When I started to write this, I was pretty much hiding out around the corner from my hostel because I didn’t feel safe waiting for the airport bus out the front. Why? Because I’d just had a guy all up in my personal space, forcibly attempting to kiss me, slapping my ass and generally making unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments. Apparently ‘no’ didn’t feature in his vocabulary.
But, it’s all good ‘cos he doesn’t come onto every girl. No, I’m special. I should feel lucky that he’s pressing his face up to mine.
“It’s your eyes”, he says. “And you’ve got a great ass”.
Now, I wish that we had a society where I could simply say
Unfortunately we live in a world where women are still expected to be polite even when being harassed.
I wish when I said “no, your behaviour is not okay”, he would have apologised or simply walked off. But, no is seen as a challenge.
No provokes the why. “But why not?”
No provokes the coaxing. “Cmon, I don’t say this to all the girls”.
No provokes the bargaining. “Just one little kiss on the lips”.
So instead of again saying NO or stabbing him with the knife I was holding (I was in the hostel kitchen at the time), I resorted to laughing off his advances, asking him questions to keep him talking and packing up my food as quick as I could. I even said “sorry, can you step back a bit”. I literally apologised to the guy who was harassing me. That’s messed up.
How is it fair that for women to avoid unwanted advances it’s more effective to laugh, play innocent and be polite? Why is it that saying ‘I’ve got a boyfriend’ is more effective than saying ‘I’m not interested’? Why is it that respecting another man’s ‘property’ is valued more highly than respecting a woman’s wishes?
Why is it that I need to point out that I know not all men behave this way? Of course, I have some absolutely wonderful males in my life who are very decent human beings, but don’t you dare tell me that this kind of behaviour is some how separate from society. That it’s unrelated to the language we use, the gender roles we perpetuate and the blind eye we turn to gender inequality.
Every time we expect anyone speaking out about gender inequality to include a #notallmen clause, we place a higher importance on keeping the status quo and not offending men, than we do on the experiences and feelings of women.
Every time we use ‘girly’, ‘feminine’, ‘woman’ as a put-down, we entrench the sexist views that exist in our male-dominated society.
Every time we make jokes about women ‘asking for it’, we put the onus on women to dress and behave “appropriately” (whatever the fuck that means) to avoid unwanted attention.
Every time we tell women to smile, we re-enforce the idea that women exist to serve men.
Every time we discredit a rape victim, we make it so much harder for people to speak out without fear of judgement or victim-blaming.
Every time we tell ourselves that the toys we give children to play with, the clothes we dress them in, and the way we talk to children doesn’t have anything to do with gender-based violence in society, we ignore the systemic nature of gender inequality.
Every time we compliment little girls on their dress and ask little boys about their toy trucks, we reinforce dangerous stereotypes.
Every time we view gender roles as binary and pre-determined, we ignore the fact that gender roles are a social construct.
And every time we view incidences of sexual harassment and assault as one-off occurrences, we ignore the fact that Australia still has a huge, entrenched, systemic gender equality issue.
So, can we stop doing all this shit already?!
PS. I want to acknowledge that I’m just speaking from my experience as a woman in Australia, but there are lots of other issues facing people of all genders that need to be addressed in order to achieve real gender equality.