Sexual harassment has been a constant in my adult life, but if I’m being honest, it didn’t start with adulthood. As a child I would walk home from school along a busy street, and men would hang out of their cars as they drove by, wolfing obscenities at me. I was 14. I was still colouring in my colouring books and wearing fleece tops with kittens on them.
I wasn’t naive however. That same year, I was walking home from the mall, after having seen a movie with a friend, and a car literally pulled over to the sidewalk as I passed. The man behind the wheel called me over. I thought he was going to ask me for directions, but when it become obvious he was making sexual advances toward me, I yelled at him, loud enough for others to hear, “I’M FOURTEEN!” Heads turned and people took notice. He quickly screeched off down the street.
Women are never naive about this sort of thing. It is conditioned in us from an early age, as the bombardment comes from all corners of our existence. We are subjected to daily, constant dehumanization from spineless, fractional men who think obscene sexual advances are some kind of compliment. They think we don’t understand the game, but of course we do. We know that we are seen in a very simple duality – we are both sexual objects, and also a source of ridicule. If a guy says something sexually obscene to me as I pass, and I respond favourably, then he’s pleased. If I respond with horror, then he is equally pleased. In either situation, he gets what he wants: if he gets my number, his friends are impressed. If he ridicules me, his friends are impressed. He robs me of my personhood and inclusion in society to his benefit. Because I am not a human, I am Sport.
The men that have dehumanized me in my life, and there have been many, will never understand what it is like not to be considered a human being in society. To not be allowed to enter discourse, as I am not part of the conversation. I am seen as a one-dimensional character making a cameo in their movie, and they are the stars.
Many of my blog & Twitter followers know that I am a constant traveller and backpacker, and have been since 2005. I have hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I’ve watched the sun rise at Angkor Wat, I’ve ridden camels and elephants in India, I’ve bungee-jumped and whitewater-rafted in Whistler, and I’ve been to every single European country. And although my travel bucket list still has so many other countries to cross off, I know I will probably never be able to go alone. Because I’m afraid. Women travelling alone in areas like Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America are subjected to a greater increase in violence, or even just cultural expectations that male travellers do not face.
I am afraid to visit the hanging gardens of Babylon. I am afraid to dune-buggy across Salar de Uyuni. I am afraid to wander through the treasury of Petra. I am afraid to visit the Pyramids of Giza.
Right now there are a chorus of people reading this, and spouting off platitudes like “Conquer your fears! Don’t let them hold you back!” Blah blah fucking blah. They have no idea what they’re talking about, and it’s all white noise to me.
I am afraid. I am angry. I am screaming into a void that wasn’t made with me in mind.
We are terrified to walk home alone at night with our keys in our hand (makeshift self-defence weapon). We hate being told to smile (If I smile, will that make you feel better about your pathetic life?). We hate the hissing noises you make under your breath and the whistles (whistles are for dogs, hissing is for cats. I am neither, fucktard). We hate being honked at (What are we supposed to do, run after the car and say “Thanks for noticing!”). We hate any and all variations of “Hey sexy, you look nice” spoken in a voice reserved for Buffalo Bill. (YOU NEED TO BACK THE FUCK UP.)
I AM TIRED of being told that if I didn’t want comments, I shouldn’t have worn that shirt, or skirt, (fill in the item of clothing here).
I AM TIRED of being asked, “Well how am I supposed to hit on a girl then?”
I AM TIRED of being told, “Some girls like being spoken to like that!”
I AM TIRED of being asked what I was wearing when I was sexually harassed, as if that IN ANY WAY IS A VALID EXPLANATION OR CAUSE.
But most of all, I AM TIRED of being afraid all the time. When I see a man or group of men coming, I am so petrified to make eye contact or seem in any way pleasing to the eye. I keep my eyes lowered as they pass, and have even taken to making weird facial expressions (an ugly yawn, a scrunched up face).
I am not out in public for your amusement. I didn’t get dressed with you in mind, nor with the goal of garnering your favour, attention, or comments. Just because I am out in public doesn’t mean by body is public property. Nor does it mean my body is for public consumption. That’s great that you wanna bang me, or whatever (lucky me!), but keep your fucking desires off of my body.