Clementine Ford On What It’s Like To Be A Feminist In The Public Eye

The following is an edited exclusive extract from Clementine's Ford book I Don't: The Case Against Marriage. Published with permission from Allen & Unwin.
Content warning: This article discusses sexual violence and threats in a way that may be distressing to some readers.
One of the things you’ll learn early on about being a feminist is that men don’t like you. I’m not talking about all men, although of course I shouldn’t have to include a disclaimer about that here. We get it. Not all men. But honestly? It’s enough of them. And sometimes, the hatred isn’t about violent comments or threats against your life. Sometimes, it’s just expressed in the casual dismissal of women’s ability to care for themselves.
It’s impossible to talk about marriage (and all the reasons why it’s still incompatible with women’s freedom on the whole) without men popping up to remind you that not only are you WRONG about its negative impact on women but also that women wouldn’t have survived without men.
Without men, we would have starved to death on plains, frozen on mountainsides, dehydrated into dust in the desert or fallen victim to any of the terrible, intangible dangers of the world that swirl around us (or in us, when you consider the demonic portals we’re carrying around in our tum-tums). In short, stop being so grotesquely ungrateful — don’t you know that without men you’d be dead? Only good, compliant girls get the protection men bravely provide. Nasty, outspoken, rude mean cunts get nothing but backlash, because they need to be shown their place.
Once you know how it works, it’s easy to sidestep it. Men try their hardest to eject women from the reality they’ve created, but if you remove yourself first, then these attempts to shame and belittle don’t work. I don’t consider myself part of the reality that men have created for themselves, so it doesn’t matter at all to me if they don’t like me. I won’t hide their true faces from the world just because that’s what they demand of all other women. Nor will I hide my own face behind that of a man, because this is the only way I’ve been told I can be seen.
Some men are good. Some men are bad. Most men enthuse about the universality of the former while being neutral at best about the latter. The violence that I’ve been subjected to at the hands of men — which, it has to be said, barely even touches the side of the violence so many other women have had to endure — has most often been dismissed as some kind of anomaly. (Men protect women! Men provide for women!) I have been expected to overlook threats of violence against me because ‘most men’ are good.
The ‘jokes’, comments, memes and rallying cries made by and shared between men with the express intention of dehumanising me are nothing more than harmless words or casual insults that I have to get over, or just accept as being part of the consequences of my actions. When I’ve fought back against men who openly fantasise about smashing me, beating me, hitting me, raping me — in short, forcing me to learn my lesson — I have been framed as the villain.
Because by making their words public I’ve embarrassed men. Exposed them. And they aren’t really threatening me with violence, I’ve been told. They’re just ‘disagreeing’ with me. As I’ve aged out of impressionable young girl and into fully fledged woman, it has become clearer and clearer to me that I am not allowed to protect myself. That I’m not allowed to provide for myself. That I’m not entitled to be judged fairly for what I do and say, only for how I make men feel about those things. So much of my career has been tainted by men’s insane reactions to it that even now I can rarely have conversations about my work without being asked, How do you deal with all the abuse?
It’s useful to lay this all out, not because it shows the individual feelings of men towards me in particular. But because it demonstrates how insincere the pretensions are that these men have to being ‘protectors’ at all. It shows how eagerly men seek first and foremost to protect themselves and each other from the consequences of their own actions, choices and attitudes towards women. Think of every single example in recent years that’s involved women speaking out against male violence, misogyny or just plain old sexism — the first impulse has never been to believe the women speaking for themselves, but to rally around exactly the kind of mentality codified in law by all the male experts who’ve assembled over thousands of years to decide what women are, what women need and what damage women are willing to do in order to destroy the world of men.
Men don’t provide women with a measure of faith or trust in our ability to testify to our own experiences, and they certainly don’t protect us from the critique of other men who seek to discredit us. The idea that men are owed deference and subservience because they’ve ‘protected’ women from the big bad world is a nonsense, just as is the idea they’ve devoted their lives to providing for our needs and wants. Because really, who gives a fuck what women need and want? Certainly not men.
If they did, a majority of them would be willing to listen when we told them what it is we actually need. Women wouldn’t be howled at, berated and abused whenever we spoke about the material conditions of our lives. We
wouldn’t be called paranoid when we asserted boundaries around men who made us feel uncomfortable. We wouldn’t be labelled hysterical man haters when we campaigned against men’s violence against women. We wouldn’t be sneered at for wanting some kind of financial independence, or mocked for wanting reproductive labour to be recognised as an economic contribution to society.
If men really cared about what women need and want, the idea of fighting for our reproductive and abortion health care would be relegated to dystopian fiction — because our rights to control when, where, how and even if we became mothers would be considered sacrosanct. If society cared about women’s needs, no woman would ever have to choose between raising a child in poverty or staying in an abusive relationship. Abuse itself would be a rare phenomenon, with the perpetrators of it not only punished
accordingly but treated like social pariahs.
A society that cared about women wouldn’t allow itself to ask questions about whether or not she drove him to it, let alone allow such reprehensible
takes to be broadcast on mass platforms. A society that cared about women wouldn’t call the perpetrators of such abuse ‘good blokes’ or talk about what horrendous stress they were under or boo hoo about how sad they were that she decided to leave him. We wouldn’t have to deal with endless bullshit about how there are two sides to every story and he’s only ever been good to me and women lie, look at that Amber Heard.
If society cared about what women need, none of us who fit into that category would ever have to deal with the aftermath of a sexual assault by considering whether or not reporting it would lead to more trauma. Sexual assault itself would be rare, because the idea of what women need would be so finely attuned to the idea of communicating with women and respecting them, that it would become automatically more difficult to dehumanise us. Boys who cried for their mothers when they were scared wouldn’t turn into men who got off on scaring women.
Text from I Don't: The Case Against Marriage by Clementine Ford, Allen & Unwin Australia RRP $34.99, available in bookstores across Australia.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service.

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