How Fictional Violence Can Help Us Process Real-World Trauma

When #MeToo hit, I watched the stream of posts from celebs and friends and former colleagues and student buddies and women I’d met once at a literary festival and the girls I’d grown up with and the other mums from school; I’d always known it wasn’t just me who’d been harassed and hurt, but now I thought, it’s everyone. I added my own little #MeToo to the list. Writing out those few words made my hands shake, my heart hammer; I messed up a day’s work with anxiety. These things aren’t easy to share. Even the headline fact, let alone the details.

It wasn’t everyone. Of course it wasn’t everyone. I do know women who haven’t been assaulted, harassed, raped or abused. A shrug, a smile: not me, thankfully. That’s a comfort; it gives me hope. But at that time, there were others conspicuous by their #MeToo absence; the ones I know who’ve had it worst. Friends who’d told me about the brutal, violent acts inflicted on them, about traumas that made my own seem to turn to paper scraps and blow away. They weren’t going to be giving all that light and air again, overturning whatever equilibrium they’d achieved, just so that some dude on Facebook could point out that not all men are like that, actually.

This is the weirdest thing about violence against women: it’s normal. Violence, and the threat of violence, is not something we encounter only in fiction, in books or film or on TV; for so many of us it’s real; it has already happened. We’re just trying to get on with things, but we’re living in bodies that have been primed for fear. I think this is something most guys just don’t realize this when they’re chatting up or catcalling a woman. That rhetorical question yelled from building sites could really do with a frank and detailed answer: ‘smile, love; what’s the worst that could happen?’ Well since you ask…


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