I don’t make a habit of getting punched in the face, but the last couple of years have seen me sport several impressive shiners – all at the hands of men I didn’t know. I’d say I have a pretty high pain threshold, so to be honest to my biggest issue is wearing a black eye under the judgemental gaze of others, rather than the physical discomfort of it.
Wow. Just think about how messed up that sentence is for a second.
The first time it happened I was living in London, and the city’s sprawling crime rate meant that, in order for the police to actually respond to the incident seriously, I had to make a blimmin’ Youtube video and talk to the local news rags. It worked – presumably to avoid a PR shitstorm. But alongside a weak apology from the Met came the inevitable deluge of input from the internet, ranging from messages of support from women in similar positions to baffling comments from men chastising me for not tidying my room before filming the video. It was my first real experience of trolling en masse, and boy was it an eye-opener.
The most recent event happened in Cardiff just before Christmas, when I was tipsily smoking a fag outside my house after a night out. A couple came stumbling along the canal path and started rowing. I could see the situation was getting heated, and looked around in the hopes that there might be someone nearby to help diffuse it. Nope. So when the bloke physically pushed the woman and I had ‘Nam style flashbacks to my attack in London, I went to intervene.
Now, I don’t endorse violence towards anyone, but by the time I got to the pair and he’d already punched her in the face and stomach it did feel pretty good to kick him in the balls, I’m not gonna lie. She ran off, and in the ensuing scuffle I got biffed in the face. Same bloody eye as last time, too. The police arrived and carted him off, I gave statements (this ain’t my first rodeo, guv) and as far as I’m aware he’s now going down for assault, but that’s still an ongoing matter.
The ol’ heddlu (that’s police in Welsh) were most excellent on this occasion, so when I clamoured into bed later that night I took to social media not to point fingers or incite action, but to feel connected to others during what was a fairly stressful period. It was late, I was by myself, I’d just been smacked in the face… I was after some companionship, albeit in digital form. I posted a pic of my slowly-bruising mug and a few lines on what had happened, and several of my night owl friends got in touch. I felt comforted and went to sleep.
…he's in custody now. Meanwhile… pic.twitter.com/vv0HprERUA
— Rachel England (@Rachel_England) December 19, 2015
I was nowhere near even slightly prepared for the number of notifications I woke up to, though. My Twitter feed was crazy. I’d been retweeted hundreds of times, favourited even more, and people from all corners of the globe were @ing me to commend me for my actions. Some were even offering to send me gifts. At first it was quite exciting – of course it was – but as the day wore on and my phone kept blowing up it became increasingly stressful. Being called a ‘hero’ made me hugely uncomfortable and in a way, kind of sad. Was someone helping a woman in need such an unusual and socially anomalous thing to do that it warranted this kind of reaction? Or was it because I myself am a woman? A woman who then posted a picture of her tired, bruised and make up-less face? As I noticed the last time I bared my blackened visage on social media, people are far more responsive to visual cues. Would my tale have garnered the same reaction if I’d left the shocking pictures out?
I'd happily sport this for the rest of my life if it meant I could legitimately kick scumbags in the balls everyday. pic.twitter.com/W7fwMlOJon
— Rachel England (@Rachel_England) December 19, 2015
Of course not, not least because so many of the responses I had from men focused solely on my appearance:
“Gosh, your eyes are wonderfully blue, though.”
“At least you didn’t get punched in that lovely smile.”
“How does a pretty girl like you know to kick a man in the balls?”
“You could be a superhero with that gorgeous red hair!”
Then there was the guy who claimed my black eye was fake, trawling through my feed to find a tweet I posted three months before about Halloween make up as evidence for his argument.
And then there were all the helpful insights:
“Maybe you shouldn’t have gotten involved.”
“You don’t know what their situation was.”
“You probably made things worse for her.”
And the pièce de résistance, when I at a much later date tweeted about feeling uncomfortable in a revealing dress, the guy who joked “At least it takes the attention off your black eye”.
I’m pretty sure I don’t need to #notallmen here, because yes, the majority were kind and respectful and shared my frustrations over the whole situation. But the above mentioned guys and their hot takes? Not one of them talks about the perpetrator of the incident – the man who was physically assaulting a woman. The catalyst of the entire episode – physical violence towards women – is completely invisible in their commentary.
This focus on my appearance and ‘femaleness’ renders my actions something of an adorable novelty. Yuck. Or worse, they see my physical presence during the incident as nothing other than problematic. For who? For her? If so, is the assumption that she should just take a beating because it’s easier for her in the long run? Or is it problematic for me because my lovely pretty face was all messed up and as a woman that’s my main concern? Or, is it problematic for them, because I’ve infiltrated their safe, anonymous space with my bruised face and it’s made them a bit uncomfortable?
I’m not a hero, but yeah, I did a good thing – a thing I might not have done were it not for my experience in London, ironically. But perhaps if it wasn’t for men like the clowns above perpetuating damaging stereotypes and contributing to a culture of fear in women and ignorance in men, my story wouldn’t be noteworthy because it would never have happened at all.
Main Image © iStock/drxy