What happens to women who fight back against harassment

Tugce Albayrak was bashed with a baseball bat in a McDonald's car park.

Tugce Albayrak was bashed with a baseball bat in a McDonald's car park.

Two weeks ago, a young woman living in Germany was eating at a McDonalds when she heard two teenage girls screaming for help. The girls were calling out from the restaurant's bathroom, where they were being harassed by a small group of men. Tugce Albayrak confronted the trio and they were ejected from the restaurant.

It was a simple interaction, and one that every woman should feel entitled to participate in particularly when supporting other women. But a short time after Albayrak intervened to tell those men that their behaviour was unacceptable, she was allegedly assaulted by one of them with a baseball bat in the car park. She sustained critical head injuries and was placed in an induced coma. Last Friday, on her 23rd birthday, her parents made the agonising decision to turn off her life support after doctors declared her brain dead. Since then, over 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on the German president to posthumously award Albayrak the national order of merit.

Albayrak's death makes me sick with rage. But just as palpable is the rage I feel over society's double standards when it comes to men's violence against women. How many women need to be murdered before we start seriously addressing this issue? How many conversations about male entitlement and power have to be howled down by men as 'man-hating' and 'misandry' before we accept that these are the very things which drive this form of gendered violence?

Tugce's parents turned off her life support on her birthday.

Tugce's parents turned off her life support on her birthday.

Do women's complaints about harassment, objectification and pernicious misogyny only become acceptable in the brief window of legitimacy created when other women die?


Ask any woman you know between the ages of 15 and 45 and she'll likely tell you that street harassment is a big enough problem for her that she assesses every situation for its potentiality. Living with that constant vigilance can be hard, but women are often further victimised for the ways we choose to react to dangerous or invasive incidents. When we ignore demands for our time and attention, we do so with the experience based knowledge that doing so means that at the very minimum we might be met with vicious verbal abuse about our looks, our f--kability and our very worth as human beings. If we retaliate, we run the risk of being targeted by more serious forms of physical violence, including homicide - just as Albayrak was, as Maren Sanchez was, as Mary Spears was and as countless other women before and since them have been.

For women, it's never just a friendly handshake from a stranger.

And yet, when women talk about the dangers we face - from countless daily microaggressions to the more pressing risks of physical and sexual violence - more often than not we're ridiculed by men or told we're overreacting. Men, you see, are never overreacting or behaving emotionally when they rail against women's open discussion of violence. Men's feelings on the matter must be respected and deferred to, while women's feelings are painted as imaginary, the workings of a paranoid mind driven by irrational hatred for men and the kind of mental instability which forces people to see things that aren't there - like danger, risk and the reality of one's own life.

When it comes to harassment and violence, our lives and experiences only appear to become real and acceptable when men talk about them. We are told by men what kind of attention we should welcome and what kind we should be afraid of. We are told by men when we are allowed to feel angry about sexism and when we aren't. We are told by men which parts of the world are dangerous for us and which parts are safe. We are chastised for inviting risk when we fight back and we are admonished for courting danger when we don't. When men do bad things to us, other men ask why we engaged with them in the first place, why we spoke to them, why we danced with them, why we had a drink with them, why we went home with them. But when we don't do these things, when we avoid men's gazes, when we ignore their uninvited conversation, when we turn down their offers to 'party' or to 'hang out' and when we then complain of feeling harangued or harassed, we're told off for being mean. Why didn't you just talk to him? Why didn't you just smile back? Why didn't you just shake his hand? He was probably just trying to be nice. Can't men be nice anymore? Why do you f--king women all hate men so much, what did we ever do to you?!

Violence exists on a continuum. Men's violence against women is about entitlement. It's an entitlement which persistently instructs men to objectify women and which, when taken to its logical end point, encourages a proportion of those men to exact punishment when women fight back. This is what happened to Tugce Albayrak when she intervened to defend a 13 year old and a 15 year old girl from being harassed by three men in an enclosed space. She challenged their entitlement to behave towards women exactly as they please, and one of them brutally assaulted her for it.

Now she is dead. And unless we really look at the reasons why - unless we are prepared to truly challenge society to be different, to be braver, to be better, no matter how uncomfortable some of the resulting conversations might make us or how much they might derail the order of things - then her death will be meaningless. The world will go on as it always has. And nothing will change except the faces in the death notices, and the names to whom people offer their silent prayers.

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