TW: This flash deals with sexual assault.
Not all men, although there was that time when that reptilian managing director pulled me oh-so-close, ran his scaly fingers though my hair and underneath my top, hissed when I told him I had a boyfriend. I heard the others describe me as just another one of his conquests, but I’m sure he’s just a one-off.
Not all men, although there was that time when the guy in the hi-vis jacket I’d passed earlier suddenly, magically, appeared right behind me, his fluorescence catching the edge of my peripheral vision, as if he’d done locationary sleight of hand, “he’s behind you”. Breath in my ear, quickening his pace as I quickened mine, following me into the swimming pool carpark, and only veering off when I said hello to my husband waiting for me there, but I’m sure he’s just a one-off.
Not all men, although there was that time when a work colleague confused friendship with desire and, when I let him down oh-so-gently, spread rumours, such nasty, vicious rumours, about me being a tart and a tease. Who never spoke to me directly again, but couldn’t stop speaking of me, but I’m sure he’s just a one-off.
Not all men, although there was that time when a guy I didn’t know stopped me in the street and said “Stop looking so fucking miserable, it might never happen” and I remember immediately altering my face = my resting bitch face – to counter his aggression, to a blank mask he surely couldn’t project his anger on. And I remember wondering if he’d paused, even for a heartbeat, to consider what kind of day I’d had before he spat that sentence at me, before he spat it all over me, but I’m sure he’s just a one-off.
Not all men, although there was that time when I only had a twenty and the taxi driver refused to give me change and refused to stop at an ATM, and screamed at me that I was a drunken slut and he’d take me to the police station. So I gave him double what I owed because he’d locked the doors and I was shaking and trying not to cry, heart pounding, head roaring, fight or flight, and I just wanted to hear the clunk of the lock, see the red light disappear, leave his sweat-scented cab behind and curl up in bed, but I’m sure he’s just a one-off.
Not all men, although there was that time when my classmate assaulted me in a nightclub, when he put his hands inside me, and he was too big, rugby-player big, and too drunk, so very very drunk, for me to stop him, his bulk jamming me against the wall, pinning me in place. And I remember his friend, my also classmate, whispering in my ear “It’s nothing to get upset about, it’s only Keith”, but I was upset, I was upset. I felt violated, but that phrase “It’s only Keith”, that phrase reverberated through my thoughts for years and made me doubt myself. Did I overreact, or was it only Keith? Was it ok for him to use his drunkenness, his size, to force his hands inside me, or was it only Keith? And was he just a one-off and it’s not all men, or is there a problem where some men feel entitled to take what they want, say what they want, do what they want? And we women, we’re belittled, and intimidated, and diminished.
Maybe it isn’t all men, but it’s too many men. It’s too many men.
Maria Thomas is a middle-aged, apple-shaped mum of two. During daylight hours she works in technical risk and control for a financial services firm, a subject so mind-numbingly dull that she spends the witching hours replenishing her blood cell count by writing.