Only 4 in 10? We should speak up about harassment
A YouGov survey commissioned by the End Violence Against Woman Coalition (EVAW) this week has found that four in 10 women report experiencing sexual harassment in public spaces over the last year. Some of you may have read that figure and been shocked. I was shocked, too – shocked that it was so low.
I don’t have to think back very far to my last experience; it was the day before yesterday. I was walking from Leytonstone tube station to my boyfriend’s house – a 10 minute walk – when a man approached me. He started with the usual preamble: “How are you doing, sexy? Are you having a good night? I think you’re sexy” etc. I, too, stuck to standard procedure: avoided eye-contact, answered carefully and monosyllabically so as not to encourage him but also not enrage him by refusal to engage. He asked him where I was going; I replied truthfully, thinking this might get rid of him (perhaps my boyfriend is 6 foot tall and burly, and will beat him up). Not so! He asked for my number; I refused. He asked for my name; I refused. Apparently he wanted to Facebook me because he thought I was sexy. I asked him to leave me alone.
“Why you being like this, girl? Why you being like this with me?” I changed direction abruptly and ducked down a side-street, leaving him on the main road, which I thought had worked – that is, until I heard running footsteps behind me a few minutes later, and he was back. “Why you being like this? Come on, girl, give me your Facebook. I think you’re sexy.”
Eventually I got rid of him by confronting him face-to-face and demanding to know why he thought it was acceptable to harass and intimidate women in the street. I told him he was making me feel upset and frightened. He backed off. This was a new tactic; I’m normally too afraid to confront, in case I anger them and suffer the consequences. This time it worked; next time I might not be so lucky.
This might seem like an extreme or unusual case. It isn’t. When I mentioned it on my Twitter feed, the gendered nature of the responses is stark. The men express shock, or horror, and protest that only a minority of men behave in this way (they’re quite correct, and most of the men I choose to associate with would never dream of acting like this). The women, however, express solidarity and tired resignation, telling me about the last time that they were harassed on the street. Because the truth is, almost all of them have been.
I suspect that the actual number of women sexually harassed on the streets is much, much higher than four in 10. The problem is in the reporting. Women are acclimatised to the more minor offenses of verbal harassment; we see them as everyday, ordinary, commonplace. Nothing but ambient background noise.There’s also a social embarrassment to admitting to the more minor cases; a sort of humble-bragging, “Oh, poor me, a stranger on the street found me attractive”. But we shouldn’t have to feel like that.
We shouldn’t have to feel afraid whenever we walk on the street after dark, and we shouldn’t see this everyday misogyny as something that’s acceptable and normalised. I’ve started tweeting every time it happens to me, to raise awareness that this is happening to women every single day, and I’d encourage other women to do the same. Women need to know that we shouldn’t see sexual harassment as just something our gender have to put up with, a fact of life, along with periods and childbirth. Men need to know that this happens all the time, and that it won’t and shouldn’t be tolerated.
So, a question to the man who thought that chasing me down the street was in any way ok: Why are you being like this?Tagged in: End Violence Against Woman, feminism, sexual harassment, women, yougov
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