I grew up poor-poor. A man in our neighbourhood used to come and chase the robbers - heroin addicts and gypsies - out of our house with a plank of wood in the middle of the night. The plank of wood had a nail in it. My mother would call him instead of the police because the cops never came on time.
The police would arrive much later. I would sit in the kitchen in my nightdress and watch them dust for fingerprints and chat up my mother while we all waited for the kettle to boil, if it hadn’t been stolen. Otherwise we would boil the water in the pot, if it hadn’t been stolen.
I have memories of the man, our neighbourhood saviour with the improvised weapon, heading towards our house with flowers for my mother. He would be singing, drunk from the pub. I always assumed his wife was watching him with fury from behind their window as he knocked on our door. Stinking of drink, he would hug and kiss and slobber on my mother, because she owed him. Thank you so much for helping us. His grown sons felt the same entitlement.
What I’m trying to say is, when you’re poor, you’re compromised.
The police don’t come because there are too many calls, or the neighbourhood is too dangerous. There are too many people, with too many problems. The cops leave you to sort it out amongst yourselves.
You can’t move house if the neighbourhood paedophile molests your daughter because it took years to get the house from the council. You leave your kids with people you barely know because you can’t afford a babysitter you trust. You have to work all summer because you have no paid leave, so your kids play in the street from morning until night. They see things. Things happen to them. Things happen to others, and they see those things, too.
The men around you are jobless and depressed and drinking too much, a risk factor for child rape. Mental illnesses go untreated. They cop a feel sometimes to brighten their day. A little pick-me-up. You don’t say anything because you need them to keep the robbers from raping your mother when they find her alone in a house with no man.
With any luck you have an older brother who will one day smash the pervert's windows in retribution. His wife will think it’s random.
You work in the local pub as a teenager because you can’t get an internship at your dad’s company. Because there is no dad and there is no company. There is just a pub and a bookies in a housing estate and thousands of bored, horny men.
In times of no work, you do anything to keep your job. Even when your boss has to repeatedly sorry I have to just quickly squeeze past you in the narrow space behind the shop counter, or in the cleaning supplies room, or in the tiny canteen. Women who clean houses, hotels, and offices have to bend over a lot, and sometimes - well, you know.
When you’re poor, you can’t say anything. All you can do is warn other women. Even if the police believe you and even if they care, there are murderers, heroin parcels, bombs under cars, and their budget is not to be spent on pursuing harmless gropers.
You don’t have a lawyer in the family. Nobody has contacts in the local political party (you’re not even aware that that’s a thing you can do). It happens to all the women and girls, you’re not special. You can’t do anything about it, because when you’re poor, nobody is coming to save you except other poor people.
Why women and girls need space
Overcrowding is linked to sexual abuse. The fewer square metres in your apartment, the more likely your cousin, brother, dad or uncle is to “accidentally get into the wrong bed” in the middle of the night. The more men a girl has to share a bathroom with, the more likely she is to be molested. But of course.
The young women who run the United Nations Twitter account, or the girlboss Minister for Gender Equality (the one with pronouns in her bio), they don’t know any of this. Nor does the minister's 20-something gender policy research assistant.
Sure. That one time, she went on an Erasmus student exchange to Pisa and a guy in the museum grabbed her ass. She wrote a Medium post about it and now speaks to the lived experience of being a survivor. She can put “trauma-informed” in her Twitter bio when she gets the top communications director job at a woman’s* rights NGO.
There is a whole universe out there that these women have never even conceived of. They’ve watched films about the poors, but no director has ever captured that desperate feeling of being compromised by having no money, no recourse, no authority, no protection.
“Women with money get harassed too!” I’m told, and I know. Because I am a woman with money now. You don’t have to tell me. And I’m not saying poor men are more likely to be perverts and paedos. I’m saying that any man, given the right set of circumstances, could be one. It’s a numbers game.
But the girls who make the rules now, they don’t see any reason why a couple of “bad apples” should prevent poor suffering homosexual men from being able to live their true authentic life in the body they deserve. They don’t believe you when you tell them that men are opportunists. Or worse, they think they know what you mean; they think about that one time at the museum.
Changing rooms with gaps between the curtain and the wall, tiny pub toilets you have to squeeze past each other, shared showering areas at the swimming pool - if these women get perved on, well they can just get in their cars and drive to a different, better place. They can sell their homes and go live somewhere not filled with desperate men and vigilante justice. They can go to the more expensive swimming pool, the one with the doors that lock. The one frequented by men with too much to lose.
4W provides a platform for over 70 feminist writers in countries spanning the globe. This work is made possible thanks to our paid monthly subscribers. Join today to support our work!
Enter your email below to sign in or become a 4W member and join the conversation.
(Already did this? Try refreshing the page!)