A couple of months back, I was walking with my two male friends when some random guy tried to get my attention in a not so polite manner. What stands out for me about this situation is that my guy friends were more offended than I was. Let that sink in. Here is a situation that potentially could have led to sexual harassment and what stuck with me is that my guy friends were offended more than I was. I should have been more offended. But you know why I wasn’t, because I am acutely aware that things could have been worse. Part of me expected things to be worse. And that right there is the reality for most if not all women. Ask any female and they will tell you that every time they pass a group of men, they expect to be cat-called, or for someone to say something sexually offensive or even for someone to grab them. The women who will counter this are the ones who haven’t realized that whatever happened to them actually qualifies as sexual harassment. And that is the saddest thing; sexual harassment is so commonplace, sometimes our brains forget to register it as offensive. Now tell me that isn’t messed up.
But you know what is worse than being sexually harassed? Actually, nothing is worse than that. Being shushed when you speak up about it however does add salt to injury. Society has numerous ways of saying shut up when you try to tell your story. People will tell you things like, “it was all in good fun” or “it was just harmless cat-calling” or “you should be grateful that nothing serious happened.” In a nutshell, what we are basically saying is your violation doesn’t really matter as long as someone got a good laugh out of it. Laughter after all is good for the soul. What you need to do is shut up and feel grateful that some male was merciful enough to not exercise his privilege to make you feel uncomfortable and unsafe to its full extent. I could take all day exploring these responses and their various implications but I want to focus on the three rebuttals that I find most infuriating.
“Boys get harassed too.” While this is a true statement, contextually speaking, it is an insult. So yes, boys get raped, boys are victims of gender-based violence, boys undergo forced genital mutilation, but why is this only an argument when I am talking about women issues? This is the equivalent of the hashtag #alllivesmatter only after #blacklivesmatter has been generated. You get why that is offensive, right? Why must we use the plight of men to water down female suffering? Does female suffering not matter? Is it not relevant? Is female suffering only valid when it is compared to men’s? Boys get harassed is a complete statement. It should never be used as a justification or a distraction. And you know what the worst part is? How the people who wave this statement around don’t really care about sexual crimes against men. They just use it to shut up women. Because even when a boy gets raped, it is mostly women who are up in arms against it. Most men just brush it off. I once heard a guy ask how a boy could get raped by a woman. Why didn’t he overpower her and rape her instead? Now, I am not defending this woman rapist but that right there is an indication of how rare sexual crimes against men are. So much so, when it happens, it’s laughable. It only serves to assert this mindset that sexual harassment is something that should happen to women only. Well no, sexual harassment should happen to no one. So yes, boys get harassed too, but the conversation is currently about it happening to most if not all women. So dear guy who has never experienced it, do not make it about you.
“What were you wearing?” For starters, it doesn’t matter what she was wearing. The amount of clothes on someone’s skin is no justification for sexual harassment. I could walk around naked and no one should make a comment. There is no such thing as asking for it. No one ever asked to be raped. No one ever asked for sexual objectification. No one ever asked to be made to feel unsafe. And when I say it doesn’t matter, I mean it literally.Because you could be wearing the most conservative clothes and it wouldn’t help a thing. Because the men who sexually harass women do it simply because they can, because they grew up in a society that mistreats women. They have no reason, they are not doing it because you are dressed seductively, they are not doing it because they like you but know they don’t stand a chance. They do it because they are men and inherently have privilege to dominate women, and say whatever they feel like and there is not a damn thing you as a woman will do about it. So no, it doesn’t matter what you were wearing. As millions of women all over the world have hard to find out, wearing a longer skirt never decreased your chances of getting raped. As a matter of fact it doesn’t matter how old you are. As long as you are born female, some male somewhere has earned the right to be sexually inappropriate with you. And that is not fair, it is not right. No one has a say on their gender anymore than they have a say on getting cat-called. Society needs to stop making women feel responsible, guilty for being sexually harassed.
“Stop making a fuss about it.” This to me is a way of saying that while society acknowledges there is a problem, they do not want to deal with it. Yes, we know that someone disrespected you, but could you please shut up so that we don’t have think about it and all the ways knowingly or not, we have perpetrated male privilege and enhanced this cycle of gender based violence. I remember the first time i was sexually harassed(or rather the first time I acknowledged it as such.)It was a crowd of people, waiting to board a bus. Amidst all the pushing and shoving, this guy came up to me and pressed against my chest in the most deliberately disgusting manner I could possibly imagine. I wanted to brush it off as an accident but then I turned and he was grinning as if to re-affirm that he did it on purpose. I remember I was so embarrassed and offended and quite hurt(physically and emotionally) even after I was seated inside the bus I had to cover my face as I was fighting back tears. Some girl who had seen it happen tried to make me feel better by telling me not to be so offended because the guy probably only did it because he thinks I’m hot. Today if you ask me what the worst part of this encounter was, I will tell you it was what this girl said. I understand that she said it in good faith, but when you think about it, it is almost as if she was saying that sexual harassment is a complement, it is something that validates you, it is something you aspire to. Well, it isn’t. It is wrong and it is hurtful.
My whole point is, sexual harassment is something that happens to women on a daily basis. So do not let anyone shut you up, prevent you from telling your story. When it happens to you(notice I didn’t say if), you make a fuss; scream, kick, yell, whatever you do to get attention on the matter. Because getting enough attention is the first step in eradicating this, the first step in reclaiming our dignity as women. Do not let some guy who doesn’t know shit about being sexually harassed stop us from getting there.