I haven’t felt this brand of rage in a while, so I thought I’d have a go at capturing it while it still flows fresh through my veins. Basically, at the heart of it, I am angry with a man because he wanted to be helpful. He wanted to be helpful so much that he ignored me saying ‘no, please do not be helpful.’ Inevitably, no matter how angry I am at him, I am even more angry with myself. Here’s the thing…
I just got home from a lovely bike ride and, annoyingly, about five minutes from home my bike made an ‘uh oh’ kind of noise. I got off, flipped it over, spotted what the problem was and started to fix it. It’s happened before, more than once, and there’s a 50/50 chance I can sort it myself. If I can’t, I take it to a bike shop and ask them to do it for me: no big deal. In an ideal world, of course, I’d have repair tools. I’d carry them with me on every single ride, having spent time building up my knowledge of bike repairs so I could do everything myself. I haven’t done that, though: instead I spend my limited spare time learning DIY, singing along to punk covers of Disney songs and eagerly wanking off hot men, and there are only so many hours in the day. Just as you might budget for a painter to come and decorate your hallway, so I budget a certain amount of ‘whoops my bike went uh oh’ money each year to save me having to learn some of the stuff that other bike enthusiasts might prefer to do themselves.
So! Long ago I made an executive decision that I don’t mind much if I can’t fix everything that goes wrong with my bike. It broke. I was willing to put in 10 minutes to having a go at sorting it, but if that didn’t work I’d take it to the bike shop five minutes round the corner. I might have looked like a woman with a huge problem, but in fact I was a woman in a state of sanguine calm, mildly annoyed by the fact that my bike wasn’t working, but actually quite proud of the fact that (unlike at so many other points in my life) I could get it fixed without worry.
I was pondering this and feeling pretty pleased with myself when a man on a much fancier bike stopped and asked if I’d like any help.
“No thank you,” I said, extremely clearly. He stopped anyway and came over to stand next to me.
“Honestly, please don’t,” I told this man I had never met. “Something similar has happened before, I’ll be fine.”
He chuckled patronisingly, grabbed my bike anyway and started touching it, getting bike grease all over his hands and essentially taking my bike away from me.
Obviously what I did at this point was
scream at the top of my lungs GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF MY BIKE YOU CUNT ask him once again to please stop, while framing it in a way that made it seem like I didn’t want to trouble him.
“Honestly, there’s a bike shop literally around the corner, this has happened to me before. I can just carry my bike to the shop, save you the bother!” I said, adding “hahahaha,” so that this man (this stranger) who was holding my bike and standing over me would realise his help was unwanted and back the fuck off.
He told me that he knew about bikes (I have no way of knowing whether that’s true) and that I shouldn’t worry (I did). He knew exactly what the problem was! It was this thing, and that bit was caught there and blah blah etc. He pulled a bike tool out of his backpack and jammed that in the derailleur while explaining to me (a woman who knew exactly what was wrong with her bike) what was wrong with my bike.
Once again, I tried to stop him.
“No, please don’t,” I repeated. “No point both of us getting dirty. There’s a bike shop round the corner, I’ll take it there. No need. Let me.”
“I just don’t like losing a battle with a bike!” he chuckled, while undoing the catch to remove my back wheel.
“No! Seriously, please don’t trouble yourself,” I said, still trying to make it sound like I didn’t want to put this guy out rather than the truth, which was that I wanted his grubby, patronising, misogynist hands off my precious bike immediately.
Those of you who rely on bikes to get around will understand how gutpunch upsetting this kind of thing is. A total stranger taking your bike away is, in most circumstances, an act of fucking war. If you don’t have a bike but you have a car, imagine this instead: you’ve broken down and a random stranger just opens the bonnet and starts yanking bits out while you ask him to stop.
At the point when I physically put my hand on the wheel to try and prevent this dickhead from undoing my brake cables, a glimmer of realisation must have briefly fluttered into his otherwise-oblivious brain and he looked at me with a kind of shocked sneer.
