Friday, 21 June 2013

Who's responsible for sexual assault and rape? Another rant

When I got up today I was intending to write some more about BDD, since yesterday's efforts felt messy to me. Instead, I found and watched this video. For those who don't have time to check it out, it's a debate about the victim blaming comments made by Serena Williams in regards to the Steubenville rape case.

There were some good points raised in the debate, including keeping the focus on asking why people rape, a discussion about parental and community responsibility and the difference between accountability and responsibility. There was also an attempt to defend Serena's position, which was less awesome in my opinion.

This raised a fair few issues for me, things like this can be incredibly triggering for me - and I have no doubt other victims/survivors/people who have experienced sexual violence. I hate that there is still a need to discuss this. The only person responsible for any specific incident of sexual violence is the person or people who perpetrated it. When it happens to a child or young person, then it is vital to also look at how and why they weren't protected by parents/caregivers/teachers/the wider community. What there should never be, in my opinion, is a need to tell people that they hold some of the blame for what happened to them because of where they were/how they were acting/how they were dressed and so forth.

The only times I was raped whilst intoxicated were the times my father forced me to drink, or spiked my drink with something. I have been drunk many times without being raped. I have been drunk many times without ever raping or otherwise assaulting someone. I have been around drunk people without ever taking advantage of them.  Drinking is not an excuse for sexual violence. True, drinking to excess can increase your vulnerability but so can many other things. Such as being a child, being unlucky enough to have be-friended a rapist or living within a rape culture.

If we keep teaching people that the only way to stay safe from rape is to never ever do anything that will leave them vulnerable to rape then we end up in a situation where people can't trust their own families, make friends with anyone. Where people can't wear clothes or not wear clothes. Where they can't be inside or outside. In short, we end up in a situation where it becomes impossible for people to live and function. Oh, and since none of these things will stop there being rapists then people who try to follow all these impossible rules will still be vulnerable to rape.

Now, I'm not saying never take precautions to keep yourself safe. Sadly, the reality of life is that there are risks out there and if we're aware of them we can try to reduce them. As a young adult we used to go to great lengths to make sure everyone got home safely after a night out and so on. It's great that I had the luxury of friends who were prepared to look out for each other. Not everybody does.

The truth still remains however that whatever we do to safeguard ourselves, we're still at risk. And there comes a point where trying to reduce that risk comes at too great a cost, when it has such an impact on your life that you no longer feel able to do anything.

And no amount of not drinking, not going to parties, not dressing how you want and not having a social life you enjoy will change the fact that most people who experience sexual violence are targeted by people they know and often trust. Which none of these rules will in any way help to defend us from.

So, I say it again and I will keep saying it: the way to reduce the risk of rape is to create a culture which actively discourages it, which makes it hard to achieve. A culture where those who experience it are listened to, believed and supported. Whilst those who perpetrate it are condemned for their actions.

It's not about whether someone was drunk or not, whether someone is a virgin or not. It's not about how they are dressed, where they were, what they were doing. It's about the presence of rapists and abusers in our society. We probably can't get rid of them completely, but we can make it harder for them to operate. We can make it easier for their targets to come forward and prosecute them. That's where the focus needs to be.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

A bit about BDD

Today I want to try and write a little about Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and my experience of living with it. This is probably the hardest thing for me to write about, to think about. Harder, in many ways, than even the abuse by my father. I don't know why that is the case, I only know that it is true. I'm making the effort though because of all the mental illnesses I struggle with, this is is the one I've found it is hardest for people to understand.

When I have tried to explain it to people, their responses have been varied. Mostly, I have been met with words along the lines of 'but you look great, you've got nothing to worry about.' Which is sweet, and appreciated. It doesn't actually help though. The thing people seem to find so hard to grasp is that whatever they are seeing, it's not what I am seeing. So whilst on the one hand I can understand that they probably do think I look perfectly OK, my reality is different. So very different.

