The Fear

I had to explain incels to my OH yesterday. He’d never heard the term before the Plymouth shooting, and was surprised it was a thing that I’d not only heard of, but could speak about with knowledge and insight.

It made me realise that despite the fact he’s considerate, concerned, intelligent and switched on, he has literally no lived experience in being a woman, and therefore doesn’t have The Fear.

Why does that make a difference, I hear the feminist men say?

Here’s a story. My OH decided to cycle back from his parent’s house several years ago. “I’ll be back before dark” he said. “I won’t need to take my lights with me”.

Now to a woman, this is a commitment. This is telling a concerned other party when your expected arrival time is. If you miss that deadline and can’t be contacted to explain a delay, it means all systems go for search and trace. I can see all the women reading this nodding. We all KNOW that this is how it works.

Reader. We got to 90 minutes past dark. I was home with two preschool children, one a babe in arms, and didn’t want to panic them. I discreetly phoned his parent’s house and found out when he left. Did the calculations for when he should have been home. Phoned the local hospitals and police just to see if a cyclist had been hit by a car. Prepped the children for a little drive to “go and meet daddy on the way home” so I could see for myself if he was beside the road somewhere.

He turned up dog tired as we were getting ready to leave, 2 hours after dark. Angry with me because I’d “made a fuss”. Turns out he was out of practise with cycling so it took him longer to do the distance, and when he got to our village he stopped at the pub for a beer before coming all the way home.

It never once occurred to him that he’d given a deadline he’d missed. Never occurred to him that this would alarm me. Never occurred to him that there could be any reason other than him being out of shape that would delay his return home. I bet that even if you asked him today he would say I over reacted, that I was panicking needlessly, that I was probably post-partum hormonal and that’s why I acted the way I did.

That, dear reader, is a prime example of male privilege. Cis white straight men don’t need to look out for each other in the way that cis white straight women* do. It doesn’t occur to him even now, that he did anything that provoked concern that day. I’m over reacting. I’m panicking over nothing. And this, mind you, is worrying over an accident, not over anything another human would do.

I don’t know how to explain, without telling stories of all the times that I and my friends *weren’t* ok, and that being alone or separated from a group is unsafe, and that you need to have someone on the phone when you’re walking home in the dark, and that opportunities often come with huge scarring costs, that cycling or walking on your own in the dark with no fear IS A HUGE FUCKING CIS WHITE STRAIGHT MALE PRIVILEGE.

So yes. Incels. Am I surprised? Nope. Because to a certain type of person there are always groups of humans who can be classed as less than. Because they have no empathy at all and can’t conceive of a life that isn’t theirs. Poor them, who are involuntarily celibate. Or, if you want to put a more sane spin on it, any women that they approach can see that “women” aren’t “people” as far as the incel is concerned, and with the life experience they have the woman makes the sensible decision to get the hell away. Of course this only feeds into the delusion that women are manipulative and greedy, and ends up with another shooting/suicide to prove that it’s All Women’s Fault. Again.

So we have The Fear. It’s constant and unrelenting and when I’m out after dark I know that I’m far more attuned to what’s going on than I possibly should be. When I’m in a public place in the daytime I’m scanning for things that alarm me. And I know for sure that this surprises people who know me because I am confident, and won’t be talked down to, and all the rest. But I know in my bones that fundamentally one loon with a knife or a gun and an axe to grind won’t see me as a person. Because to them, I’m not. I’m just a woman.

*I feel I should note that I’m being very specific with the cis white straight prefix because I’m so aware that there are other huge concerns if none of those prefixes apply to you. And I’m aware of my privilege in not having to jump those hurdles too.

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