No Means No

I moved to Paris in August, after finishing my degree at Manchester. I came here to learn French so that I could study French Feminism at the Sorbonne. On my first day, a man asked if I was looking for something- it was late, I was on the corner and I had my map out. I said yes, I did, I was looking for a road, for my new flat. He thought I was a prostitute, he thought I was looking for business. I was wearing a floor length dress and a jacket. He was a little man, he looked like Sarkozy, perfectly presentable, and I screamed and screamed at him. He said it was a Latin country, what could I expect? He said he was sorry to shock me. I said you do not shock me, you disgust me. I gave my monologue on the horrors of prostitution. I was furious; not because he thought I was a prostitute but because he wanted to buy one. Since then, I have been offered a whole heap of jobs in Pigalle as a stripper; no insult is intended, when I said no to one man, he simply asked ‘but why? you can make good money’. I am not disarmingly beautiful. I am wearing a lot of long skirts in Paris, my mesh is right at the back of the wardrobe. I’m boiling hot but I have never had people treat me like this. I am either ignored, if I am with a man, or I am treated as a whore if I am not. It is the most beautiful city in the world, and it is the place of my favourite writers, my favourite feminists, my favourite art and I adore it here, but I can’t comprehend this utterly shameless notion of misogynist ownership that the men so often feel entitled to hold over the women. I’ve never been this happy, and I’ve never wanted to work in feminism so much.

And then a few weeks ago, I had a great evening with some friends, and I had just missed my last metro. I was at Gare du Nord, and it was a beautiful evening so I thought I would walk- the roads are huge and busy, it’s safe. After a while, a small guy started talking to me, offering to direct me to Chatelet. I needed directions. He was nice, he was funny, he was a 23 year old Moroccan typist and I told him about myself, my family, said I had a boyfriend just to keep things simple. After a while I felt slightly uncomfortable, I felt like he was getting too close to me when we crossed the roads and things, but he didn’t lay a finger on me. I texted a friend and told them to call and they did, I apologised to him, said it was my boyfriend and that I was safe now, thanked him for his time and continued walking home. On the best lit, busiest streets in Paris. I finished my phone call, I put on my Michel Thomas tape and I walked for another half an hour. I was two minutes from my house when I saw him again. It was a huge surprise; he lived an hour away, and suddenly the street was very empty. I said hello, I was really confused as to why he was there. He asked for my number and I said okay because I was scared. He tried to kiss me, I resisted. He tried again, I resisted, so he grabbed at my tits and ripped my dress off me. He then picked me up and threw me on my back on the floor. I’m not really sure what happened, I think he picked up my phone. I said to him I had money, a passport, he could take anything, and I screamed and screamed and I kicked and hit him and then after a while he just ran away. I have no idea how long it was, it must have been quick. I don’t really know what happened. I don’t know how I can’t remember. I feel like I lost myself.

Afterwards I went to the internet cafe by my house because I needed to call my family or do something and my housemate wasn’t home. I tried to explain someone had tried to rape me but I was sobbing, my body really hurt and my French sucks. A woman came and translated for me, and helped me, and was kind. She asked if I had called the police. I asked ‘what’s the point?’. It was then that I realised I have spent so many years writing about rape, reading about rape, that not only did I feel a bizarre sense of immunity but that I was being an awful hypocrite. Of course fucking report it, futile or not. I spend my life trying to tell people to report things. When Andrea Dworkin was date raped, she said:

I couldn’t be consoled. I couldn’t talk to anyone. How could I say the words to the people I loved, most of whom work precisely to stop violence against women: this is what he, someone or they, did to me. Yeah, I know I represent something to you, but really I’m a piece of crap because I just got raped. No, no, you’re not a piece of crap when you get raped, but I am.

She’s got it right. But I went to the police, they were surprisingly kind. I looked at two thousand photos of young Moroccan men, we drove the streets looking for him, I cried all night. When I got home in the morning, I took some valium and went to sleep. I dreamt that people told me I had deserved to be raped. When I woke up I was disgusted with my anti-feminist subconscious, but I couldn’t help it. I can chant ‘Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means and yes and no means no’ as many times as I like on marches, but when it comes down to it I keep questioning my responsibility. Was my dress too short? Was it stupid to take directions from him? Why did I do it- was I trying not to antagonise him, was I bored, did I want the attention? Did I look like I wanted it? Did I lead him on? I told him my sisters names, I told him about the books I want to read, I wasn’t just an abstract, he knew about me and he still treated me like I was there for his pleasure. And then I keep thinking actually, you know what, he didn’t rape me. This isn’t a big deal. What if it he’s a really nice guy and they find him and I give evidence and his life is ruined? But he threw me on the floor, he bruised me, he ripped at my clothes, he didn’t even take my purse. He wanted to rape me, he took my phone for the sake of it as much as anything else and I know it’s not okay and I know I’m not making it up but I keep feeling like maybe I’m just being too dramatic. I know that I’m not. But I keep feeling maybe I am. So many people say women lie about being raped, make it up for attention, the ConDems definitively implied it in their rapist anonymity suggestions. And I keep thinking maybe I just imagined it. But I fucking didn’t.

The next day, a man tried to talk to me on the metro. I had my headphones in. He persisted and then he touched my arm, like grabbed it. I couldn’t stop screaming. I love it here, I was unlucky. I could have been unluckier. This happens all the fucking time, everywhere in the world, and it happens far worse than a few bruises on women’s backs and some scratches on their breasts. To appropriate my much loved Lawrence quote on pornography, rape too is a symptom of a diseased body politic. We must fix this. How can you not call yourself a feminist when Amnesty tells us that 267 women a day on average get raped in the UK? How can you not call yourself a feminist when, as a woman, you are at constant risk of the most invasive assault, when as a man your mother, sister, girlfriend, whoever, is. I don’t know how to fix any of it, nobody knows how to fix any of it. But I have never wanted to try this hard, and I have never thought it so necessary for us to talk about it more.

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