In my reality, my body is out of proportion. My lower arms and legs are like spindly insect legs, growing out of a bulbous, segmented body. My head is tiny, my features uneven and lopsided, my hair stringy and thin, my neck is bigger than my head. It honestly doesn't matter how much other people tell me this isn't true because for me it is. For me, this is exactly what I see when I look in the mirror. Whilst it's nice that other people don't find me physically abhorrent, at the end of the day it's how I feel about my body and looks that matters. So whilst I appreciate that people are trying to make me feel better, the reality is that until I can learn to not care so much about what I see - or to perhaps, one day, see something different in the mirror - all the compliments in the world won't help.

It goes deeper than that though. It's not only that I hate how I look. According to an old therapist of mine my obsession with my looks is a way of masking the underlying fears that I am wrong somehow. I think there is some truth in that. Certainly most of my anxiety seems based around the idea that I am simply not right in some way. Whatever the case, telling me that I look fine isn't enough to make me see it. 

I suspect the best way for me to deal with this issue is not to focus on my looks at all. I'm not there yet, but I'm trying. It is certainly the case that when I can become engaged enough in something else that I stop thinking about, I'm happier. This is something I want to work on further when I am back in therapy once more.

In the meantime, my life is an exhausting one. It's one of constantly adjusting clothing, touching up make-up, teasing hair into exactly the right place. It's one of anxiety almost every second that everybody else can see what I see and they hate it as much as I do. 

In the past, it was one where I starved myself to make everything smaller, so that my head and body 'matched.' Sure, there were other reasons for my eating disorders, but this was an increasingly big part of it. I still hold the scars where I carved the words 'fat' and 'wrong' into my leg. I once tried to carve off the bits I didn't like, the excess fat and bone that made my frame 'wrong.' 

So this place I am in now, this is progress of a sort. I no longer resort to such drastic measures as trying to alter my body by harming it. I am still a very long way however from being able to view it with anything other than disgust and terror.  After over a decade of work, I can finally accept that other people don't see me the way I do. I can finally understand that what I see is not real but is only a cruel distortion of reality.

My hope is that when I return to therapy, I will find I am more able to discuss BDD, to work on this illness as it has never been the focus in the past. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Oh look, another sexual assault and victim blaming rant.

Today I have been reminded of something which happened back when I was at school. I was 15, studying for my GCSE's. The incidents I am thinking about happened primarily in my French class, over a number of weeks.

I'll be honest, as a teen I was awkward both socially and physically. I wasn't a popular girl, though I had a small but tight knit group of friends and a few acquaintances. The sort of people I got on with, who seemed to like me but would studiously look the other way or even join in when I experienced the occasional bout of bullying.

One of these acquaintances was a boy I will call K. K was very good friends with two of the girls I hung out with. He'd known them for years, grew up with them and their parents were close. So, I came in contact with K quite often. By the time we were 15 I was starting to think of him as a friend. He would talk to me even when our mutual friends weren't about, and engaged in some harmless teasing of the sort that is usual between kids of that age.

At the start of the Easter term our French teacher decided to alter the seating arrangements. I ended up sat next to K. I'm sure I've mentioned that I was a very anxious child and teenager, so I didn't like this change. I was relieved that at least I was going to be sat with someone I liked however, and tried to look at it as a chance to get to know him better.

During the first lesson we were sat together, he placed his hand on my knee, over my skirt. I shifted it off. He apologised. No problem, I thought. The next lesson, he did it again. This time when I moved it, he grinned. A few minutes later it was back. He scribbled in my note book. 'I'm just being friendly.'

By the end of the lesson I was really upset with him. Touching me wasn't 'being friendly' not when it was a touch I didn't want. I told him in no uncertain terms not to do it again. He apologised once more. Next lesson, he slid his hand up my leg and under my skirt. I removed it. And the battle continued.

There were more scribbled notes - was I frigid, a lesbian, a racist (we were of different ethnic backgrounds). Was there something wrong with me, that I wouldn't want a nice boy like him to touch me? Two weeks after this all started he told me I should be happy of the attention, it wasn't like anyone else was showing an interest. He also made it clear he didn't fancy me, so I shouldn't get all arrogant about it.

