A few days ago I found this article that covers the launch of a website to track incidents of sexual harassment in Vancouver, CA. The site is called Hollaback! and it’s already been operating in multiple cities around the world.
After I read the story, I took a glance at the comments people were leaving, and I couldn’t help to feel annoyed by many of them. I felt utterly disappointed when I read things like “these news are not worth publishing”, “women are overreacting”, “some women should feel lucky that someone took the time to say hi or thought they were pretty”, etc.
To start talking about my opinion on the subject, let me say that sexual harassment can happen to anybody, not just women. That said, I can only speak about my own experiences in this world as a woman, so I’ll mainly focus on what I’ve encountered as such.
I think it’s really easy to dismiss sexual harassment when you haven’t experienced it, but if you speak to a woman who has, you will absolutely start to understand what this is all about and why it’s so important to address it.
My experience with sexual harassment started when I was 12 years old, and since then I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been through some form of it. I come from a country where, unfortunately, women’s rights are violated every single day, and I will say that most of the harassment experiences I’ve had, occurred in Mexico. However, one of the worst happened in Canada, a country where I never expected that to happen.
I was walking to work one morning when a man asked me for directions, so I pointed him at the street he was looking for. After that, he asked me if I was married, I said yes, and then he proceeded to tell me what he would “do” to me if he were my husband. At that point I started walking away from him but he continued to walk alongside me for what it felt like the longest block in the world while saying the nastiest, most insulting, and violent things I’ve ever heard in my life.
When I finally got to work I felt like crying, I was shaking and filled with adrenaline. I was shocked and upset, reliving all the things he said, and thinking of all the things I wish I had said but felt unsafe to say them– what if I’d said something that made him react violently and tried to attack me?
I felt so ashamed and angry that I even wanted to change the clothes I was wearing, and that was when it hit me: Daniela, this was not your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong.
To me it’s really clear that smiling, saying hello, or winking at someone is not sexual harassment, but any action or words that objectify or dehumanize a person to make them a mere source of someone else’s sexual pleasure is.
Fortunately, the reactions when I tell my history with sexual harassment are mostly sympathetic and positive, however I still get the “you should be flattered” comments that make my blood boil. I’ve never felt flattered when someone gropes me or refers to me as a sexual object, and I honestly don’t know one single woman who enjoys being harassed. Not one.
On top of this, I frequently encounter posts on my Facebook timeline on how to prevent sexual harassment and rape that list “tips” such as: don’t dress provocatively, avoid walking alone at night, don’t show signs of weakness and walk with confidence, carry an umbrella, keep your keys between your fingers, etc.
While I understand people who post them are well-intended, I find these lists deeply disturbing and not only insulting to women, but diminishing of men. The fact that we, as a society, assume that all men could be potential aggressors, ticking bombs whose trigger is a mini skirt is just wrong. And I have the fortune to have enough loving, decent, caring men in my life to know this is not true.
Any effective message that tries to create awareness on sexual violence should say “Don’t assault, don’t rape”, and never “don’t get assaulted, don’t get raped”. It should leave the responsibility on the aggressors, and never blame the victims.
This post feels particularly relevant to me in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara shootings and the #YesAllWomen hashtag that was trending this past weekend, and here’s why:
A society without gender equality is unjust to everybody, regardless of their gender. This truly affects and concerns us all, it’s the root of so many problems that affect our health and well-being, and it should not be dismissed or minimized.