Q: If there was a cure for misogyny, should it be mandatory?
Trigger warning: sexual assault, Content warning: sex
(Scroll down for Chapter three)
Chapter one - It’s everywhere
White. Like a blank page. Or fresh snow. Ready for the marking and yearning to be drawn upon. With lines and inscriptions formed like trophy memories, reminding us later of our experiences, akin to the wrinkles on our skin.
I understood. It was clear to me as I floated outside of my body, looking onto the alabaster origins of my life how it came to be. The cries emanating from my 3 months old body as I lay in my buggy, being pushed around the park by my mother, ignored, so that I would give up and go to sleep. It was for my own good, she would say, I’m just teaching you to soothe yourself, be resilient, tough love. Tough shit, more like.
Then, as I was growing up, the frustrations of having to wait in line to feel the sunshine of my mother’s love. It wasn’t her fault, I could see that now. She was constantly in demand…from my older brother, Dad, colleagues, elderly parents, neighbours, other mothers; the list was endless. I knew she loved me but she never had time for me. She appeared to do everything for everyone else, whilst we, the male members of the family, simply watched on. Dad took out the rubbish on Sundays.
Looking down on her now, I wondered how she coped. I never noticed or considered it before. All I remember feeling was loved but overlooked.
The milky whiteness surrounding me suddenly coagulated into an opaque blob trickling down a woman’s neck as she stared at me wantonly. We were now watching my first porn, introduced to me by my brother. Those uncomfortable stirrings of lust mottled with confusion. The forbidden mixed with natural instinct. Was that what men did to women? Is that what my father did to my mother? Sometimes he barked at her in the same way but he always apologised and she didn’t look too affected by it. Sometimes she fought back but her bite was never as sharp. It was at times like these that I thought how much my Dad was becoming like his father and one day, I would be too.
The woman sucked her fingers at me and told me to do it to her. Of course now, standing here with the psychedelic coursing through my veins, I can see that it’s all an illusion, a debased fantasy created by men for the subjugation of women. I was only eleven then.
Like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, I’m taken back to the present day and I see that girl at that party, the one giving me the eye all night, inviting me upstairs to get to know her better. The performance anxiety I felt as we started to fumble down to our underwear and then no. She pushes me away and rejects me. After all that. After overlooking me at school and then suddenly turning the sunshine on me. The warmth of her interest had electrified me, making me lightheaded, robbing me of logic and sensibility. Perhaps it was the alcohol too. I pulled down her pants and started jabbing my fingers inside her, hopefully erotically like I’d seen in numerous films. A thrill passed through my mind as I imagined myself telling the other boys of my conquest. My desperate desire to belong, not overlooked. She tries to push me away and then yields. I now see that she was giving up, ‘lying dead’ to protect herself, but at that time I thought she had wanted it all along, a coquettish game she was playing like the women on the screens. How could I have known?
I opened my eyes and Dr Folami looked down at me. The room I was lying in was white and clinical. What did you learn today, she asked? I knew the answer immediately. This psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy was like a silver bullet to the heart of the issue. Forced upon me as part of the Sexual Harassment and Abuse Bill of 2021, I was on week 6. That girl had reported me and I had no choice but to take part or my university offer would be rescinded.
So Jacob, what did you learn today, she repeated? I took a deep breath. Where to start? The psychedelics had blown my mind. It had allowed me to see things from beyond me, from different sets of eyes, as if I was crawling into other people’s skins and I finally understood. We were all just specks in the universe and I wasn’t at the centre of it all. I suddenly felt serene with that realisation, calm even, knowing that the pressure to be everything to everyone no longer existed.
It’s everywhere, I said. In my house, on the screens, at school…I can’t get away from it. What is, she asked? Sexual bias, I replied. That girl didn’t want it, I see that now but how could I have known? I could feel a lump in my throat forming, tears welling up in my eyes and I tried to push them back, to mask my emotions. Dr Folami nodded, telling me to carry on. I took a deep breath to compose myself. All I ever wanted was to matter, I said, to be someone and…my voice trailed off as the fog set in again. The fatigue after one of these sessions was unbearable. I couldn’t see straight for days, the endless lethargy kept on me until all I could do was give in.
Continue, Dr Folami said, you’re doing well. Was I? Was I doing well? A warm feeling akin to when that girl spoke to me washed over me. Confidence returned as I said, I was just doing what I thought I was meant to. I was just trying to be a man.
Dr Folami stood up, wistfully. You know that we have to continue with these treatments until you see, don’t you?
Something snapped in me. A surge of injustice welled up. Hadn’t I just said that I see she didn’t want it? Hadn’t I put up with these crazy, psychedelic trips six weeks in a row? What are you going to do, I shouted. Force my eyelids open? She reached for her drawer full of syringes. Yes, in a manner, she replied dolefully.