Needless to say, this really confused me. I considered seriously talking to someone about this. My form tutor, perhaps. First, I decided to raise the issue with my friends. They plead for leniency. It would be problematic for them, if there was a falling out. It was true he was behaving in an annoying and upsetting manner but apparently he 'didn't mean anything by it.' It was made fairly clear that if I kicked up a fuss about a bit of casual touching, then I would be completely over reacting, earn an unpleasant reputation for myself - after all, nice girls didn't get groped in class - and force my friends to pick sides, which they didn't want to do.

So, I didn't tell anyone. Instead, this carried on. Until one day, when his hand managed to travel so far up my leg he was brushing against my knickers before I managed to grab and remove it. I had had enough. I told him to fuck off and leave me alone, then burst into tears. I was sent out of the class for making noise and creating a disturbance. The teacher never asked me why I shouted out, or what was happening. Later, when talking about it I was told not to make excuses for my own bad behaviour. No one was interested in listening to me about what had happened, or why. The important thing for me to understand was that swearing, talking in class and disturbing other students was never acceptable.

Needless to say, this gave K the clear message that he could carry on with what he was doing, safe in the knowledge that any attempts to stop him would lead to me being punished, rather than him. So, I refused to sit beside him. I was sent out of class again. I was told I must sit where the teacher told me to. I explained that I understood this, and would sit anywhere else I was asked. But I would not sit beside K. In the end, they moved me back to sit beside one of my friends. K was never asked what it was he was doing that made me so determined not to sit by him.

K and my friends considered the change in seating arrangements to be the end of the matter, with all issues resolved. The whole situation was hurtful and hateful, though paled in comparison with what else was going on in my life at the time.

The thing which brought this to mind was coming across a disgusting 'game' called 'Nervous.' This is a 'game' where school boys sit beside their female classmates and see how far up their legs they can move their hands before the girl objects or twitches, revealing her 'nervous' spot. I wonder now if what happened to me was part of a similar game. Apparently, this charming 'game' has been around for while.

When people ask me why I am a feminist, this is why. Because the casual abuse of peers is not acceptable, ever. It is not a game, it is not funny, it is not a compliment. It is a disgusting, vile act and the fact it happens in our classrooms, so often unchecked or unnoticed is an atrocity.

Friday, 7 June 2013

I feel small today. :( Trigger warnings apply.

Today I have had many flashbacks. It has not been the best day. During one of them  I drew the following. I don't have many words this evening, so I thought I would share these instead.

Why I struggle with appearance based compliments

I really struggle with compliments, particularly those based around appearance. A huge part of this is related to self esteem. All compliments bother me simply because I find it really hard to believe them. I never feel like I'm good enough so it's hard to accept compliments at face value. I am working on that though, particularly when it comes to accepting them gracefully. 

With appearance based compliments, I struggle for other reasons too. Firstly there is Body Dysmporphic Disorder (BDD). BDD is horrible. On the one hand, I know that what I see when I look at myself is not what other people see. On the other, what I see is my reality. I might logically understand that I have a very distorted view of myself, but that understanding hasn't thus far translated into being able to change how I perceive myself. 

For me, my body is all out of proportion. It just doesn't fit together properly and looks all wrong. My face is so full of flaws it has quite literally made me sick to look at it before now. Simply put, there is no physical aspect of myself that I really like except possibly my eyes. Though saying dislike is not a strong enough word, it doesn't go far enough in explaining my lived experience of this disorder. It's not as simple as not liking what I see, it is a feeling that I am so ugly it's not possible for other people to feel anything but disgust when they look at me. It's bad enough to prevent me leaving the house at times, just for fear of other people's reactions. There are days where I honestly believe people will be so revolted by me they will at best laugh and point, at worst harm me. There are days when I feel that if someone has to look at me, it will ruin their day.

So, in light of that it's pretty damn hard to accept a compliment. If someone compliments me on how I look, the first thing that pops into my head is 'they're lying.' The second is 'why'. Then I have to give myself a stern talking to and try to remind myself that I have a disorder and my reality is not theirs.

