looked for a hiding place.

You might quibble with Berger: with my response to his text. It's so binary his talk - male / female, men / women: it's 2017 and we are moving on from binaries. 

But I read his work again and it pierces me. And now this. The decision whether or not to post #metoo.

What's the risk?


It's not much, in itself, to align myself with the vast majority of women and some men who can relate to my first such memory, the one of the man in the park on my walk to the tube to school.  I was 13, had never seen the flaccid rope of a grown man's penis before, did not know for a moment what I was looking at, so looked. And I can still see it swinging improbably, him passing to my left, about six feet between us, neither of us missing a step (what, what, What?) - can still feel the punch of shocked realisation, the loss of not-knowing, remember my friend disbelieving me when I told her later, standing on the station platform, .

So many, many other things I will come to remember. Some of these will include physical assault, some will involve people I trusted, some will make me fear for my life.

Dear child.
Dear, dear girl.
Brave teenager with her face set forwards.
Brave schoolgirl who went on to her physics lesson.
I sorrow with you, hold my arms around your shame.
For all that was yet to come - remember your courage, your own gift of survival.
You will come to a place no longer at odds with yourself -
your stride will lengthen with the rage that is rightfully yours.
And I love you for it.

And so I come to this:
Me too, dear heart. Me too, sweet precious girlchild. Dear Liz.

And look! Look at the crowds striding in the same direction.
We were never, after all, alone.