OK, I’m sorry, I shouted. I’m sorry for what I did to her. It was wrong, I can see that now. My whole body was shaking as snot and tears reduced me to a quivering mess. I won’t do it again, I cried. I didn’t know. Finally admitting it was so hard and went against every grain of my masculine psyche. The relief that came with it was intense.
Dr Folami closed the drawer. Congratulations, she said. I can sign your university papers for you now. She reached over to get her pen but stopped and stared right at me. Is that enough for you though, she asked? Really? I could hear her usually calm voice rising slightly. Are you happy to play the victim? That it was all out of your control, that this was all done to you? That you have no agency?
In that split second, I was transported back to being a child again, crying out, being ignored. Helpless.
Don’t you want to do something about it, she asked? She opened up another drawer and pulled out a silver box. Inside was a tiny syringe with an iridescent liquid in it. She held it out to me. Is it enough to see the error of your ways, she continued? What if you could take responsibility for your actions? I stared at her. What it is, I asked? Something a little stronger to help you see better, she replied.
I took a deep breath. The thought of doing another trip overwhelmed me. I had already gotten the green light. Why did I need to bother? How could I take responsibility for my actions when I was just a pawn in this misogynistic world of ours? There were powerful men at every point of power in our society and male-created rules and structures everywhere. What could I do to change that? What was I to do?
Chapter two - Pineapple
White. Like a blank page. Or fresh snow. I was back here again. I stood feeling a mixture of familiarity and apprehension. I’d taken Dr Folami’s challenge. I was no victim. I did want to do something about it. I wasn’t quite sure what…I mean, I wasn’t special. How could I change how things had always been? I was simply a river flowing, changing shape and direction only when the banks guided me so. I couldn’t just break free from my course and go wherever I wanted. All I knew was I didn’t want to turn out like my father.
In the distance I saw a black speck, like a rabbit hole. I was drawn to it. Shiny and viscous, resembling an ink blot on an otherwise perfect blank canvas. I touched it. The cool liquid seeped up my finger, my hand, my arm until it totally engulfed me in darkness.
In the black, I stood helpless, feeling nothing, like an out of body experience, not sure where my hands or feet were, just two eyes floating in the ether. Then I felt a hand caressing my hair, soft lips on mine, tentative, a stirring in my loins and then all my senses tumbling back into me. I was with that girl, that night, that party.
I pulled away. Wait, I said. She looked upset. What’s the matter, she asked? Don’t you want to? My heart felt like it was about to explode. God, I just wanted to keep kissing her but my head was telling me to stop. I, I do, I stuttered but I…
Scenes from my psychedelic therapy trips flashed past me. I now knew what was right and I could see how I could change things. I want to, I really do, I said, but I need to apologise for the way I treated you. It was wrong.
The girl looked at me, confused. Have you had too much to drink? I shook my head. I know I sound crazy, I said, maybe I am but I want to do this differently…from before…from other hook ups. I took a deep breath. I want to make sure that we both want this, I continued. You might change your mind and that’s fine, I’ll somehow cope with standing down the Sergeant but… She burst out laughing. You call your dick, Sergeant, she grinned? No, I blushed, I’ve never done that before. I’m nervous. All I’m saying is…to make sure…that it’s consensual…like if we had a safe word…like…pineapple. Yeah, pineapple. If you ever want to stop, you just say it. OK? I could feel the sweat trickling down my forehead. That’s attractive, I thought. At this rate, my cock blocker was going to be me and not a silly fruit. Smiling, she stroked my sweaty hair out of my eyes. That sounds good, she said, leaning in for a kiss. We made out. We didn’t go any further but it was perfect. No pressure. No pineapples.
I opened my eyes and Dr Folami was looking down at me. How was it, she asked? Amazing, I said. As soon as I said it, I didn’t feel quite so great. I leant over the side of the chair and puked my guts out. There was a bowl as if she knew that was going to happen. You were taking your time in there, she said. I was worried for a second that I wasn’t going to get you back. I didn’t want to leave, I replied grinning. Well, go home now, she said and report back what you see.
As I walked home, I kept wondering what she meant by her cryptic order. Report back what you see. What did she mean? It wasn’t until I reached my doorstep that it became clear. The girl from the party was waiting for me. Amelia. What are you doing here, I asked, suspiciously. I came to see you, she blushed, after the other night. I wanted to see if you wanted to…er, hang out again? My mind blew. What did this mean? Was I still high? Wait, I said, getting my phone out. She looked upset. I’m…I’m sorry, I stammered, I just need to check something. I searched through my emails and calendar for records of my misdemeanour notification and hearings. Nothing. I googled my father’s name. No open letter to the press, furious that his son had been unfairly made an example of to justify the new Sexual Harassment Bill. How was this possible? Could it be that my actions in that trip had somehow changed my reality? Was I in a parallel universe where I had atoned, corrected my past and set myself on a new path of life?