There's another aspect related to this too. For me to leave the house takes a lot of effort. I've generally speaking gone to a lot of effort to make myself look as good as possible but once I'm out I try to avoid thinking about my looks at all. It's hard, but I do things like ban myself from looking in the mirror when I go to the loos, or carrying a mirror around with me. I try to lose myself in whatever company I'm keeping and whatever activity I'm doing. When someone tells me I look nice I am then forced to think about how I look. Once I've worked my ways past the 'they're lying, why' thing, I then reach the 'is it possible I actually do look alright' part. This seems so implausible to me that I have to then check. It's a compulsion and one I find it takes a lot of determination and energy to fight. Many days, I don't succeed.

Once I've looked in the mirror, I can't stop. I find myself making excuses to go to where a mirror is so I can start at myself and try to figure out what it was that someone saw and liked. This inevitably leads to me not finding anything to like and then feeling distressed and upset. On a good day, I will spend the rest of the day checking my appearance, fixing my hair and make-up and altering my clothes to make sure they are hiding my biggest problem areas. On a bad day I have to go home as I can't cope with being outside looking the way I do.

Then there are the times I've made a special effort, such as going out clubbing, to a party, a nice dinner or a wedding. On those occasions I crave and need compliments. I will repeatedly ask my partner if I look OK and need almost constant reassurance that I do. Not that I can believe it for long, but it helps briefly. I once burst into tears on a lovely girl in the ladies loos because she told me she liked my hair, which I had been convinced all night looked wrong. After events like this, I count up the amount of unsought compliments I was given, particularly by strangers. Each time I get less than my current 'personal best' I hate myself for not having done enough to look bearable. It's tiring work.

Finally, there is the simple fact that the compliment IS based around appearance. I struggled every day to focus on other things, things I recognise as more important. I might not feel comfortable about compliments on my work, my writing, my ability to be a good friend but they are to my way of thinking far more valuable. They are about who I am as a person, rather than simply what I look like. When people compliment me on what I look like, rather than what I am doing then it reinforces the idea that my appearance is the most - possibly only - important thing about me. 

I find that it bothers me less when people say 'Hey, I just wanted to tell you I really appreciate how much you helped me out the other day. Incidentally, you're looking fab today.' Than if they approach me just to tell me I look nice. It makes me feel a bit more valued, simply because as well as liking how I look, they seem to like me as a person too. Which is far more important to me. 

I still haven't figured out this whole messy area of compliments, but I intend to keep working on it. Right now I have mastered the art of smiling and saying thank you, even if inside it has set my stomach churning with anxiety. Maybe one day, I'll be able to smile, say thank you and feel good that someone likes something about me. Here's hoping!

Dissociation and me, a love/hate relationship

Ah, dissociation my old friend and nemesis. It's about time I talk about this I think, if only because it's one of my most troubling symptoms. We all dissociate, it's an important defence mechanism. I remember the day my mum died. A relative sat me down and told me what had happened. I calmly nodded my head, said I understood and went outside to be by myself for a bit. I knew that I should be upset but actually I was just numb. It didn't feel real, everything felt very far away and I didn't really feel much of anything. When I came back inside, I spent a lot of time making sure everyone else was OK. People were crying in the front room, talking in hushed voices in the kitchen. Someone punched a wall and sat stating at his injured hand for a bit. I made tea, handed out hugs and otherwise did what I could. I still didn't really feel anything myself. It didn't seem possible to me that mum was gone.

I remember shopping for an outfit for the funeral, determined to find something nice so I looked good for the day. I felt a sort of weird disjointed guilt that this was what was bothering me, but my mum's death still didn't feel real. I still found myself sitting on the bottom of the stairs in the evenings, waiting for someone to take me to the hospital to see her. I remember just sitting there and staring at the wall, not really thinking about anything. In the days leading up to the funeral people started to talk about what would happen to us kids now, whether it would be best for the family to move so we were nearer our aunts and uncles and cousins, our grandparents. I felt panicky and upset by these conversations, but not really about my mum's death. Then it was the day of the funeral. I put on my nice outfit and we went to the church. My aunt explained we'd be going to stay with her for a bit so we wouldn't be going home afterwards, we'd be going to her house.

