Draw up a chair, folks. Take a seat at this table. This table of men. This is a man’s table, built for men. We built it to be the only table that matters. Front of stage, top of the house. This is the table where we laugh and we drink and we decide, us men. You know men like us. We all look like us, like men.
I speak at the table. “Men,” I say, carefully. “What a bunch of bastards.” A titter of laughter. Nervous perhaps. It’s a riff off a joke from a TV show. People, it is supposed to go. People. The change makes an uncertainty, but this is a table of men. We presume the joke is funny. A man told it. Except, I am not joking. I accuse.
I say it again. I say it to you. I say it now. Men. What a bunch of bastards.
“We have to talk now again at last,” I say. Have we said it before? Have I been honest when I said it before? Did I understand when I said it before? I don’t know. Maybe I tried. Maybe I failed. We have to try again.
“Brock Turner.” I say instead. A bastard, they agree. They have to agree. But. Watch for the ones who say But. Watch us all. We perform our ritual of distancing. We exorcise Turner from our conscience. Peter after the garden, we deny him. He is not one of us. We are not one of him.
But it is time to read her words. It is time that we allowed her to be a voice, to be a person, to be more than an object into which we pour. We build an image from dreams and wants and desires and make it her.
And we want her hollow so we can fill her up with all our yeses and our needs. And she is not this. She speaks and feels and hurts and the silence we made is shredding because we are hearing now, some of us are hearing what she and a thousand of her sisters and our sisters and our mothers have been screaming for an eon. She is not empty. She is not ours to fill. She is not a thing.
Hear her speak.
She is talking to Brock Turner. She is talking to men, to me. To you.
There are other names. Too many names. I only know some of them.
Women know more names. They know them personally. They know our names.
The men at this table, you’re looking at me. I’m not supposed to be saying this. Not the way I’m saying it. Rapists are other men. That’s not us. Someone say it. One of us always, always says it. Not all men. We are not those men. This is not what a rapist looks like.
I look in my mirror. I look in your face.
This. I see this. This is what a rapist looks like.
I know this truth; if I commit this crime they will tell you I have a good job, come from a good home. My friends will tell you I’m not like that. They will tell you of my future. They will tell you how bright my contribution will be. They will tell you of my mistake like it is unrepeatable, like it is an aberration in a sea of aberrations from men that look just like me.
If I commit this crime, they will tell you what she wore. They will tell you what she drank. They will tell you that she cheated, that she was easy, that she said yes in slur while she slept, that she said yes when she left the house without a jacket, in a skirt too short, too drunk, without a friend, with a friend, without her boyfriend, with her abuser, without her husband, unowned, unafraid. They will tell you why she earned it, how she asked for it. We will tell you.
We told each other Brock Turner’s swim times. We will tell you mine.
We told you she was drunk. We will say it the next time too.
I am not Brock Turner. I am not that rapist. I am not that man. But. But I am. But we are. But you are.
Would you like a drink, while we sit at this table? Men are allowed to drink. We built the table this way; it’s fine if you have one. Beer, whiskey, wine? Doesn’t matter what you drink. Doesn’t matter how much you drink. You’re sitting at this table. This table of men.
The table is a metaphor.
We built this world. This culture of rape and ownership and entitlement. I can call it Patriarchy and you can groan and say, “Again? Still? I’m getting sick of hearing about this.”
“Women are sick of dying from it.” I am not joking. I accuse.
The men, us gathered at this table, try to laugh it off, but angrier now. No one wants to hear this. We have problems too. Let’s talk about them for once.
We sit together, in our networks of fratriarchy, our brothers in shame and failure and sin, and we regard this thing we have built and refuse to talk about it. It is ours and we guard it jealously like our fathers who built it too and passed it down to us as did their fathers before and before and before.
No. We need to talk about this table we built, the table we won’t let anyone else sit at where we make the rules that excuse our crimes; crimes we bend up into virtues, necessary and triumphant.
Brock Turner sits at this table with us. His father sits here with us. They are not alone. The rapists sit with us and we are the rapists.
Brock Turner, Patron Saint of Patriarchy. Exalted in Entitlement.
Say your catechism. Say the Holy Word of Men.
“Twenty minutes of action”
“I torment myself”
“culture of alcohol consumption and partying”
“His life will never be the one he dreamed about”
“recognize the influence that peer pressure”
“binge drinking and sexual promiscuity”
“never ever meant to intentionally hurt”
“party culture and risk taking behavior”
“the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him”
“things can go from fun to ruined in just one night”
“verdicts have broken and shattered him”
“He is utterly terrified and traumatized”
“Look at him. He won’t survive it. He will be damaged forever.”
We built this table on the backs of others. On the backs of women as we lie on them, as we make them lie down for us, as we build rules and worlds that allow no other choices but this and damn them if they refuse us anyway. We build this table where we decide on them.
We build it from their bones. We varnish it in blood.
This table we built is an abattoir, a charnel house.
I cannot leave this table. I dare not. It is time to break the table, to burn the wreckage of it.
Let us build something new, and when we do, we must be careful to set out places for those other than men. It is time for those other than ourselves. I am sick of my voice. I am sick of yours. I am sick of the face of every Brock Turner sitting here with me, and their fathers too.
But I am not dead of it. It is women who die of us.
Because men – what a bunch of bastards.
Asking For It, Louise O’Neill