When seeing the wildfire of this campaign that’s spread across Facebook in recent days, I couldn’t help but immediately think “of course, me too”. Without question, without thought, because it almost seems obvious to say that I too have experienced some form of sexual harassment, simply due to the fact I have a vagina and present as ‘female’.
Obvious? Yeah, freakin’ obvious.
From a basic catcall, to something far, far, worse, I struggle to think of any women I know who haven’t experienced sexual harassment in one form or another. From my experience, no one is immune to this plague. This isn’t a sickness that only attacks the weak. Confidence and strength of character can only help you so much. From my own experience, these positive characteristics have often made things worse. “You like yourself? You like your body? You can’t possibly have self-esteem, you’re showing it off for me, for my consumption, I am entitled to this because you got your legs/midriff/tits out for me. You deserved what happened to you.” Stay quiet and feel the sickness swell in your stomach, speak up and risk physical harm. “But why didn’t you DO anything?” Because you never believed us. Until now.
“Of course, me too”. But then I stopped and thought about it, and the pain of memories I’d quieted for years reared their ugly heads. Everything I’d learned to live with. Things I’d just pushed deep down beneath the surface, because that’s what happens to women, isn’t it? We should expect this, shouldn’t we? Unwanted comments and gropes from strangers and, even worse, those we called friends. “You want this, don’t you? This is what you like.” When you learn how to shut yourself down until the unpleasantness ends just so you can try to protect your soul because your body has already been taken, you know that something must be wrong.
But I’m done with shutting down, because I’m not alone anymore. So now, I join my sisters in speaking out, for those who can’t.
For those women who don’t make eye contact on public transport anymore ‘just in case’, for those who wear headphones to protect themselves from unwanted conversations, for those who walk home with their keys gripped between their fingers, for those who are too scared to speak up at work/school/university, for those who can’t tell their parents for shame, for those trapped in abusive relationships they can’t escape from, for those who can’t trust anymore, who can’t love anymore, who can’t live anymore.