“Don’t worry,” he told me, with the tone of someone telling a child to back away from a hot oven, “I do know what I’m doing.”
“OK MATE,” I did not scream. “BUT I DON’T FUCKING KNOW THAT, DO I? I DON’T KNOW YOU, AND I DIDN’T ASK YOU FOR HELP. I DID NOT AND DO NOT CONSENT TO THIS.”
I’m not a princess and I don’t need to be rescued
I am so fucking angry with myself for not being stronger. But, you know, I’m a woman and I was on my own and this random guy seemed determined to do something. And sometimes when men are determined to do something it’s safest if you don’t get in their way and… oh fuck it, who am I kidding? I could so easily frame this story as one in which I was concerned for my personal safety. And no doubt that could have been the case for some (as it would have been the case for me in different circumstances – if it was late at night instead of daytime, or if I were far away and not so close to home), which is certainly another tick in the column totting up this guy’s cuntery. He was pushy enough with my boundaries and explicit ‘no’s that it would have been eminently reasonable for me, or someone else, to fear violence if he couldn’t get his white knight boner by fixing this bike-related problem.
But that’s not actually how I felt. I didn’t let him keep going out of fear for my personal safety, I kept going because I genuinely couldn’t bring myself to be rude. I didn’t want to upset him! My thought processes went: “I really don’t want this stranger touching my bike but… he’s trying so hard and he seems to really care and it feels rude to push him away when he really wants to help me!”
In short: this man’s desire to help me was more important than me keeping control over one of my most valued possessions. His feelings were more important than my needs.
Christ, I fucking despise myself.
This is what I mean when I say I haven’t experienced this kind of rage in a while. This rage isn’t just anger at the man who ignored me, who patronised me, who thought that ‘what he reckoned’ would obviously be so much more useful than my own experience that it was worth overriding every single one of my ‘nos’. The man who crossed a boundary I had restated time and time again. The rage is also for myself. For the woman who didn’t have the fucking guts to say to him ‘STOP. I mean it, just STOP. Take your hands off my bike, and leave me the fuck alone.’
In that moment, so many of the ‘nos’ I had expressed but never advocated for came back in a rush to haunt me. All the times a boyfriend had tried to make ‘helpful’ suggestions about something I was doing – a skill or hobby or project I was enjoying learning on my own that swiftly became miserable and boring now he’d used it as a springboard for diving into patronising ‘advice’. All the times when some helpful dude on Twitter had asked me if I’d ever ‘just’ considered doing something extremely basic, based off no knowledge whatsoever of my situation or my needs. The times when my own father tells me how to live my life, with absolutely no understanding of what I want or what my life is like, because he hasn’t cared enough to learn in the four decades I’ve been on this planet.
All the times a man has taken something precious to me and ripped it out of my hands, chuckling in a voice that makes me feel like a child before declaring ‘don’t worry, I know what I’m doing!’ The implication being, of course, that I do not.
I hate it when men do this: decide from a very limited brief glance at my life that they know exactly how I could live it better. They say they want to be helpful, like I should somehow be grateful, but 99% of the time they’re ignoring what I have specifically told them (“NO!”) or assuming incompetence on my part, as if I’m a child who has never encountered the world before. That’s not helpful, that’s control. It’s patronising and ugly and rude and aggressive and demoralising.
It’s not helpful to grab the steering wheel when I’m driving
And yet these men want me to be grateful to them. They want me to rely on them. They want me to trust them and look up to them and be weak for them. Like the multiple men who (I swear I’m not making this up) leap in the second I have a single complaint about my website, and immediately offer to fix it for me. What can I say? I am followed by a lot of horny nerd types, and that is one of the ways they like to be helpful.
“You know, it wouldn’t take me long to sort that out!” these dudes tell me, before having asked a single fucking question about how the site is built.