Reality started to sink in. Mum was gone, nothing would be the same again. Finally, I found my tears. I balled my eyes out during the service, I almost passed out at the grave side. My hand was shaking so much when it came to throwing the dirt in on top of the coffin. It didn't seem possible that my wonderful mum was in there, that we were burying her, that she was gone. But whilst I couldn't relate that coffin to my mum, I was finally starting to come round to the idea that she was gone. I was a mess, for days I couldn't eat, talk to anyone or do anything much but cry. Grief had set in.

That numbness, that feeling of unreality which allowed me to carry on and look after everyone else - that was dissociation very much coupled with denial. It couldn't be real so I didn't let it upset me. It was useful, it allowed me to carry on and do things that needed to be done - such as preparing for the funeral - but if it had gone on longer than that I would never have been able to grieve, to accept my loss and start to come to terms with it.

To a lesser degree, I've done the same thing with exams, interviews and other stressful situations. Generally speaking, I have no recollection of how I've done, what I've written or said after these events but I seem to do well because all the stress and panic is set aside for a bit and allows me to get on with it with a clear head. Very useful. It's times like this I love dissociation.

These aren't the only times I've dissociated though, not by a long shot. I used to dissociate when I was being abused. It's why I can't remember all of the incidents and why many of my memories are sort of fuzzy and distant. Growing up, I was able to dissociate so heavily from the abuse that I quite literally forgot about it when I wasn't reminded of it. It meant I had this really awesome relationship with my father at times, and this really awful one with him at others. For me, it was like the abuse happened to somebody else so when I wasn't alone with dad, I was able to enjoy our time together. Then as soon as we were alone, the panic and anxiety would set in.

I was often anxious as a child and teenager. In my teens, I experienced angry outburst, I hurt myself and starved myself and I honestly had no idea why I did these things much of the time. As I got older it got harder to separate myself from the abuse. I could remember it happening, I knew my father hurt me on a regular basis. I started to find other ways to protect myself, such as staying out late and avoiding time alone with him. Things that hadn't been available to me when I was younger. Yet I still dissociated. The first time I told a GP about the abuse I was 20. She asked me gently if I thought that my self harm and depression were related to this. I thought she was mad. I honestly couldn't see how the two things could be connected. The me that experienced those things simply wasn't the same person who had been abused. In much the same way, the person I was when I went out with friends, found a job and generally speaking enjoyed life wasn't, in my mind, the same person who hurt herself, refused to eat and tried to kill herself.

I felt like several different people, and this is a form of dissociation too. I could remember what had happened to me if confronted with it, such as when I saw anything to do with child abuse on the telly or experienced a flashback but the rest of the time I simply didn't think about it and for me it was like it ceased to exist. When I was happy, I didn't forget that there were months at a time of depression, I didn't forget that I still self harmed regularly but again, unless this was brought up - for instance by people asking if I was feeling better - it simply vanished from my mind.

Then there are the flashbacks. Oh the flashbacks. This is different to memories. I used to remember the abuse at odd times and it was always upsetting. I often dissociated when faced with these memories. I would become detached and numb, everything would feel fuzzy and unreal but that was better by far than the flashbacks. The sudden rush of panic, the over riding fear that I'm in danger. The confusion when I can't make sense of where I am because I simply don't recognise this place.The inevitable finding somewhere to hide, the frequent cutting and tugging at my hair, my skin. The inability at times to even recognise those nearest and dearest to me, because quite simply I am someone else. I am that girl, the one who was abused. The one I find it hard to accept even today was really me.

It's like time travel but with none of the fun and adventure, or ability to change things no matter how ill advised. It's not like going back and seeing yourself - though I often experience memories this way. It's being back there, going through it all again.

