Hell hath no fury like a male ego scorned: Piers Morgan’s revenge and the danger of rejecting.
It took me years to realise I had been raped. Although when I awoke, I felt stiff and sore and I was sure someone had been ‘down there’ whilst I was asleep, the idea that it was rape, that I, the outspoken feminist that I was, had been raped was so unthinkable to me that I did just that, made it unthinkable. I locked the suggestion up somewhere deep inside my psyche, pulled myself out of bed and ordered a taxi to work, for a shift I was already 20 minutes late for.
When I arrived at work in the city centre of Leeds (I handed out flyers for bars and club nights like every other broke student in the city) there was a 1950’s inspired boogie-woogie band busking in the street. The lead singer’s confident performance style caught my eye and after revisiting the spot throughout the day due to my working route, we got to talking. The events of the night before — what I knew of them — were willed away from my consciousness as the singer and I exchanged numbers and agreed to meet for a drink later in the week. Two months later I was in an abusive, coercive and extremely volatile relationship that stripped me of my sense of self and ignited a depression and unhappiness that I had never before experienced and thankfully, haven’t experienced since. Not once did the events that happened the day before, hours before I met this abuser, and my keenness to latch on to someone, anyone, so as to not have to face what may have happened, present themselves to me as interconnected; one wholly dependent on the other.
It took nearly two years, and a friend witnessing me being physically attacked by this partner when he thought no one could see, to try and find a way to pull myself out of the daze that started that night. In fact, as I’m writing this, a new sense of compassion for the version of myself I felt so much resentment for during my early twenties is coming to the surface.
I met Chris, I’m using his real name, on a night out at my favourite club night. Every Monday come rain or shine my flat mates and I would put on our favourite trainers and descend a few grimy steps into a world I could only have imagined as a teen growing up in a small stuffy Northern Irish town. The roof was made of LED lights and when a song dropped, the lights would explode across the tiny club, the dancing along with it. My flat mate and I would spend all week in between the night out planning our playlist, outfits and drinks for next week. It was a time and a place I felt genuinely free to be myself after years of trying to conform to outdated Northern Irish social norms that never seemed to fit right when I tried them on.
Chris came to talk to me in the smoking area, he was about my height or just slightly shorter, which immediately put me off speaking with him because being 6ft tall, I’m used to men feeling emasculated around me, often with undesirable consequences. Throughout the night he kept appearing beside me. His face was gentle and free of harsh angles and although something about him made me feel uncomfortable, he had a large freckle on his right cheek that I found incredibly endearing, alluring even. As the night ended and my friends and I waited for a taxi home, there he was again. This time he told me that he lived in my block of flats. This stunned me, my block of flats was the smallest student accommodation in the whole city, it was the cheapest and was nestled right in the hard of Hyde Park, often mistaken for council flats. It felt as if we all knew each other already.
We shared a large taxi back together and he invited us into his flat for some more drinks. He and his flat mates were posh, posh and awkward. The kind of awkward that suggested they weren’t used to having a group of girls in their home. We exchanged social media accounts, drank with them until the early hours and headed home to our beds. The next morning, I had a message from Chris, talking about the night before. His awkwardness was such that he was given the nickname ‘weird Chris’ amongst my friends but his messages, as dull as they were, weren’t sleazy in their nature, and at 18 years of age ‘not sleazy’ is equateable to Shakespearean levels of romanticism.
I agreed to head to Chris’ flat for a ‘movie night’ in two days’ time. When I arrived at this flat, we sat in silence until I asked what movie he wanted to watch, he abruptly suggested we sit on his bed. I did as I was told but the tingles of uncomfortableness were prickly up my arms and neck. He said that he was ‘really into films’ and I let him pick something I didn’t really understand in black and white. When the movie ended, I was keen to leave. Chris had tried to put his arm around me, but the awkwardness of the situation was so palpable I shivered away from him with unease. At this age, I was unaware a woman could just walk out of a situation she wasn’t enjoying when she had actively taken part in placing herself in it. As I went to leave, Chris asked if I wanted to stay and have a drink, I said that I did not and made an excuse that I had an early morning lecture. As I scurried back to my flat, I decided that yes, weird Chris is very much weird. When he messaged me again, I replied saying I had a nice time, but wasn’t going to be hanging out with him again.
