A couple weeks ago I was having a debate with some dude online who was complaining how we don't need feminism, how it's too divisive. I responded, not terribly politely, that we need feminism because we're all we got and we're fighting for each other's survival.
He said that I was being "hilariously overdramatic."
We can cite facts and statistics, share gruesome pictures harrowing personal stories, and some guys are going to get indignant as if our personal stories are personal attacks on them. We can tell you that one in four women has been raped and that 20,000 calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines on an average day, and some guys will respond with a "not all men" or a "well men get beaten too," as if the one negates the other.
And if all that doesn't make a difference then this probably won't either, but I've got to try. Please, men, do me a solid and hear me out. If you've ever typed the words "not all men" or you take personal offense when a woman says that she's afraid of men, please just give me a minute of your time. We need you to understand the experiences behind our words because maybe if you got it, you'd understand why we've got a hard time being fair or diplomatic. Just a couple minutes of your time. Please.
Imagine you're twenty one years old or so, and this has been the worst year of your life. You got dumped, you dropped out of school, you felt so disgusting and worthless and unlovable that you wanted to die. And imagine you're just coming out from all under that when you meet a guy in a bar. Friend of a friend. And maybe he's a tiny bit creepy and off. But he likes you and he thinks you're pretty and you really need a win, so you ignore a red flag or two. Imagine you start dating, and before too long he's getting moody and controlling. He gets mad when you spend time studying instead of with him, and he seems like he really doesn't like it that you have friends who aren't him. And imagine you put up with that for a while, four weeks to be exact, and then you realize this is getting out of control.
Imagine you tell him you want to see other people, because you're afraid what he might do if you break it off entirely. And imagine he says that if he sees you with another man, it will be "a bloodbath." Imagine you get away as fast as you can and cut off contact.
Imagine he doesn't like that very much. Imagine you're home the next day, and your dad has just left for work and imagine the phone rings and you pick it up because caller ID isn't yet a thing. Imagine it's him. And imagine he says something that makes you look out the front window to see his van slowly rolling past your house. Imagine you realizing he has probably been circling your house until he saw you were home alone.
So you call the cops and fill out a report, and they say they'll look into it and you know of course they won't. And you stop answering your parents' phone when it rings, and it rings and it rings. It rings when you're home alone during the day and it rings at three o'clock in the morning and it keeps ringing even after your dad gets on the phone with him and tells him you've moved out of state.
Imagine you start avoiding your folks' house because you're worried he might go after your family. You stay at friends' houses, and when you stay with your folks you park your car a ways down the street in hopes he doesn't notice it outside should he roll past again. Imagine how guilty you feel for bringing this down on your folks. How guilty you still feel for being so foolish.
Imagine that for months you get anxious whenever you see a white van. Imagine one day a year later you're in a parking lot and you think you see him and you don't go back to that part of town again for years. Imagine when you talk about it to people they ask if you said anything to lead him on, or imply this is your fault for ignoring the red flags for four whole weeks. Imagine hearing guys say that they're pretty sure women get into bad relationships because they like being mistreated, and imagine not arguing back because you're afraid. Afraid of them, afraid it's true, afraid because you're always afraid anymore.
Imagine you absolutely know you're one of the lucky ones. Imagine you know a hundred women, at least, who have a story far more horrible than yours. Imagine you don't know a single woman who has never experienced this kind of fear. Imagine you look back on that experience with a shudder of overwhelming relief at coming out unscathed. Imagine that a whole hell of a lot of women who have been through far worse consider themselves the lucky ones too. At least they're alive, after all.
And now imagine you're nearly forty, and even though this all happened twenty years ago, your finger's hovering over the delete key because you know he might be watching. You know he watches because ten years ago he tracked you down on MySpace and sent you a message telling you what a bitch you were for leading him on and then breaking his heart. A couple years later he sent you a friend request on Facebook, and when you blocked him he created a new account. Imagine it's only been a year or two since he last tried to contact you online and you're not sure you're out of the woods. Imagine you're worried that he'll harass your parents if you click Publish.
Imagine you still feel like a sucker, an asshole, an absolute idiot for that four-week lapse in judgement twenty years ago. Imagine you still feel so horribly guilty for the fact he harassed your folks. Imagine you don't answer the door when you're home alone to this day. Imagine this isn't the only time a man made you afraid for your life. Imagine this was only one of a thousand times a man did something to make you feel afraid. Imagine this isn't even the worst of it.
And then imagine what it feels like when you try to tell your story and some guy online takes personal offense to your sharing your story, like you talking about a time a man made you feel afraid is an attack on all men everywhere. Imagine guys who think that your fear makes you "hilariously overdramatic." Imagine having to remind yourself that he's wrong.
Just, try to imagine, and remember to imagine, and have some sympathy and have some empathy. We're telling you our stories. We need you to hear them. We need you to stop defending dudes you don't even know and start helping us defend ourselves. We need you to take all that righteous anger you feel when a woman says she's afraid of men, and channel it toward the men who made us feel that way. We need you to be allies. We need you to be the good guys you insist you are.