Dear 'Topman' James O'Brien

"What the hell gives you the right to tell other people what they should be feeling about themselves?"

Said LBC's James O'Brien, talking over a female caller as she expressed her concerns about losing female-only changing spaces against a backdrop of male violence masquerading as gender politics. Well James, what I feel about myself is that I'm vulnerable in a state of undress, just as I am whilst fully dressed and in an everyday situation. I have learned to rely on sex segregation even though I know that across the world, sex segregation is also used as a weapon to keep women out of public life. I'd like my choice - if you can call it that - to keep males out of the small number of spaces where I don't expect them to be, respected. But James has the right to tell me what I should be feeling about myself, doesn't he? Stupid women, "What are you worried I might do?". 

Back in my twenties, I felt slightly ever so slightly smug about my apparent ability to defy this 'misogyny' thing I'd read about pre-internet.

I didn't like girls that much really, I didn't feel any connection to the gender attached to my sex, which is pretty common for people with autism. Who were all these weak women with a victim complex who felt so persecuted all the time? I thought to myself, as I evangelised to my male friends about how women in porn were paid way more than the men were. Didn't other women feel as empowered as I did when I felt sexy and wanted? Didn't they understand that for someone like me, the only way I could make men like me was to objectify myself?

Sure, I'd had to fight my school to allow me to join cricket training with the boys, even though I knew I'd never get to play a match - but they'd humoured me and girls got to play netball, so I wasn't missing out just because cricket was the one sport that got sponsored kit and free chewing gum on trips to Edgbaston that made the papers.

Of course, I'd had to escape from my first kiss with a 16-year-old boy when I was just 14 after he pinned me down and tried to force me to have sex with him - but teenage boys are all raging hormones so they can't help it and besides, it meant I was sexy.

Yes, I'd been groped several thousand times during my music career, including once when I was just walking down the street in broad daylight and a teenager stuck his hand inside my dress and bra - but the police put up one of those signs asking for witnesses and confiscated my dress as evidence and although I never got it back and they never caught the boy, at least it was given lip service.

Obviously I'd had to push a grown man off me during a performance whilst other men stood around, apparently so shocked they were unable to respond to this run-of-the-mill occurrence - but I couldn't expect to be protected if I wanted to be equal to men and when I'd chosen a career where sex is used to sell records. Courtney Love had just been vilified by the press for daring to suggest that crowdsurfing wasn't actually an invitation for men to insert their fingers into her body.

Clearly, as I'd avoided being raped in a taxi by a tag team of one man who forced his way into the back with me and his accomplice driver, before we sped off to the other side of London and he started putting his hands on me, I shouldn't have been out at night alone anyway.

Undoubtedly, I'd drunk too much when a man posing as a minicab driver had demanded I give him all my money, and then when I got out and tried to run he punched me in the face and split my lip.

And undeniably, I should've kicked out an ex-boyfriend before he forced me to cut myself so he could drink my blood to indulge his twisted vampire fetish, smashing up my room if I refused, took photos of me naked when I was unaware, hacked me and sent disgusting emails to everyone on my university course, forced his way into my student house and wiped blood on the walls, posted suicide notes through my door, broke into my car and followed me to lectures every day wearing a suit. The police were right not to act when he didn't respond to their invitation to 'come in for a chat' because handwritten notes and emails aren't really evidence, it was just 'he said she said'.

This was all just normal stuff that every woman goes through, I was just unlucky. It wasn't so ingrained that I'd deliberately starved myself to appear less female so as not to draw attention and constructed my shaky self-esteem based solely on my relationships with men. Of course not - that would suggest that I'm not really a 'strong woman' at all, wouldn't it? 

Like many other women, once I stumbled into my thirties it began to dawn on me that I'd been conditioned - that's not an easy pill to swallow when you realise that you've unwittingly taken part in your own oppression. 

When it clicks that you don't understand yourself it's not a good feeling. Maybe if women didn't even know when they were being conditioned, we were all the things men said we were? If we were wrong about this, when were we right? But it's ok not to know yourself - as many of my relatives in their 90s had pointed out to me, just as you think you've got yourself figured out, you die. It's hardly insulting to suggest that sometimes even the most convicted of feelings can change. 

One of the first nights out I had when my baby was 4 months old was to see Russell Brand. 

Good ol' Russ, he'd figured out long before Kevin Spacey did that you could absolve yourself of all responsibility for your rampant behaviour by a) being famous and b) framing yourself as the victim of an illness. After the show, I was making my way through the foyer when he came out to greet the fans, so I duly joined the throng hoping to get a picture. But I got far more than that. In front of a crowd of people, he 'chose' me, commenting that my breasts were 'enormous' and I reflexively but very embarrassed blurted out that it was because I was breastfeeding my son. I've heard jokes about this in every workplace I've ever been in; men will talk about their wives - who are sharing their bodies with their growing child - in such degrading terms as if they're simply vessels. It's been normalised as a topic of conversation in front of the women themselves and often with complete strangers. Brand's demeanour changed instantly. He began steering me towards his security guard by the stage door, motioning to him and mouthing something, whilst explaining that he had a fetish for breastmilk and that I should come backstage - all within earshot of the crowd. I dislike the intensity of social situations anyway as someone with Asperger's, and at the time I struggled with the idea that you could find someone funny and be happy to meet them but still think their behaviour was nauseating and not have to do whatever they asked. In my head, I was shouting at myself to push him off but I couldn't get any words out. The other women there were looking at me with a mixture of envy and shock - I was the one! Who could refuse the 'Shagger of The Year' when he plucked you out of obscurity and dropped you straight into the pages of the smutty tabloids? 

I found my voice thinking about my son, about how disgusting it was for someone to sexualise the woman who had carried him and now fed him in that way, making something beautiful feel so vile. I refused several times, telling him I had a partner, that my friend was waiting for me outside, but he was still manoeuvring me towards his guard with his hands on my shoulders, telling me he'd 'just suck them' and it wouldn't take long. As soon as he knew I wasn't going to give in he turned away and the crowd turned with him. That night I realised that those power dynamics I had always scoffed at were very real.

Surely the man who followed me into a ladies toilet in McDonald's in Leicester Square and backed me into a cubicle wouldn't have taken any notice of the sign on the door, would he James? 

But the two women who came in and scared him off knew instantly that I was in danger by virtue of him being male. How wonderful to know that you're not a threat when my guard is down James - it must be terribly easy to reconcile my safety concerns when completely undressed against the endless victim-blaming of 'what does she expect tarted up like that?' when you've never felt the weight of past experiences like mine. Good for you for being one of the majority of men who aren't voyeurs or rapists. But let me remind you of a phrase as I hear all too often: Not All Men Are Like That. 


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