“No thank you,” I always say. There’s precisely one person I trust to make changes to my website: he’s an expert who I specifically approached for help when I needed it because I know him and respect his expertise. He’s read the documentation and very kindly taken time to talk me in detail through the architecture, addressing my questions from a place of respect and care, knowing that although I may not be a developer I am certainly not a fool. He also understands and respects what a terrifying thing it is for me to have my entire career resting on technology that’s grown too complex for me to maintain myself. This is what genuine help looks like, and words cannot express how grateful I am to him for providing it.
And because his help is genuine, I trust him. I do not trust many people. Often my trust issues are a result of me being extremely risk-averse and hyper-cautious, but this is the one area of my life where I am rock-solid, 100% confident that my caution is reasonable. I am not going to simply hand the keys to my career, the website on which my entire income rests, over to some random guy I barely know (sometimes have literally never even met!) purely because he wants to ‘be helpful’.
“Seriously, though, it really wouldn’t take long,” these strangers sometimes continue, completely ignoring my ‘no’ because of course my actual words can’t possibly have meaning because I am just a silly little girl who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I must just be saying no because I don’t want them to go to any trouble! Or because I don’t understand how much difference these white knights could make to my life! Even though they have literally not even asked a single question about how my site is built or what services they might need access to in order to do it!
There are men out in the world who expect me to let them push code changes to production on GOTN dot com in the same way a delicate Victorian lady might allow a gentleman to carry her fucking suitcase. The ease with which these dudes expect me to give them control over the site on which my financial security and independence rests is truly astonishing. It blows my mind.
“WOULD YOU DO THAT?!” I do not yell. “Would you hand control over something so precious to someone you barely know? How about you give me your fucking bank details, hmm? I’ll log in and work out a monthly budget for ya? Give me the keys to your house, I’ll pop round and tidy up! WHY NOT?! I’m just being HELPFUL!”
Just as Helpful Bike Prick would never have dreamed of letting a stranger put their hands on his fucking bike the way he was molesting mine, so other men also sometimes offer me ‘help’ that they themselves would be insulted and horrified to imagine handing over to a borderline stranger. But it’s OK for me to hand it over! I’m just a silly little woman. Surely nothing I could ever want or need would be important enough to trump whatever this guy has decided he wants to do. My bike, my website, my life? These things mean nothing, because I am nothing. They – and I – are merely tools this random guy can use to prove how special and clever he is.
I should have recognised, the second this man ignored my first ‘no’, that I was drifting into one of those awkward situations where he’d keep ignoring my ‘no’ and patronising me until he either got bored or I physically took my bike away from him. There’s a lesson here for me somewhere: when I say ‘no’, regardless of a man’s ‘but…’ I need to stick to that no. Obviously there’s a lesson for the guy too – he should take ‘no’ for a fucking answer. But I’m going to keep encountering these men in my life, and I don’t want to be the woman who lets them get away with it. I want to be the woman who says ‘sorry mate, did you not hear me? I said ‘no” and then deals with the fallout.
Maybe if I could be that woman, I would live a happier life. Maybe if I could be the woman who says ‘no’ and firmly sticks to it then I wouldn’t be fuming with self-hating rage right now.
I’d definitely have spared myself the cringey sight of this man trying to fix my bike and then – in a fit of childish pique because his pride was hurt that he failed – launching into a snide little lecture in which he informed me (THIS IS TRUE, THIS REALLY HAPPENED) that in order to stop this happening again, I really should consider doing more regular bike maintenance.
“Fuck you!” I didn’t say. “How fucking dare you barge your way into my life and try to tell me how to live it just because you want to feel smug?!” I failed to add. “Who the fuck do you think you are putting your hands on my stuff when I’ve told you not to?!” I also did not say.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, boiling with rage. As I do. As I always do. As I will keep doing until the day the last of these men causes me to snap, and I scream so loudly I tear my own throat.
And I will spit these words at him through gobfuls of blood and bile: Fuck you. Get away from me. Fuck you. Get your hands off me.
Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.
This is what my therapist calls a ‘trigger’. I am triggered by men who try to help me by controlling me. In case you were looking for the subtext.