A funny thing happened this week. In light of the Weinstein allegations, hundreds of thousands of people used #MeToo to share their experiences of sexual harassment and highlight how widespread the issue is. It has been eye-opening.
I’ve seen friends, family, and those I admire in the public eye post their stories. I’m fortunate that I don’t have one of these stories.
I don’t have a story about serious sexual harassment – and stupidly, that does make me feel fortunate. No one should have to feel ‘lucky’ to have not been harassed. Sadly, like all too many women I know, I’ve had some of my own intimidating experiences with men I don’t know.
To be clear, sharing these is in no way intended to ‘upstage’ or ‘compete with’ those who have dealt with serious sexual harassment. I’m simply attempting to illustrate the point:
– A man followed me around a supermarket, calling after me “Come here, beautiful!”. It was after work on a weekday.
– A man moved to sit next to me on the bus home. We were the only ones. I pressed the button at my stop and he followed me off, despite telling me earlier his stop was not for some time yet. I had to talk to the bus driver to insist he get back on the bus. I called my male friend as I walked home, frightened.
– I went out for a run. A man started shouting angrily at me, telling me he felt sorry for me. “He DUMPED you didn’t he?! Something wrong with you!”. It was 10am on a Sunday. I’d only just left my house.
These have all happened in the last few months. No, none of them are ‘serious’. Yes, all of them made me feel intimidated.
…even though I shouldn’t have to:
No, I’m not saying I get offended when/if a stranger tries to ‘flirt’ with me (I’ve seen this argument too often online). I will, however, be offended if he:
-touches me without my permission or invitation
– reacts aggressively when I politely reject his advances
– implies there’s something wrong with me for not reciprocating
– only leaves me alone when I say I have a boyfriend.
It’s a simple matter of respect. I don’t do this to men I don’t know (or those I do!).The fact is, this intimidation, assertion of power, whatever you want to call it, is scary. It affects the way you life your life. Where you choose to park your car. Which way you walk home. What times you leave your house. Which stores you shop in.
And, really, that’s absolutely fucking out of order isn’t it?
The issues around sexual abuse/harassment
1. Emphasis on victims
I’d like to preface this section with a quote from this Vice article, which offers a different perspective on the #MeToo campaign:
“I understand there is solace for some people in the solidarity of this campaign, in making their experiences public, and I of course don’t begrudge them it, but it seems grotesque to me to lay the burden of representation on women, that we are tasked with performing our pain so often.”
Just think about that for a second.
There is a LOT of emphasis on victimhood, but not on the perpetrators. Plenty of people would never admit to sexually assaulting someone. I can only think that this is because it’s, you know, a crime as well as making you a shitty person. Disturbingly, it could also be because they don’t know what counts as sexual harassment.
Citizen’s Advice offers the following definition:
Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:
– violates your dignity
– makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
– creates a hostile or offensive environment
You don’t need to have previously objected to someone’s behaviour for it to be considered unwanted.
2. ‘Everyday’ discourse
The author of the Vice article makes an interesting observation about rape jokes. Objecting to one can see you dubbed a ‘sour feminazi’. That is, until you choose to share that you were sexually abused, then you’re a fragile flower.
I do not – cannot – understand why anyone should need to justify why they don’t find a ‘joke’ funny. I don’t like ‘dead baby’ jokes. I don’t like Holocaust jokes. I don’t like rape jokes. Why doesn’t matter, it’s just not my thing.
Don’t like shitty puns or wordplay? You’re probably not gonna get on with me either. It’s cool. I’m not going to prod you until you’re forced to say, “Well puns are a legitimately terrifying problem and one of my friends got hurt by one, so that’s why I don’t like them.”
See how silly that is?
3. The culture of victim blaming
If your first thought is ‘Well, they must have done something, people don’t just harass someone’, you need to check yourself.
Yes. Yes, they do. In none of the above situations outlined at the start of this post did I do anything that invited that behaviour from those men. Shit man, how DARE I have the audacity to think I could shop/go for a run/take the bus without a man intimidating me?
Never 👏 asking 👏 for 👏 it 👏.
I appreciate the readers of this blog aren’t all women. I know that not all women I know have been sexually harassed. I know men get sexually harassed, too.
The point is, all of us need to be educated on these issues. Know what constitutes sexual harassment, call someone out if they’re acting inappropriately, and talk to your friends – you’d be surprised at what stories they might have.
Ask yourself: what small thing might you be able to do? What can you do when your friend comes forward and says something degrading and awful happened to them?
And also, check out the #HowIWillChange movement #MeToo has inspired, because that’s marginally more uplifting 🙌