The viral success of the #MeToo campaign has given me cause to reflect again on my own experiences of misogyny and domestic abuse.
I wish there had been a campaign when I was younger. I was in an abusive relationship between 2009 and 2011. It started with seemingly innocuous things: he’d take my wallet so I couldn’t go out with my friends, send me angry texts, and argue with me about where I’d been. It escalated pretty fast. One day he knocked me unconscious, leaving me concussed for three days. Not long after he strangled me in a nightclub. That was when the relationship ended for good. I left that night, moved house and never saw him again.
My story of abuse left me feeling, like so many other women, ashamed, scared, and alone. Society makes you that way; the game is stacked against us. We are either frigid or whores, bossy or weak. We’re made to feel that everything must be our fault, that we must be exaggerating when we say when we feel intimidated by a man at work or in the pub or when we think we might be in an abusive relationship.
That’s how I felt. When I tell people that I was strangled and hit round the head, they can’t believe I’d questioned my own feelings about the relationship and the warnings that led to the point, but I did. It’s because it’s institutionalised. Catcalling and groping on the underground are the thin-end of a nasty wedge which ends with rape and physical attacks.
For that reason #MeToo has been liberating. It’s like Pandora’s Box has been opened and I don’t think the lid will ever go back on.
It’s difficult to say what brought me to a point where I could talk publicly about my experiences. I think probably it was a combination of factors – being a politician, I had grown used to people asking about my personal life, and I had also been lucky to meet many inspiring feminists who helped me come to terms with what had happened and reach an understanding with myself. We should be in no doubt though: thousands will still suffer in silence. Thousands who won’t have even heard of #MeToo, don’t have a circle of support, and will remain trapped for evermore. We have to do more to try and reach them.
But even in doing so, we must recognise that the prison is all around us. No matter what warm words politicians may say, no matter what some men of the left might like us to believe, we all live under patriarchy and we’re all affected by it
You could see that in the immediate response to the campaign. So many women said to me: “I don’t know if what I experienced is abuse, does it count?” To which the obvious and only correct response is: “Yes, it bloody well counts.” But I understand why they question themselves. We are made to think we have to accept living in patriarchy. Many women, egged on in a lot of instances by men, also questioned whether they could really call out “rape” when they were in a relationship with someone. I like the analogy someone once made to me about tea: just because you ask someone once if they want tea and they say yes, that doesn’t mean they are going to want tea every single time you are making one. We have to attack the basic assumptions people make about rights, relationships, and our bodies.
Although I am greatly inspired by what has happened this week, I know we have a long way to go. Earlier in October, I gave my speech to Green party conference and I spoke about my experience of domestic violence. At the same time I launched a petition to make misogyny a hate crime – something which I think could help us tackle the microaggressions women experience on a daily basis. Doing this would help to ensure they don’t escalate into the kind of violence and abuse that #MeToo has revealed to be so pervasive.
The response I got to this attempt to change things was abhorrent. I had to take time off social media to process it. I was called a feminazi and accused of making it all up. When you’re greeted with that kind of response it’s hard to imagine how we will ever lift the cloud of patriarchy that we live under.
But I know we will and that’s because even in the last five days I think we’ve taken several leaps forwards. I want us to go even further, to immortalise this moment, and to draw together in a collective statement of the trials women face. That’s why I’ve organised an event on Friday 20 October at Trafalgar Square, London where anyone who has experienced abuse of any kind can write those words #MeToo on to the ground and co-create a visual representation of the oppression we live under everyday. When people realise what’s going on out there, I believe we will have the strength and will to change it.
Amelia Womack is the deputy leader of the Green Party