A week later my flat mates and I hosted a flat party. It was half term and some people had gone home, however there were two of us left behind and we wedged the door open to the flat so whoever was left in the building could come and go as they pleased. Pissed, my friend put me to bed but didn’t lock my door so she could check on me.
When I awoke the next morning, I felt a rawness and a throbbing between my legs. Ask any woman what I mean, and they may use different words to describe it, but the feeling can’t be mistaken. I asked my friend what may have happened and she told me she had been told someone opened my door to check on me but left abruptly because Chris was ‘on top of me.’ This person, unaware at my repulsion of him, didn’t pull him away and my friend was only informed of what happened after the event. I will never forget sending Chris a message the next morning simply asking “What happened last night?” only for him to reply with “we had sex :P”
His use of the term ‘we’ not only implies that the sex was consensual, it implies that it was something I was active in when in fact an hour or so before I had been put to bed by my friend, my lack of awareness or consciousness clearly visible to anyone who saw me. I couldn’t process the fact we had had sex in my head. Having only slept with a few men by this point, three of whom had been boyfriends, the idea that drunken me, who never even kissed men on nights out, would have lured weird Chris into my bedroom and seduced him (for that’s the narrative I was trying to construct for myself to negate the obvious) was a difficult one for me to process. No one had ever told me what rape was. To my mind, rape was being dragged down an alleyway by a stranger, rape was a teacher who grooms a pupil, rape was someone holding you down in a warzone. It wasn’t something that happened to drunk girls in their own bedrooms, in their own bed, in the prime of their life.
I wish I could say that my experience with weird Chris was a one off, the only negative experience I’ve had with men. I wish I could say Chris left me alone once he got what he wanted, once I dissolved my sense of self into another, seemingly stronger but actually much weaker and consequently controlling, person. But he didn’t.
He applied to work at my job, the only thing that kept me connected to the outside world as I was slowly losing my grip on it due to the all-consuming nature of my abusive relationship. When I finally found the courage, after three months of abandoning my friends so as to appease the controller, to go on a night out, I walked into the nightclub to be confronted with weird Chris taking tickets on the door. He would always appear on my timeline after that, tagged in photos with my work friends or in posters for events I should have been working. A few months later I, once again, tried to pull away from the abuser by agreeing with some friends to attend a music festival to find that Chris was there as a steward, someone whose job it was to patrol the festival attendees, someone with endless access to drunken and passed out women.
Chris, who had never expressed an interest in my music taste, was making every effort to centre himself in my world. When I asked my boss how Chris had joined the team, I was told he had applied directly, offering to take the generally rejected closing shifts which required that you stand in the cold at 5am, handing out flyers to once again, incoherent and drunk partygoers.
Chris had taken away my sexual autonomy, the experience with him, although I didn’t know it yet, had thrust me into the grip of a bully, and here he was, living the life I had once lived, with the friends I once had before the experience with him made me retreat into myself. As a posh kid, I knew he didn’t take the job for the money, which was less than minimum wage, and his student room had bottles of premium brand alcohol adorning the shelves; it was as if he wasn’t content with what he had got already, that he needed to take more and more and more to feed his disdain for my initial rejection.
I stopped going out at all shortly after, I lost all of my friends and spent two years trying to remember who I was under the control of someone who declared to me fiercely what I was and wasn’t, could and couldn’t do.
Rejecting men isn’t just a scary experience, it’s genuinely dangerous and can have life threatening or at the very least, life altering effects. Weird Chris is still out there, he still has access to women, he still has the capacity to use his awkwardness to incite a feeling of pity, or in the extreme, guilt, at wanting to reject him. And weird Chris isn’t alone.
On Tuesday morning the world watched as Piers Morgan, after spending years leading a campaign of hatred and racism against Meghan Markle, stormed off set live on TV after his colleague pointed out that his entire need to turn others against her was based solely on a desire for retribution after Meghan ‘ghosted’ him. It’s not just Piers Morgan that uses a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies to carve out a vendetta for revenge when they are rejected or dumped. ‘Revenge porn’ is such a common phrase in digital culture that the sinister, life ruining and repulsive nature of what those words actually mean can be lost in the consumption of the phrase when made easily digestible through our comfortability and familiarity of digital language.
I wonder if a day will come when a woman can say no without fear of a reactionary action, fuelled by a damaged and insecure male ego, that can have an impact that lasts a lifetime.