I suddenly felt sick. I took Amelia’s number, promised to call her and then went to lie down. As soon as the post-psychedelic fatigue had subsided, I went to see Dr Folami. It’s incredible, I said, bursting in with excitement. Let me do it again, there’s so much more that I need to correct. In fact, everyone needs to take the trip, make them see, make them understand that it doesn’t have to be this way. Those male-centric ways can be changed. If only we come together to do it. I mean, I can do my best and change as much as possible but the problem is so massive, so ubiquitous that my best efforts alone wouldn’t be enough. I grabbed Dr Folami’s hands and looked right into her eyes. We have a cure, I said, we just need everyone to play their part.
Dr Folami gently pulled away. Jacob, she said, I’m so pleased that you can now see but we can’t just give it to everyone. Not all have good intentions like you. Can you imagine what would happen if this got into the wrong hands? We have to do it carefully, slowly, vetting through the psychedelic-assisted therapy programme. You see that, don’t you?
I nodded but inside I was screaming no! We can’t take it slow. Society was fucked and we needed to open peoples’ eyes. Now! I turned to Dr Folami. I could see that her mind was fixed. Do you have any more of those anti-nausea meds that you gave me last time, I asked? I knew she had to leave the room to get them. I knew it was wrong as I opened her drawer. I knew that I shouldn’t take it but I told myself I was doing it for the greater good. I slipped the silver box into my bag and left as she came back in, thanking her for the pills she handed to me.
I waited until after dinner when my Dad usually had his whisky. I hoped the alcohol would mask any taste that the psychedelic may have. My father needed correcting, his vision of the world adjusting, if only to release my mother from her burdens. Selfishly I hoped that she would then have more time for me.
He ‘fell asleep’ on the sofa immediately. Nothing remarkable, in fact customary after a long day at the office. My mother was working on her laptop in the kitchen. He started off quietly, looking peaceful in his slumber as I watched on. I was intrigued by how similar we looked. We had the same cheek bones. Even the same ears. My mother called out to Dad to see if she could get him anything. In an oddly sweet voice. Strange. She never sounded this courteous to him. I called back that he was sleeping and she thanked me for letting her know. Even stranger.
Suddenly Dad’s eyes rolled vigorously behind his eye lids as he starting thrashing around. His body jolted and he let out a loud, roar-like shout. My mother rushed in to see what the matter was. She looked different to usual, more coiffed, more made up, even wearing a dress. I’d never seen her like this. Before I could say anything, the walls and ceilings started crumbling. My mother screamed and gripped on to me. I needed to call Dr Folami. ASAP.
What have you done, Dr Folami shouted at me down the phone. What did you do with it, she demanded. I directed the phone’s camera on my convulsing Dad. Is that your father, she asked? I nodded. How much did you give him? All of it, I mumbled, suddenly realising that I hadn’t thought about dosage. Shit. What had I done?
I knew it. I knew something was wrong, she said. Women around me are behaving so oddly. Wait, is your mother ok, she asked? I turned the camera on my mother. She was trying to tidy up the chaos that was the living room. Oh Jesus, I assume she’s not normally like that, asked Dr Folami. I shook my head. Your father is changing back the order of things, putting back our progress, she said. I gave you a drop and look what that allowed you to do. You gave him the whole damn thing! He may not realise what he’s doing but just imagining how he would like the world to be is enough to alter the path of reality.
I couldn’t believe it but my father was reversing us into the middle ages. What had I done?
I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault, I cried. I didn’t think. How can we stop him? I felt sick. Dr Folami was silent. What can I do, I asked again in desperation. We need to pull him out immediately, she said. You’re at the epicentre but the effects are already seeping out. I’m coming over right now but Jacob...her voice trailed off. She took a deep breath. If we pull him out mid-trip, he’ll never be the same again.
My heart stopped. My mother started crying next to me. I saw the choice ahead of me. Let the world slip further back into misogyny or let my father fall into a world of psychosis. What was I to do?
Chapter three - No longer silent
Black. In total darkness. No chink of light to guide me. My eyes trying to adjust to the gloom. No luck. I could feel my ears widening, trying to capture any sound that might help me navigate out of this quagmire but all I could hear was the thumping of my heart. I was lost.
That’s how I felt as Dr Folami tried to pull my Dad out of his psychedelic trip, trying to stop him from further regressing our sexually biased world. I had made the decision of agreeing to extract him from his misogynistic trip, aware that he would most likely be left a damaged man. But what else could I have done? He was destroying the lives of women, simply to save his pride and comfort.
Something was wrong. I could see it in Dr Folami’s face as she administered a second dose of the counteractive drug. He should be awake by now but he lay motionless. Her silence and furrowed brow deepened my anxiety. She took his pulse and pulled out another syringe. What’s that, I panicked. Is he going to be alright? Adrenaline, she said as she plunged it into him. All of a sudden, his eyes fluttered open. He stared straight at me.
