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Dealing with Cologne, Or Everything Trumps Gender

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My friend Al used to say that men were pigs and dirty dogs, explaining, “I should know. I am one.” I wouldn’t dare say it myself, because somebody might call me a fucking dyke, or even a bigot. But after more than 800 women were attacked, with many sexually assaulted, in a mass act of misogyny in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve, I’ve started to have fantasies of anti-man violence that make Valerie Solanas look positively tame.

Castration is too good for them. Let’s break every bone in every hand that grabbed a woman’s tit. That tried to force itself between her legs. That goes online and clicks away arranging another “taharrush gamea,” a gang-rape or assault of women in public spaces, a spreading practice from the Arab world that only came to the attention of the West when journalist Lara Logan was attacked in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the 2011 demonstrations.

I’m tired of having a reasonable response to the nearly constant war waged by representatives from that abstract class of creatures, men, against any female in sight. I’m not just talking about the structural sexism that regularly excludes us from power and sees to it we don’t get adequate credit (or salaries) for the work we do, but the actual mano a mano terror that sometimes crosses over into murder or rape.

Most often, of course, the acts are small and banal and humiliating. There’s the Toronto dyke I know who wrote recently about some random guy on the bus suddenly sticking his face in hers and screaming, “You’re ugly.” He scared the crap out of her, but what really hurt was how nobody helped, in fact everybody on the bus turned away from her when she started screaming back.

Harassment and assaults are so common that when one New York City woman posted about her decision not to carry a knife or pepper spray, even after one particularly scary encounter on the subway, the responses revealed that practically every woman in New York had considered similar measures. Most of us decide to only wear bags in such a way that leave our hands free. Or maybe we carry some pointy object that can serve in our defense.

We wonder if our backpacks or handbags themselves are heavy enough to swing or to block. We are conscious of the sound of our steps in empty hallways, or parking lots or streets. We avoid empty subway cars. If we can’t, and some guy gets on, we shrink ourselves into invisibility. We know an attack’s coming, but we’re shocked when it does. And afterwards, shocked again when we’re blamed or dismissed. Often by women. Who are so good and kind and selfless that they make me puke.

A different woman in Toronto posting about her own experience getting assaulted on the train was herself denounced by other women worried that her story would lead to the stigmatizing of men with mental illness because her attacker was known to have problems. Apparently, all those terrified and traumatized women matter less than the man who is allowed to regularly harass them on the subway, scream at them and pursue them from car to car, station to station, sometimes following them outside, and even attacking them physically.

I’ve also seen more than one post by black women who’ve been pressured to keep their mouths shut about getting beaten on by their boyfriends or husbands, no matter that some of them will end up dead. Because by calling in the cops it would be them guilty of putting another black man in the hands of the prison industrial complex. Which means, well, her life doesn’t count next to his.

The same sort of pressure has been applied in Cologne where almost all the attackers of those 800 women were immigrant men identified as Arab or North African. Maybe fearing a backlash to the huge wave of refugees, the first impulse of German politicians and cops was to hide the whole thing. And when the news finally broke, media worldwide decided to play the game and for days kept insisting that the attacks weren’t that extensive, or that not all the men were immigrants, there was, uh, one American, and uh...

I hate them, and don’t even have words for the feminists of my acquaintance who post article after article against xenophobia, racism, bigotry, but remain silent about what it is like for a woman of any race or national origin to suddenly be surrounded by a mob of men who grab her all over, who assault and rape her, leave her with the imprint of their terrifying hands on her flesh. Because everything trumps gender. And even we women don’t think we count.

For the last time (this month), “everybody counts, or nobody counts.” C’mon, it’s really not so hard to denounce rape and racism both.

Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” from the University of Minnesota Press.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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