It’s Not Your Fault – Katie Sherley

Here is a voice that powerfully articulates frustration, rage, and sadness at the many ways girls experience victim-blaming in response to misogyny. The title’s refrain counters that misplaced blame and the young writer methodically builds arguments to unpick it thread by thread, until sexist narratives completely unravel.” – Naush Sabah

You’ve heard what I’m about to say a thousand times. When you hear things too much the
words become white noise. Become empty. I know that. But I also know that, though you
might have heard what I’m about to tell you a thousand times, you will have heard the
opposite a thousand and one. So I’m asking for a moment of time, and I hope you will give it
to me, and listen.

It’s not your fault.

It’s not your fault we live in a world that is not made for women, that we are surrounded by
people telling us that we are to blame. It’s not your fault that the burden of your safety falls
on your own shoulders. It’s not our fault.

I learnt that half the world was out to get me before I learnt long division. They say ignorance
is bliss, they justify their apathy by telling me that it feels safe, comfortable. I know they are
right. It’s just a shame that that ignorance was never an option for us.

I don’t know everything. But I am not naive. I am busy remembering things you don’t have to
know. Maybe I know nothing about the world, but I know that the elbow is the strongest point
on my body, and that I should never wear my hair in a bun when I leave the house because
it’s too easy to grab, but I shouldn’t wear it loose because it’s too easy to pull. I know I
should carry my phone on me at all times, and never walk alone, but not look distracted, and
never get in a taxi. I know I should smile, but not too much, because you don’t want to look
too friendly, because apparently a smile is an invitation, just like a tight skirt, the wrong
shade of lipstick, the wrong words, the wrong silence.

They tell us being a girl is easy, while we spend our days learning how to wear our gender in
the correct way and follow the conflicting messages- no, that rule was last week’s, don’t
listen to that. Learn- carry pepper spray, but don’t, because how dare you assume a man
would hurt you. Follow your dreams, but remember you won’t get far if your face doesn’t look
right, if your body doesn’t curve correctly, if you don’t laugh enough. Then maybe you’ll make
it, but remember when you do it’s only because you are pretty, only because you are lucky,
not because you’re talented. you don’t deserve it.

Women are equal, you don’t need to be feminist, you only want attention. But don’t go out
past eight because you might not come home. If a man touches you, run- no, don’t
overreact, he was just being nice. Wear trainers so you can escape. Never let them take you
to a secondary location. Lighten up, have fun, wear your favourite dress, drink. Just know it’ll
be used against you in court.

One in five girls are sexually assaulted. Learn the rules so you aren’t one of them.
But guess what? Bad behavior doesn’t assault you, assaulters do. We watch, silent as the
nights we cannot step into. We watch the world ignore us. We watch familiar-faced girls
appear on missing posters, and wonder with dull dread: did we know them, or is it just that
they looked so like us, with their familiar fears that it seems were proven right? It wasn’t their
fault, we say. But we are echo chambers, and no one is listening.

Speak up. It’s our fault if we remain quiet. When we do, we are patronised, our issues
trivialised as we cry out for help. But this is what happens when we choose to use our voice.
Called too loud, too sensitive. When we learn to hide our emotions, we are too tough, too
cold, unapproachable.

We will sit in assemblies about how women are never to blame. Never to blame, until your
skirt is more than five centimeters above the knee. Until your heels are higher than two
inches, until you spend time with the wrong boy, because it’s your fault for trusting a friend
and not his fault for hurting you. Don’t be suspicious of men, but remember, you’re most
likely to be assaulted by someone you know, and trust. It’s not your fault, but you wore that,
said that, smiled that way. Men are clever, they say, but men do not know the difference
between politeness and desire. I comfort my friends; it was not your fault, I say; but perhaps
they no longer know the difference between kindness and manipulation.

I used to like being a girl. Long hair, pretty dresses, colourful nails. I don’t know when I
stopped, but I assume it was somewhere between the first time I was catcalled in my school
uniform and when I first sat and watched the news stories about girls who were killed
walking home the same way I do every day. For every time I was called a slut by a boy I
didn’t know for wearing a shoulderless top, every time I had to leave a day out slightly early
so one of my male friends could walk me home, I liked being a girl a little less. I become so
used to it that fear wears into embarrassment. ‘It’s not your fault.’ friends with sympathetic
faces will tell me, and I will believe them a little less every time.

Whether men choose to believe it or not, this is how every woman feels. Perhaps you must
fear to live, but do not live to fear. And after all the fighting and scratching and pulling
ourselves up in the world with weary hands we know we’re still regarded as less. Fragile
despite the cracks left on us by all the things that didn’t break us, weak. I wish I could be

We have not been able to be weak since we were old enough to understand the warnings
our mothers gave us.

It’s unfair that this is our reality. So in case you forgot, which it’s easy to do in a world that
desperately wants you to, it’s not your fault. It never was. It never will be. Perhaps you must
fear to live, but you do not live to fear. Don’t apologise for existing, don’t apologise for their
actions or your hurt. It’s not your fault.