Dad, I cried, thank God you’re ok. Can you hear me? Can you see me? I’m here, Dad, I’m here. I squeezed his hand. No response. He continued to stare ahead. Dr Folami took over. Mr Pearson, she said. Can you hear us? She flashed a light in his eye. His pupils dilated. They started moving around, as if trying to get their bearings. Dad, I tried again but nothing. No response. The only things that moved were his eyes.
Dr Folami checked her phone. Damn, she responded, it’s worse than I thought. What, I asked? She handed it to me. ‘Number of women in senior management’ showed up as a percentage on her screen, rolling down like a countdown, currently on 26%.
What does that mean, I asked? I could feel my heart picking up pace. Dr Folami looked despondent. It’s still happening, she said. He’s still changing back progress. We’re still heading for the middle ages. How, I asked? He’s awake. Shouldn’t that mean that it’s over? She shook her head. He’s locked-in, she explained. Lucid but can’t communicate, except for his eyes. His mind is still active, still altering reality.
We need to make him see then, I exclaimed. We need to make him realise that he’s hurting people. Let him experience it, like I did, let him do the original trips that were part of my therapy. Dr Folami sighed. He’s had too much, I can’t inject him with any more psychedelics. It would break him. Her disheartened look angered me. We can’t just give up, I shouted. There must be something we can do. You’re a doctor, you must be able to fix this! She looked away. What is it, I yelled. What can we do?
Turn him off, she said solemnly. That’s the only solution. She stood up and walked over to the window. I couldn’t see her face but her fists were clenched. Her voice trembled. We need to stop him so he doesn’t do any more damage, she said. We can’t undo the devastation that he’s caused but we can stop it getting worse. We may have lost decades of progress. The thought of women having to endure all that again…I could hear angry tears welling up inside her. She brushed them aside.
Tears were brimming within me too. He might be a dick but he was my father. We couldn’t just ‘turn him off’ as if he was an inconsequential computer. I had somehow convinced myself that pulling him out for the greater good was the right thing to do and that I could help him through whatever resulted…but to lose him completely. It was unfathomable.
We need to make him see, I repeated. If we can’t do it within altered reality, we’ll have to do it in reality. He can hear and understand us, right? We’ll show him the pain that he’s caused, what it feels like to be woman and that equality doesn’t mean emasculation. We’ll open his eyes to see things that he might not have been able to see before. We’ll show him that there’s nothing to fear. That change is good. He’s a trapped audience. We’ll show him until he sees.
So we took it in turns talking to him about sexual bias in society; reading sexual harassment and abuse testimonies of school children from Everyone’s Invited Instagram Stories and the daily strifes of women in Everyday Sexism Project. Of rape culture. Of the degradation of women in porn. The damaging effects of ‘male banter’. That no means no. Whenever, wherever. Of always being on edge. Feeling unsafe on the streets. From cat calls, groping, unwanted attention. How to handle unwanted attention. In fact, why do women have to handle unwanted attention? Wardrobe choices to limit attention. Why do women have to consider what they are wearing? Not going for a run after dark. Why can’t women go for a run whenever they wanted? Inequality within households and the work place. How boys shouldn’t have to be aggressive or hide feelings to be ‘male’. It was like talking to a young child.
Dr Folami checked her phone again. The number of women in senior management was now at 12% and still going down. Why hadn’t my father stopped? Why couldn’t he see?
We’re running out of time, said Dr Folami. We can’t wait any longer. There’s nothing left but…
Wait, I shouted! He’s blinking, he’s trying to tell us something. A flurry of eye movement and rapid flickering of eye lids ensued as my father tried to communicate. A lone tear trickled down his face and collected in the crevice of his nose. He finally saw. I grabbed Dr Folami’s phone. We were back up at 29%! The crumbled walls of my living room started to return to their original positions. My mother who had been cowering in a corner stood up and came over to give me a hug. Dr Folami slumped down on a chair. It was over.
We don’t talk enough, I spoke to camera on my Instagram Live, a week later. As a family. As a society. We shy away from uncomfortable subjects and allow screens to teach us our values. Values placed upon us by men throughout history. Men at every point of power in order to maintain the status quo. Sexual bias is everywhere. I never saw it before but now I see. We need to inform and educate. The psychedelic therapies may have been decommissioned but I’ll keep campaigning until everyone sees. There’s no silver bullet after all.
I smiled to myself and watched my post get overwhelming likes. My blank page was no longer blank. It was now full of markings and inscriptions that represented my growth as a man. Reminding me that I was making a difference. I was no longer silent. No longer complicit. No longer a pawn. I was now a Queen.
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📷: Daniele Levis Pelusi