The theatre I work for just closed a new play, Shakespeare’s Sister by Emma Whipday, which explores the life of the hypothesized Judith. Whipday’s concept came from Virginia Woolf and her style was heavily influenced by Shakespeare in Love. I’m not sure what I was expecting going in — something lighter, more on the Shakespeare in Love side of things. What I got was an emotional gut punch.
Without giving too much away, Judith dares to write and is punished for it. So are all the women who help her. Her one male ally is temporarily embarrassed but suffers no real consequences. Some of her final monologues, responding to all of this, hit me really, really hard.
I am a woman who writes in what is still considered, in many ways, a man’s genre. And there are men in the world who wish violence upon me because I am there.
This is something that’s on my mind a lot, because of the world we live in, but it struck me particularly hard today following a Twitter exchange.
Ladies, a question for you:
“What would you do if all men had a 9pm curfew?”
— Danielle Muscato (@DanielleMuscato) April 9, 2017
In the replies, women shared their dreams — the things I guarantee you most men take for granted. Walking home alone. Going to a bar by yourself. Star-gazing. Taking public transportation. Going for a late night run or dogwalk. Grab a snack from the convenience store. Wear high heels at night. Leave my keys in my purse until I actually needed them to unlock a door.
The replies also featured men who could not wait to remind us that we are not even allowed to imagine a world where we live without threat.
“You think rapists would obey a curfew?”
“Man-hating feminist bitches”
“This is sexist against men”
“You still wouldn’t be safe in the daytime.”
“Men want to be safe, too!!!”
And so forth.
None seemed to appreciate the irony that they were proving themselves the very threat that women fear — not just at night, but any time we dare to be female in public.
Of course not all men. But any man.
We walk with our keys between our fingers because we don’t know which man is benign and which is a threat. We look over our shoulders, we move briskly, we avoid eye contact because while we might not know which man is safe and which is dangerous, we do know that if something happens to us, we will be blamed for it. Why was she walking alone? Why was she on that street? Why wasn’t she paying better attention?
We’re not paranoid man-haters. We are living beings that have adapted to our circumstances.
Circumstances where men are so angry at a thought experiment that they feel compelled to remind us that we are never safe. That we should expect violence and harassment just as a basic condition of living.
I think conversations like this are important to have, because even good men so often don’t realize what the women in their lives go through on a daily basis. I’ve had male friends and boyfriends utterly horrified to realize how I’ve been conditioned to respond to potential threats. I know who the good men are by who listens, who modifies his behavior, who takes active measures to help women feel safe instead of threatened.
But I am exhausted of living in this world. Literally exhausted. It takes a literal and physical toll on our bodies, performing a thousand threat-checks every time we step outside (or voice opinions on the internet, for that matter). The stress and adrenaline are wearying and damaging.
So when one of the angry men came after me on Twitter, I did disengage. But not before asking him to examine himself. Asking him why women imagining their safety made him angry and violent. Asking him to figure out what poison in his soul causes him to react in the way he did.
Did it work? Of course not. I had no expectation that it would.
But if enough people speak up enough times — if enough women testify their experiences, if enough male allies call out their bros — then maybe the world gets a little better, a little safer, one dude at a time.
Meanwhile, it’s two hours later, and my hands are still shaking from the adrenaline spike.