Last week, just hours after the discovery of a woman’s body in a Melbourne park Victoria Police’s Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius fronted the media and said “Women, and men, are absolutely entitled [to] and should feel safe to go about their normal day-to-day activities… this is about men's behaviour.”
Now, despite the fact that four women have been killed in Melbourne already this year at the hands of men some men took real umbrage to Commissioner Cornelius’s words because #notallmen.
So here’s a story about men’s behaviour.
Last year, I lived in Sydney and started work at 4.30am. I was a 10 minute walk away so I walked.
“Is that safe?”, people would ask as if I, a woman walking alone at 4 in the morning, hadn’t considered the dangers.
“Who do you think I’m most in danger from?” I would ask back.
We both knew the answer.
But, I had my walk-to-work routine down to an art.
I would leave my apartment at 4.15am; I would walk down Mary Street as the bakery truck would be making its morning delivery; when I got to George Street construction workers would be working on the light rail; as I walked into the Central railway tunnel early morning commuters would have disembarked the train and would be on foot towards Ultimo; when I got to the end of the first tunnel the overnight security guard would be doing his rounds; by the time I left the second tunnel a guy in grey sweatpants riding a skateboard would go past me; and, then I would be in easy running distance to work.
I did not know any of these people (neither did I know whether they would help me if the situation arose) but, it made me feel safe knowing that if something did happen to me they would be my checkpoints to help.
Trust me, women think about these kind of things.
So, one morning last year I was walking to work going through my usual safety checkpoints and halfway through the second tunnel I heard loud male yelling and laughing. I quickly checked my surroundings and assessed the situation: I was alone in the tunnel but, the sound was coming from up above. Phew! I quickened my pace but, kept walking towards work.
I heard the voices get louder and closer and, soon two men emerged from the stairwell in front of me.
The two loud, possibly drunk men, started walking towards me.
I knew that I was alone and outnumbered so, I purposely moved out of their line to the far right side of the tunnel signalling to them that I didn’t want trouble. They saw what I was doing and started laughing as they moved so they were directly in front of me again.
“Don’t worry, keep calm” I told myself as I made an exaggerated effort to walk to the far left side of the tunnel.
Again, they laughed as they followed me to the left side.
At this point, I feel like I am being hunted down like prey and, all I’m thinking is “oh fuck, I’m in trouble.”
I know I’m outnumbered. I know I’m alone. But, I also know that I’m closer to work if I keep walking towards them and that if they do try anything at least the guy on the skateboard in the grey pants will skate by and hopefully he’ll help me.
I can feel my heart thumping in my chest and to me, it sounds as louder than the sound my boots are making as they hit the pavement.
“Hey! You look nice! Where are you going?” one of the men ask as we approach each other.
“I’m just going to work,” I reply calmly not wanting to aggravate the situation by ignoring them.
“You look really, really beautiful”
“Oh, thanks,” I say as we pass each other.
I think I’m in the clear. I’m about five steps away from them but, then I hear a really loud “HEEEEEEEEEEEY!”
Oh god. What do they want now?!
I turn around thinking it’s safer not to ignore them… plus, if they are going to attack then at least I don’t have my back to them.
The two men have stopped walking. They’re both standing still. Then one of them yells out:
“HEEYYYY. I WANT TO FUCK YOU. I WANT TO FUCK YOU.”
He starts moving towards me whilst yelling “I WANT TO FUCK YOU”.
All of a sudden, the man next to him grabs him, wraps his arms around him and holds him back while he continues to yell “I WANT TO FUCK YOU”.
I look at the men.
The man yelling is squirming and trying to release himself from his friend’s grip.
The man restraining him has a scared and confused look on his face like, he’s suddenly realised how vulnerable I’ve been during this whole situation and he doesn’t know what his friend is about to do.
“I WANT TO FUCK YOU. I WANT TO FUCK YOU”
The restrained man keeps repeatedly yelling out.
I am in complete shock.
I turn around and I just start running towards work.
As I run further away and the man’s screams begin to fade out all I keep thinking about is that the man who is keeping me safe is the man who thought it was funny to shepherd me just moments ago. The man who is protecting me is the man who was complicit in making me feel vulnerable. The man who is restraining his friend is the man who just learnt what men’s behaviour can be like.
The moment I arrive at work I broke down in tears.
For the rest of the day, I keep thinking about what happened that morning in the tunnel and I would go from being incredibly upset to incredibly angry at these men.
How did they not know what they were doing was intimidating? How did they not know I didn’t feel safe? How did they not know I was outnumbered and in a vulnerable position? How did they not know that I didn’t know what they were capable of doing? Just… how did they not know?
But, I do know why. It’s because a lot of men just don’t know.
When I’ve told this story to my male friends the majority of them seem shocked that this thing could happen. My female friends on the other hand, share their story.
So, when the Police Commissioner spoke about “men’s behaviour” I knew exactly the behaviour he was talking about. I’ve known about “the behaviour” since I was a young girl who was taught to carry her keys between her fingers when walking alone. I’ve known about “the behaviour” since the first time I heard the words “message me to let me know you got home safe”. I’ve known about “the behaviour” because I repeatedly hear men say “I was just having a laugh, I wasn’t hurting anyone”.
I know about the behaviour because the yardstick isn’t just rapists and murders.
The behaviour is not being aware of your behaviour.
The behaviour is thinking it doesn’t exist just because it doesn’t happen to you.
The behaviour is thinking you’re the victim.