On Exercising Empathy

I would like to try a little exercise with you. I would like you to try on some shoes. Most of them won’t fit, they’ll be too small but putting aside practicalities for a moment we can metaphorically slip them on for our purposes today.

Ok, so they’re on? Done up? Good. Now I want you to close your eyes and picture a young girl, 14, maybe 15, it’s not all that important-she’s below the age of legal consent, that’s all you need to know. She’s wearing a pair of shorts, a vest, flip flops, she’s a little bit mouthy, did you just hear what she said to her mum? Typical teenager right? Now, see that man over there? To her right? That’s her dad’s mate from work. That’s the man that in about 20 minutes is going to rape her. It’s up to you whether you watch, I’d prefer it if you did, to see the act, put into context, not some words on a page.

Because the act of rape is what she’s about to experience, not a nebulous “assault” or “a situation that got out of hand” or a “sex game gone wrong”. Rape, forced entry, deadly and life changing. I’d like you to watch, but I’m not convinced you’d have the stomach.

Right, moving on, the purpose of this exercise is not to make you feel ill but if it rattles, if you’re feeling uncomfortable maybe it’s starting to get through. Maybe it will open your eyes, to get you to see that these attacks and assaults, these rapes and murders that happen to women every single day are not happening in a bubble. They are not happening to cardboard cut-outs, these are real human, flesh and blood women and girls. And EVERY SINGLE TIME that you hold those women and girls responsible for their attacks you’re saying the following;

• They deserved to be harmed
• The men who attacked were justified
• That men will be believed
• That women will not be believed
• That the traumatised victims are not worth our empathy
• That the traumatised victims do not deserve justice

Every time you caveat a tilted head at a headline with “yes but” you join the scores and scores of onlookers who help create an environment and culture that treats women as second class citizens whose voices are not considered and whose experiences of trauma do not generate empathy but derision and blame.

You cannot ever know what the words “I believe you” mean to a victim of abuse, rape, assault. If you’ve always had your word taken, if you’ve always been listened to no matter what the circumstance then I can understand entirely why that would be the case.

So look, let’s take those shoes off and you’re free to walk on by. But next time, before nodding at the headlines, before agreeing with the reports, before questioning the tragically rare guilty verdicts I want you to think what you might say if you were sat right in front of those women and girls. Could you look them in the eyes and tell them they deserved it? If you were in the room with the attacks happening would you egg on the abuser, would you look away? If you were in the shoes of those women and girls can you think for one second what those headlines would do?

If you contain one ounce of empathy, I urge you to start exercising it.

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This entry was posted in child abuse, counting dead women, discrimination, domestic violence, feminism, newspapers, Over Sexualisation of Children, rape, sexism, tabloids, TV, Violence against women and girls and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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