Flashbacks are often where my hard won coping mechanisms fail. I'm no longer the person who's had the benefit of therapy and medication, who has a list of handy things to do or numbers to call to help me calm down and feel safe. I stare at such lists in confusion. They aren't mine, I don't know these people and I can't do these things. I am a girl, just a child who hasn't yet learned these things. I've overdosed mid flashback before, I've cut. I often have no recollection afterwards of doing these things, of what happened. I simply remember the fear and distress. Sometimes there are images, sounds or smells I can recall after the fact. In many ways these are the best times, they give me a clue as to what happened to me - what I was reliving. That gives me something to work with. More often, I don't remember. I am just left with a feeling of being small, young and scared. There are less extreme flashbacks too, where I know where I am but I still experience the distress and panic, where superimposed over who I am now is the person I was then.

At the time I was experiencing the abuse, dissociation was my best friend, absolutely. Without it I would have been truly helpless, truly unable to cope. I wouldn't have been able to get up every day, go to school, make friends and do 'normal' things. I would have been fearful wreck, all the time. As it was I was an anxious kid, though I didn't know why most of the time. Without dissociation I wouldn't have been able to function at all.

Now, this kind of dissociation is not really my friend at all. There are days where I look back and can't remember what I've done. There are days where I need help but can't ask for it, because I'm the 'wrong' person. There are days when I look OK, so that nobody knows inside I am screaming. There are days where what I have to do is difficult or scary, but necessary. These things go undone half the time, because I dissociate and 'forget' about them. Until I am reminded that I didn't do them. When this can include really important things like paying bills, going to work or eating food, that's an issue.

I frequently have no idea if I've eaten or not, or if I've spent money or not. I find things and can't remember buying them, writing them, drawing them. Or I do remember, but it feels like 'someone else's' problem and so I promptly put the associated memories 'away' somewhere in my head.

Dissociation for me has stopped being a helpful way to survive and cope with past events, and has instead become a barrier to me learning how to survive and cope with current ones. It's a problem, a huge one. One I am still trying to figure out how to deal with, one day at a time.Hopefully I will be starting another course of therapy soon, which should help.

I wrote about this here partly because it helps me to write but mostly because I know I'm not the only one dealing with this and it's rare I see or read anything about it that isn't in a medical textbook or a support forum. In trying to talk to other people about this, I often find they are scared or disbelieving. They either think I'm 'mad' or a liar.

So, this is me doing my best to help someone, anyone understand even a little bit about dissociation. It's me trying to reach out to people struggling with this to know they aren't alone, to invite them to share their experiences or talk about them if they want to. To help those who know someone struggling with dissociation to support them. As ever, I hope it helps somebody.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

A rant about street harassment

So, I've not posted for a few days because I've been having a tough time with my mental health again. When your thinking is clouded it makes writing just a bit difficult. Something happened to me this morning that I want to talk about. Mainly because it's not a one off incident, and if it happens to me I'm sure it happens to other people too.

So, after a few days of hiding at home due to high levels of anxiety I made myself leave the house this morning. I went for a walk, there happens to be a nice park not far away and with the kids at school it's normally pretty empty this time of day. Perfect, I thought.

There was a guy out walking his dog, he smiled as our paths crossed and I smiled back. It shouldn't be difficult to smile a greeting at a stranger but it can be for me. I did it anyway though and nothing awful happened. He carried on his merry way and after a few seconds sniffing my leg his dog did the same. It was actually kind of nice, as even brief interactions with other people usually are when I don't let the anxiety get in the way. It made me feel a bit better so I carried on my walk.

About ten minutes later, I came across another young man. He approached me and asked if I had a light. I explained that I didn't and moved past him. He followed me which caused a jump in anxiety levels. Still, I was determined to be rational. Maybe he wasn't following me, maybe he just happened to be heading in the same direction. A few seconds later he pulled even with me.

'Where are you going lady?'

At this point, I really didn't want to engage in further conversation with him. I wanted to get away from him. But how to do so? It's entirely possible that he was just a bit lonely and looking for some innocent conversation. I didn't want to be rude. I also didn't want to antagonise him. I hate confrontation and I'd gone out for a breath of fresh air not to get into an argument with somebody. I took a deep breath and answered.

