This Sunday, a new student campaign, Boycott Gardies, was set up in response to a harrowing anonymous blog post by a female student on FLY Cambridge describing a member of staff at the fast food restaurant touching her body and physically blocking her exit to the store unless she kissed him. This falls under the legal definition of sexual assault.
The Boycott succeeded, and it did so with astonishing co-operation and geniality between the two parties. Within 36 hours the police were investigating, codes of conduct were being written, CCTV examined; within 48 hours the boycott was called off after negotiation with the manager, who agreed to implement all the suggested terms. The page had nearly 1,300 likes and women were sharing their experiences.
The Boycott Gardies campaign and its small victory was such a good, pure and simple thing. It gave power and basic due process to an anonymous victim of sexual assault. It gave a manager who’s ignored past complaints of harassment the impetus to act and make his business safer for half his customer base.
Whether it worked had momentous repercussions for every woman in Cambridge that went beyond one man at one little independent kebab shop. If the student body rallied around the campaign, it would validate the voices of young women and show that finally, people were ready to listen.
This campaign may have happened because of one woman’s story, but it was about every woman, and it was for every woman. We read these stories with a surface reaction of shock, but deep down there is a lurking sense of familiarity. Minor sexual assaults such as these are endemic to the extent where I would be surprised if I had a single female friend who has not had her body touched sexually without her consent.
On the few occasions (gov.uk reports estimate around 15%) when we do report them to bouncers, business owners or the police the reaction is usually disparaging. Legal repercussions are incredibly rare. Despite what happens to us often going above and beyond the minimum requirements for the incident to qualify as a criminal sexual assault, the frequency has completely normalized it to us and made reporting the outright crime an overreaction.
There’s this pervasive sense that if only men knew how much this happened to women, they’d be horrified. Many of them are horrified, but the idea that any of them don’t know is bullshit and we all know it. Articles detailing the experience I just did are two a penny; as are blog posts, campaign posters, viral videos, interviews, and the casual conversations of the women who surround you every day. Besides, where are all the crowds of men who squeeze my arse at the bar and try and corner me on my way back from Cindies coming from if everyone’s secretly horrified by sexism? I’m sick to death of the mainstream trend in sexual assault and other feminist campaigns of “awareness-raising” and respectability politics. Everyone knows what’s happening – a large percentage of them just don’t want to listen to women.
The toxic misogyny, willful ignorance and outright bullying against these women was most explicit of all in Spiked’s response to the Boycott Gardies campaign, which articulated sentiments echoed across comment threads throughout the Cambridge cyberspace. In it, Luke Gittos - who will probably never go to Gardies in his life - actively takes the piss out of the anonymous blog poster.
He implies she is ridiculous for feeling violated and mocks her for stating that she “panicked”, alone and drunk late at night, when a man physically blocked her from moving unless she kissed him. He proceeds to denounce other victims of sexual assault and women who feel unsafe at night as “vindictive,” “narcissistic,” “self-obsessed”, “entitled,” “uppity,” “poshos,” and “brainless”. He actively encourages Cambridge students to financially support the business by buying from there. He rounds things off with a drastically inappropriate KKK analogy made all the more disturbing by the fact that the blog post was written on FLY, a platform for Cambridge’s women of colour.
Luke Gittos knows exactly what’s happening to young women who go out alone at night. Luke Gittos has read a plenty of blog posts by victims of sexual assault. Luke Gittos just doesn’t give a fuck because he, 90% of the Spiked readership and commenters, and an unhealthy portion of the Cambridge undergraduate body are misogynistic, entitled, hateful people.
They would rather online bully a girl who was sexually assaulted than have her perpetrator investigated and, god forbid, see a fairly basic code of conduct implemented at a small fast food restaurant. They have probably never in their lives been groped and forced to kiss a kebab waiter out of genuine fear of physical sexual violence, or been shoved against a wall by a group of men, or walked home accompanied by explicit rape threats hollered across the street. But they still think they know how that feels better than the women who have, and don’t mind telling them so.
I don’t want to win over predatory Gardies waiters with two recorded arrests for sexual assault or bullying toxic mansplainers like Luke Gittos to the feminist cause. They are not my good time pals. They don’t deserve my earnest conversation over G&Ts in the Union bar or appealingly designed posters which visualize sexual assault compared to shark attacks.
I’ve learned two things from the Gardies boycott – first, that direct action does work. Second, that while there are still so many people in the world who can unempathically shit all over something as well-intentioned and good as a campaign to bring justice to a sexual assault case, respectability politics and nice girl feminism is fucked.
We must be militant in our empathy but also militant with our ideology. Revolution isn’t spending hours attempting to convince Luke Gittos of the virtues of intersectional feminism, it’s aggressively consigning him and his backwards, vitriolic compatriots to the dustbin of history.