It’s just a casual stroll down the street. That’s all it is.
Nothing more, nothing less.
A simple quest to buy milk, or to collect bed linen from the Laundrette’s, with no underlying intentions whatsoever. Walking along the roadside, you lean down to tie up your shoelaces, to adjust the buckle on your knee-high boots.
“Hey, Blondie. Nice tits.” The young men outside the bakery yell after you. “I would.” They turn to their mates and snigger.
They turn to their mates and tell them they want to fuck you.
You would think-or at least, hope-that in this day and age, after years of campaigning and crying outside of parliament, that we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But in a world that has appointed a self-confessed pussy-grabbing maniac as it’s head of state, I can-categorically- announce that we are: and that, as much as it breaks my soul to admit, there is still a place for this discussion within the modern society and, particularly, the current workplace.
I was perhaps ten when I first began to notice that I was gaining attention from adult men; and not in the paternal sense. I always assumed it was normal-and maybe, in terms of commonality, it is. But then, two years later, a few months before my thirteenth birthday, something changed. It wasn’t a terrible experience, thank goodness-it was more of a make you reconsider the foundations of society ordeal.
I remember the day well: I had spent the evening volunteering for my high school open-evening, handing out leaflets and dishing out fake smiles in return for experience that, let’s face it, never really amounts for anything in the real world. On the way home, I’d been complaining to my mum about how much I hated secondary education, how I’d spent the entire evening being ridiculed by my peers and failed by the closed-mindedness of the academic system. We parked the car in the next street, and as we walked down the road towards our house, I saw a man staring at me from his bedroom window whilst, clearly, ahem…masturbating. Still in my school uniform, he wouldn’t take his eyes off me.
Yes, looking back, it is a somewhat amusing tale to tell. And sometimes, in retrospect, I laugh about it. Because that’s what you learn to do.
However, the reality is, at the time, it was deeply unpleasant to experience that form of sexual objectification as a twelve year old. And indeed, even if it may be less traumatic and the victim more likely to have the capability to cope with it, at any age.
So many women, young and old, are told to adjust to the facts of this so called “real world”, as if sexual harassment is a normality. And yet, I shouldn’t have to accept it; and neither should anyone else.
We need to stop critisising women for speaking out, and burdening them with the ludicrous idea that they are somehow sexually dull, a prude, or “frigid” for not conforming to certain pressures and expectations. As a matter of fact-although far from the point-I am all for people having awesome sex and would not consider myself uptight: so long as both parties are able to consent and are up for it, I couldn’t care less.
But it’s when one party is objectified for the use of another that the problem begins.
The reality is, most women experience at least a low level of harassment in their daily lives-the majority of which gets brushed under the carpet and accepted as inevitable. But the truth? As dramatic and overly-hyped as it may seem, this subtle accumulation of seemingly minor incidents are damming to the young women of tomorrow. One case of sexual harassment is wrong-a violation of personal space, both mentally and sometimes physically. And when a society is filled with such “petty” happenings, one thing accumulates: the dawn of a rape culture.
Attention, regardless of gender, can be very flattering and amicable. But explicit, non descreit sexual objectification is not. In fact, it’s one of the reasons my female friends and I are anxious to walk home alone at night. When you’re nearly always of less physical strength than your male counterparts, what some percieve to be a compliment can feel terrifying. A truth somewhat untold: there often lies an expectation of some form of reaction; and that’s intimidating.
And, above all else, being born female shouldn’t automatically mean that you’re destined for a life in which society wholeheartedly sexualises. Yes, I’m a woman. But I am also kind, witty, intelligent and bold. And so is my younger sister, and my younger cousin. They are six and nine.
It’s for them, partially, that I write this.
I want them to inherit a more level world that I never had. Crucially, I want them to grow up to realise that harassment shouldn’t, under any circumstances, be an expected part of life. That they have the right to speak out.
And the right to campaign against it.
I am one voice.
And one voice that invites you-whoever you may be-to stand by me.