I have always hated #metoo. The hashtag that is, not the movement. I felt it lacked the anger and power the movement deserved. I wanted it to be called #heyyou. Well actually, I wanted it to be called #oiyoufuckers but #heyyou seemed more PG rated. The problem I have with #metoo is that, to me, it felt like victim labelling, like something had happened to ‘me’. It lends itself to emoticon sad faces: your employer touched you inappropriately sad face. Your boyfriend abused you – teary sad face. For me, the hashtag imparts no sense of vindication, no fight, no ‘mess with me anymore and I’ll cram a lawsuit so far down your throat you’ll be pooping the alphabet for weeks’. I feel that #heyyou puts the onus back on the perpetrators. I feel like it conveys that the problem is with them, not us. It says ‘we are going to out you for being a shit human being, and you will have to walk through the fiery pits of hell for redemption, and even if you make it we’ll bitch slap you back to the start to walk it again, just to make sure it’s definitely sunk in’.
In the wake of yet another senseless act of violence that has snatched away a young woman’s future, I was brought back to a memory from when I was 17, when I too could have ended up dead in an inner city park around midnight. One late summer evening back in 2001 my best friend and I wandered down to the Botanical Gardens in Brisbane, with a parental pilfered bottle of wine, and a small bag of pot. We made our way into the middle of the park, set up shop at a bench, and kicked off our shoes. The park was empty, and we felt safe in the warm bubble of innocence that youth creates. We cracked the bottle of red, and started to pass it back and forth, drinking straight from the bottle. My friend rolled a joint and we shared that too. We settled back into the chair to stare up at the night sky, and let the tirade of nonsense flow.
Time passed in a haze of fragrant smelling smoke and idle nattering until I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. I sat up straight and saw a group of four men had congregated at a nearby park bench, and I noticed they had also clocked us. I nudged my friend into attentiveness, ‘let’s move a bit further away from those men. They keep looking over, and it’s giving me the creeps’, I implored. My friend grudgingly agreed but I could tell she thought I was overreacting. We put our shoes on and moved to another bench a few hundred metres away.
After we resettled my friend took off her shoes again, brought out the bag of pot, and started to roll another joint. However, I no longer felt relaxed, I felt on edge. I kept looking over at the men to make sure they were staying put. The chilled vibe of the evening had floated away with the plumes of smoke of our last joint. As my friend meticulously spread the crumbly green herb evenly along the fine paper I glimpsed back at the men, and to my horror I watched as more men emerged from the bushes behind their bench: first two, then another one, and another, and another until there were nine men grouped together. I nudged my amigo, ‘I don’t like this’, and I pointed at the ever-expanding bunch of men. At that very moment one of the blur of manliness pointed back at us, and the group started to walk towards us with menacing purpose.
‘Get your shoes on!’ I yelled in a whisper at my friend, ‘we’ve got to go now!’. I pulled her up, and in that second it was like a switch had been flipped, and she finally recognised the danger. I turned back, and fear gripped me when I saw the men were now running towards us. My heart fell into my stomach, ‘move!’ I yelled in desperation, and my friend began to run awkwardly whilst trying to put her shoes on and manoeuvre her open bag. As we picked up speed she passed me back the bag of pot that had been in her hand, and it felt like she was passing me the baton in the race for my life. My friend was taller than me and her stride was larger so I followed closely behind her as we weaved through trees and garden beds. I could hear my heart thumping in my ears, and the thundering footsteps behind me. At one point we dove into a large bush, and when we came out the other side, I heard a deep voice yell ‘where’d they go?’.
I knew we weren’t safe yet. My legs had never moved so fast, and my mind had never been so clear: it was a do or die situation. We kept running. We didn’t look behind us, even when it felt like we might have lost them. Finally, in the near distance, I saw the heavily lit pathway on the river side of the park that led out to the street, and hope sprung in my mind. Once we hit the pathway I felt like I was an Olympic runner, and I was on the home stretch, and everything slowed down but my strides were expansive, as if the air was propelling me. I imagined the exit gates to be the ribbon I was breaking through as I won the race to save my life, and snap! The crowd roared as the two clueless, slightly stoned teenagers wandered out into the street. We stopped running but we didn’t stop moving. We needed to get as far away from the park as possible.
We walked in silence for about ten minutes. Our senses were still alert to danger, or the danger we had just missed, and neither one of us knew what to say. We needed to process the situation before we could speak. I realized later that we were probably in shock, aware of how different the night could have been. Eventually, once we felt we had enough distance between ourselves and the park, we sat down on a bench in the city. We didn’t say anything for a few minutes, we just sat in stillness. ‘Do you think we should go to the police’, my friend asked. I didn’t know. We weighed up our options but in the end we felt like we were in the wrong for going to the park at night, drinking underage, and also smoking illegal drugs. We felt we had put ourselves in danger for being there alone so late, like it was somehow our fault that this had happened, and if we went to the police we would more than likely get into trouble. We walked home in silence instead. We had been silenced by our own guilt for the part we felt we had played in the ordeal. We had been silenced by our gender because we knew we shouldn’t have been alone as females in the park late at night.
When I think about it now I want to go back to 2001, and shake my 17-year-old self, tell her: ‘no, go to the police! You have every right to sit in a park at any time of day or night without worrying that you might be gang raped. You are not in the wrong, despite the underage drinking and pot. You shouldn’t feel guilt, you should feel anger’. I worry that our silence left nine predators out there in the world, which also makes me feel guilty. However, guilt is such a useless emotion which usually leads to internalising of emotions, whereas anger, well that’s where it’s at, that can be directed for good. My wonderfully strong mother once told me that when she was younger a man tried to break into her hotel room, and instead of sitting there in fear as he tried to work away at the window frame, mum grabbed a lamp, flung the window open, and yelled at him ‘get the fuck away from me’ loudly and aggressively, and he ran. She always told me, don’t get scared, get angry, and that’s why I think it should be #heyyou. Let’s get angry about it. Let’s turn those sad faces into fuck you faces.