'Oh, just out. I'm in a hurry, sorry I can't stop for a chat.'

Then I sped up. So did he.

'Don't be like that, I only want to talk. You're a very pretty lady.'

At this point I was on the verge of panicking. I just wanted to be away from him. I was starting to sweat, my vision was starting to blur and I was finding it hard to think about what I should be doing. I blurted out, voice a bit trembly.

'Please just leave me alone.'

He didn't. I headed towards the exit to the park, towards the nearby high street. It has lots of shops on it and is always busy. I don't know how much of this was a concious decision and how much was based around the fact that this was the nearest exit. The man carried on following me, making more comments about how I looked. As soon as I reached the exit and headed out into the high street he stopped walking. He stood in the gateway and shouted after me that I was 'an arrogant bitch and I should watch myself.'

Needless to say, walk ruined and almost in tears I headed straight home, repeatedly checking that I wasn't still being followed.

It's been a while since this happened to me, but every time it does it not only upsets me it stirs up lots of old fears and emotions. I can't help but recall all the other times it's happened. The time a guy followed me from the post office to my house. The time a group of teenagers in  park followed me for a few minutes telling me how that if I didn't stop to talk to them they were going to rape me. The time a guy in  car followed me for several minutes calling out to me, first in a complimentary fashion and then with increasing anger as I continued to ignore his advances. I was only 15 at the time and in no way prepared for such attention. It reminded me of going clubbing and rejecting the person who's just hit on me only to be met with derision and anger.

It reminded me of the time an ex and a gang of his friends followed me to college one day, referring to me as a frigid slut and a whore. For not sleeping with my ex and then dumping him when he became too insistent. It reminded me of another time when a different ex sent his friends to follow me home explaining that if I didn't go back to him, I could expect trouble. Telling me that I was disloyal and a slut for not wanting to stay with him and warning a male friend of mine to stay away from me, because I was a mental bitch.

In short, it reminded me of all the times men have acted like they have a right to expect and demand my time and attention, because they've decided they want to give it to me. It reminded me that so many men don't see me - or any other woman - as a person, but as an object to be admired, desired and owned by men.

I remember once complaining to a friend about this and being told I should take it as a compliment. Men found me attractive and this was apparently a brilliant thing. Really? I find lots of people attractive, it doesn't mean I think it's OK to harass them or hate them for not returning my attraction. I've never once thought that I was so awesome, the mere fact of my finding them attractive was such a huge compliment they should be grateful for it. It's never occurred to me that giving some a compliment should oblige them to accept it and then do everything I ask or want.  But then, I've also had people tell me this can't have happened to me because I'm not pretty enough. Way to dismiss and insult me all at once, and to tell me that presumably I should consider myself lucky to experience harassment.

To be honest, I don't think it's even about finding someone attractive. To me it seems that like all other forms of sexual harassment, abuse and violence it's about power. The power to enforce your will over somebody else and it's never ever OK. Nor is it a 'compliment'.

I've had people tell me before that maybe these acts (or at least some of them) were innocent, that these men should at least be applauded for having the courage to talk to a girl they fancy. No. It's not about courage. I've talked to people I fancied, I've been gutted when it hasn't worked out for me. Rejection is never a comfortable feeling. I've never then felt the urge to call them names, or try to intimidate them into complying with my wishes. That's not courage, that's harassment. It's vile and it's not ever acceptable.

Nobody is 'lucky' to experience unwanted attention, particularly when it's threatening. No one has the right to follow you home (or anywhere else) uninvited, to threaten to rape you, to call you names and try to shame you, to close in on you and deliberately try to make you feel bad and uncomfortable. It's not OK and it's not a position which can be defended. It's not the same thing as asking out someone you like, it's not about that. It's about some people feeling entitled to treat any and all women as objects they can do what they want with. It's the same thinking that allows people to rape and otherwise harm women, and by trying to justify it you are telling them that's it OK to think of other people this way. It isn't.

Well then, rant over. I still feel sick and shaky but better for getting that off my chest. As ever, I hope somebody out there finds this useful in some way.