Today I watched a video of a 22-year-old woman being smacked in the face by a stranger after she briefly reproached him for sexually harassing her and it made me feel so exhausted.
I’m tired, guys. Really tired. And I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. It’s impossible not to when you’re a woman and you read, watch and experience sexual harassment every single day.
Last night, as I was coming back home in Paris, I walked past a man who sexually/verbally harassed me. He wasn’t the first one and I can’t accept being humiliated like that, so I replied “shut up”. He then threw an ashtray at me, before rushing back to punch me, in the middle of the street, in front of dozens of people.
– Marie Laguerre
This is a subject I’ve wanted to write about for a long time but I’ve always talked myself out of it because I feared how it might make me look. I thought people might think I’m a man-hating drama queen or that it would attract exactly the kind of unwanted attention I’m going to tell you about.
But I haven’t talked myself out of it this time. Because I no longer care. I don’t care if men tweet me explaining exactly why I’ve got it all wrong. I don’t care if you secretly think I “put myself out there” and therefore deserve criticism. I simply don’t care.
Before, I was tired of the fear of being judged but now I’m just tired.
That’s probably because it’s draining, being constantly angry.
If you follow me on social media you’ll know I don’t take crap from… well, anyone. So why do I, along with so many others, take it day in, day out in the real world?
Reading Marie’s story woke something up inside of me, something that started around the time I was a student myself and was one day cornered on the street by a man who began masturbating in front of me. I was in utter shock and ran into a nearby shop and told the staff what had happened.
“Oh, don’t worry, that’s Paul”, the woman behind the counter told me. Just a local known for exposing his erect penis to teenage girls. No big deal.
That was 15 years ago. And every grope, leer and lewd comment that has happened since has chipped away microscopic fragments of my spirit. From the middle-aged man who only stopped smirking at my bare legs when I pretended to take his picture, to the young lad who announced to a bus full of people that I was “stuck-up” because I didn’t acknowledge him when he talked loudly about the way I look with his mates, it’s all become the norm. And although they’re seemingly little things – thankfully nothing more serious than Paul the perv has happened to me – the drip, drip, drip of men’s pure entitlement towards women and their bodies does become pretty crushing after a while.
I think the build-up of resentment has been particularly strong lately because commuting in the city is an absolute hotbed for it, especially on the line I travel on. Every morning a man makes me feel uncomfortable during my commute and almost every one of my female friends have been sexually harassed or assaulted on public transport.
I asked a few of them to recount some stories I’ve heard over the years and one told me how she chastised herself for not knowing what was happening when a man touched her twice on a crowded tube. “As I was about to get off I could smell alcohol on this guy and this other bloke asked me if I was okay,” she told me.
“Then it dawned on me this guy had deliberately touched me down there and I felt sick. I was angry with myself for not being more alert to what he was doing.”
I’ve had the same thing happen to me and I reacted in exactly the same way. When someone touches you inappropriately in a crowded space you’ll believe it’s someone’s bag crushing into you before you finally acknowledge that bag has a thumb and four fingers that are squeezing around your hip, buttock or breast. And by the time the owner of the hand has artfully slithered away you’re left there splutteringly apoplectic that you didn’t stop it from happening.
Another friend replied to my request and her initial response made me so sad. “I’m not very sexually harass-able,” she said, before listing the many ways in which she has, actually, been harassed.
And too many of the responses I got started or ended with “I know it’s not really major” – but all these incidents have stuck in our minds for a reason.
The thing that a lot of men don’t realise (or care about) is, they don’t need to be raping us, or groping us or even touching us to make us feel like a raw slab of commodity. The other day I was on a tube that wasn’t particularly crowded and I involuntarily made eye contact with a guy who smiled at me. I smiled weakly back out of politeness. He moved closer and spent the rest of the journey trying to catch my eye again in a way I can’t really describe. It was just invasive and leery and I ended up staring down at the floor uncomfortably for the rest of the journey before hurrying off my stop as quickly as possible and checking over my shoulder every few seconds to check he hadn’t followed me.
And we do blame ourselves. If only I realised what was happening right away, if only I hadn’t smiled back, if only I hadn’t worn such a short dress today, maybe red lipstick and heels wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe I imagined it. Maybe I overreacted.
No. My clothes are not my consent. The amount of effort I put into my appearance is not an invitation. Wearing sleeveless tops during a heatwave should not have to mean I become accustomed to the cold bristle I feel whenever I walk past the cafe where the same group of men always sit and go silent when I walk past.
I am angry and I am tired, not just because you make that noise with your tongue and purr at me and because you lean out of your window to get a better look and because you send me a direct message on social media asking me if I will sit on your face.
I am angry and tired because you are not the men I know. You are not the men I live with, work with and socialise with. You are not the brilliant, brilliant men I love and care about.
Men are not trash.
But who are you, those of you who punch women in front of cafes full of onlookers and rape them when they’re passed out? Where are you? You’re not the men I love but you are out there.
And while you are, women are always going to be scared, always going to be wary, our heads always full of the perception instilled in our minds from that constant drip-feed of so-called “minor” harassment.
This is an unacceptable behaviour. It happens everyday, everywhere and I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have a similar story. I am sick of feeling unsafe walking in the street. Things need to change, and they need to change now.
– Marie Laguerre
I’m tired. We all are. Please stop.