Note: I care a great deal about any form of harassment, discrimination, and abuse, including harassment against men and transgendered people. For the sake of this post and in light of the recent news and movements, I’m in particular addressing the plight of women, and the action we need by men.
Today, all over the Internet are women (and some men) who have bravely come out to say Me Too – a viral movement to shine a light on just how many women we know and love have experienced some form of sexual harassment.
As a loud and proud feminist, I have never been shy about discussing these issues. They’re not comfortable, but they’re necessary to publicly discuss and using the platforms I have, I have always been vocal about the rights and safety of women.
The #MeToo movement comes after a particularly busy week in my young female life, which makes it hit home, hard. Harder than usual.
Last Tuesday while waiting for my husband Martin on a busy street with plenty of lights and people, I was circled slowly by a man who then sidled up to me to start a conversation. I wasn’t threatened, but I was annoyed and uncomfortable, of course. As he stood talking, leaning in closer and waiting for me to shake his hand, all I could think of was how hard I had to force myself to not shake his hand in return. It’s been so firmly instilled in us: even when you’re being harassed, even when you’re uncomfortable and intimidated, you have to be polite. That’s what nice girls do.
Now in the last few months of my 20s, I’m done with being a nice girl. I don’t have time to play nice with assholes. I didn’t shake his hand and he eventually trudged away, and I privately congratulated myself on this little victory: that I managed to not shake the hand of a man who was making me uncomfortable. Baby steps and small victories.
The next day, I was with Martin at a supermarket. On the way out, I noticed a man staring at me, head to toe, the kind of stare that strips you in an incredibly disconcerting way. Feeling unafraid because while it was late, I wasn’t alone, I stared the fool down as he continued to mentally strip me.
As our paths crossed, he said, “….sex?”
“Yeah sure, your place or mine?” is not at all what I said, instead laughing, hard, though on hindsight I can’t say if it’s because I thought it was funny or as a reflex action in the face of unease. That’s another thing that we women do when afraid or uncomfortable: we (fearfully and uncomfortably) laugh.
Just a day later, more supermarket adventures presented themselves, this time in the form of two men giving me all the creepy stares a girl could
ask for violently object to, singing loudly with lyrics along the lines of “beautiful girl”.
Again, my husband was with me – but in both supermarket occasions, he was a couple of feet away. Fair game as long as you don’t have a man actually draped over your shoulders, right? Not right. Not right at all.
I thought the week’s harassment ended here. I posted about this on Facebook, and I eagerly looked forward to the support of family and friends, and another fresh week ahead, removed from all this bullshit and the fear, intimidation and unsettlement it brings.
Enter a surprise special guest: Saturday night, the fourth day in a week. A man on the subway platform tightly grabbed my wrist and yanked me towards him. I cried out in surprise, and Martin spun around, much to the horror of my assailant who had thought I was alone. He ran like the wind and by the time we marched over with the station guards in tow, he’d slipped away.
What We Can Do
Now, I’ve had it up to here (here being as high up as you can imagine) and I am exhausted after a week where four times, I was harassed and attacked for no reason other than the fact that I was a young woman, and one presumed to be alone. Walking down a busy street, shopping in a supermarket, taking the subway, anywhere at all. This is not something that happens once or twice to one or two females. This is something that happens constantly, consistently, around the world, to women everywhere.
Another harsh reality: My week, while it was a really awful week, is not the worst week a woman could have.
There are women who fight back hard, like this woman who took selfies with her street harassers, or this woman who engaged her cat-callers in conversation to understand what all this aggression was about.
There are also many situations where safety is the first and often the only thing to be considered. There isn’t always a nearby husband, boyfriend, friend or security guard to scare off the harasser and sometimes, all you can think of is how to get home safely. Safety always has to be the first priority, and this is something I’ve had to fiercely teach myself.
There’s a lot of feminist rage in me, and after years of going for martial arts classes and countless boot camps, I have to consistently tell myself that as a 5ft3 (160cm) female, I’m not going to win a fight against most (if not all) men if it gets physical. (Truth: my heart broke a little as I typed that. I wish with all my might that it wasn’t true, but it is, and it f*cking sucks, but this truth is more important than the fact that it sucks.)
But what we can do is keep talking about it. Don’t let #MeToo be a fad. Sure, it’s uncomfortable to keep talking about things like this – but if we continue to make it unavoidable, it is a problem that becomes increasingly difficult to ignore.
Which brings me to my next point.
Men, We Need You
Let me say that again.
Men? WE NEED YOU.
If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming you’re not a #notallmen ‘activist’ – (If you are, it is implied, always, that obviously not all men and also read this). You are key to the safety and well-being of women everywhere, both physically and socially. Another thing it pains me to think about is that your voice as a man is worth a whole lot – often a whole lot more than a woman’s.
But that’s how it is, at least for now.
Men, we need you to speak up. Don’t let the only voices today be women speaking up with our countless examples of harassment and abuse. Be the voice that says I will not stand by as this happens to women all over the world. Be the voice that says, not if I can do anything about it.
Think about the fact that while you’re picking up milk a the supermarket or running for the bus, it’s highly unlikely that you’re fearing for your safety just by existing. Women don’t always have that privilege.
Use your privilege for good, and be the voice that this movement needs.
We need you, today and always, on the streets and on the internet, so much more than you know.