Some men, certain men, believe the world is truly their oyster; that they can move through the world with a complete lack of awareness of their being in the world, and a belief that they can do anything they want to, without propriety or respect for other individuals, especially women.
From small-scale acts of aggression, like spreading their legs wide while seated on a subway, to large-scale acts like sexual assault, some men embody a daily ethic motivated by consummate consumption. They own all spaces and all the things in those spaces, including women's bodies. This means that their acts of aggression, felt as perpetual violence by others, is the "norm." This means too that when these men encounter resistance to these actions, they retaliate with an even greater level of violence.
Many women, including Mary Brandon, know this all too well.
Brandon was attending England's popular Notting Hill Carnival, billed as the largest street festival in Europe, when she claims she was repeatedly groped from behind by a random man in the crowd. According to her Facebook page, where she reported the exchange, she told the man to stop. He refused. "I pushed him away, exercising my right to tell a man to stop touching my body without my permission, so he took a swing at me and punched me in the face," she wrote.
Warning: This image may be too graphic for some viewers.
Image Credit: Mary Brandon/Facebook
"A woman should be able to leave the house without fear of being sexually assaulted," Brandon continued. "And she should be able to defend herself without being put in hospital. The saddest thing about this for me was discussing with my friends afterwards whether in [the] future, it's best not to do anything at all. Maybe it'd be safer to just ignore it when someone invades your space and body. But I can honestly say I will always stand up to someone who thinks they can get away with this behavior and I'd take a punch again."
Women should in no way have to tolerate men's aggressive behavior. We don't have to "take it" and "accept it." The man who assaulted Brandon was never going to heed her request to stop being groped, because if he actually respected her, he wouldn't have groped her in the first place.
Brandon's friend Rebecca Hammerton told the Evening Standard that more than anything else, a bruised ego may have been the cause of the assault. "After she pushed him away, he started walking off and then a couple of people were laughing, which we think damaged his ego," she said. "He walked back and swung round and punched her in the face with a right hook punch, using the force of his whole body."
Metropolitan police are reviewing footage of the carnival pending an investigation, according to the BBC.
Women encounter the daily, multi-pronged problem of if, when and, more importantly, how to fight back. If we attempt to stifle violence against us, will it only be met by more violence? This is what happened to Brandon, as well as multitudes of other women, including a 29-year-old New York City woman who was slashed in the face for telling a man to stop hurling homophobic epithets against her and her friends.
What's even worse is that the criminal justice system seems to perpetuate this powerlessness — just ask Marissa Alexander, who, after years of domestic abuse, fired a warning shot into the ceiling of her home and is now facing decades in prison.
In the days since she posted about the incident, Brandon's story and photo have been shared tens of thousands of times on social media. And while she told the BBC she's finding it difficult to sleep, she also said she doesn't want to let the assault get the better of her. Meanwhile, the outpouring of support and solidarity has been tremendous.
This example, coupled with so many others, should be a lesson to all those women who refuse the label of "feminist." Remember, feminism means wanting your body to be respected by others, on the basic levels of sanctity and of safety. It is likewise feminist to declare that being a man is not carte blanche permission to violate others' bodies or spaces. It is feminist to say that a woman owns her body, and no one else — not a man, and not a government.