The eternal cry of men: “I don’t understand women!”
Women are mysterious to men: they do not understand why we take so long to dress; the number of shoes we need; the way we can suddenly lose all confidence. Our excitement about tiny things – tiny cups and saucers, tiny monkeys, tiny ribbons. A tiny ring.
But those really are the tiny things that you don’t understand. It doesn’t matter if you never understand those things at all.
Here are the two big things that men truly don’t understand about women. The two things that, if you knew them – if you truly understood – would change the way you act, and raise your sons to act, overnight.
The first is: we’re scared of you.
Not all of you. Probably not most of you. We feel safe with our fathers – unless we have been unlucky; and our husbands – unless we have been unlucky; and our friends and brothers – unless, again, we have been unlucky.
But we are scared. Of what you can do. Of what you can do.
Try to imagine, for a moment, what it’s like to live on a planet where half the people on it are just … bigger than you. We are smaller, and softer, and we cannot run as fast as men. We know you can grab us, and we would struggle to get away. We know if you hit us, we’ll go down. We know if you decide to kill us, there’s not much we can do.
Every time the murder of a woman is reported on the news, we hear the detail – “Traces of skin were found under her fingernails, denoting a struggle” – and we know … that’s all we can do. Scratch. We think about that more than we would ever admit to you. We don’t want to sound insecure, or morbid, around you. We just walk down any dark street with our keys between our fingers, going, “Please, not tonight. Let me get to my door tonight.”
Comedian Louis CK said about women and men:
“Globally and historically, men are the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women. By comparison, do you know what men’s number one threat is? Heart disease. Guys, if you want to know how brave a woman is every time she says yes to going on a date, try to imagine that you could only date a half-bear, half-lion. ‘Oh – I hope this one’s nice!’
That’s what it is being a woman.”
Sometimes, when you think about the statistics on sexual assault – 90 per cent of women know their attackers. 1 in 5 women are attacked – it feels like a fact too awful to be acknowledged. One in five, man. If those were your odds on the lottery, you’d already have pre-emptively bought that car. One in five means you often look round a room of your girlfriends and think, “Which one of us will it be?”
If your teenage daughters are in the room – with their big, smiling faces and their awkward, beautiful, perfect trust in the world – you feel so panicked, you go into the kitchen and hold on to the sink. There you are. Scared again. But you don’t go on about it to the men you know – because that would be morbid. So men don’t know how scared we are. That’s the first big thing you don’t know about us. How scared we are.
The second big thing you don’t know about us is, we’re exhausted, so, so exhausted. We have less money than you – the pay gap, illegal since 1970 yet still, astonishingly, here, means we effectively work for free for 57 days of the year. That’s exhausting. We must have babies, quickly, before our eggs die, but while we also work – that’s exhausting.
And since we were teenage girls – since the moment we went, mortified, to buy that first bra, and left the safe, unisex world of childhood to become “a woman” – we’ve been judged and commented on. Catcalls in the streets; relatives saying we’re too fat or too thin. Comments in year books or on Facebook; hairdressers saying, “You have a mannish jaw.” “Uncles” at weddings, and bosses at parties, and friends of friends, rating you to your face – saying if they “would” or “wouldn’t”, scoring you out of ten, as if you’re a gadget for sale on Amazon, or livestock at a fayre.
People touching you, evaluating and owning you – until you find yourself saying, almost as a recurring mantra, in your head, “F*** off! Stop talking about me! F*** off, and stop being the voice in my head! Stop telling me you have decided my worth.”
And, so, yes. Yes, I do understand why human rights lawyer Charlotte Proudman “perv-shamed” an older, senior lawyer – Alexander Carter-Silk – when he contacted her on LinkedIn and told her her picture was “stunning”.
In the furore that followed, he – and a million other commentators afterwards – seemed confused by Proudman’s reaction. It was just flirtation! It was just an appreciative comment! This is what men and women do! But men do it without knowing we’re scared and we’re tired. So very, very tired.