Yesterday I saw women all over my Facebook sharing #metoo. The idea was to raise awareness about sexual harassment and sexual assault in that way. Perhaps if all women in someone’s Facebook feed shared the hashtag, it would make people realize how widespread the problem is?
The problem is indeed massive. Of course, there are levels to which women are touched by it. However, the fact is that ALL women experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault. Rape, verbal or physical sexual coercion, unwanted touch, predatory looks, comments on your appearance, “jokes”, aggression because you rejected someone – all these are just elements of the world where women are objectified. When women aren’t treated like people but like sexual objects, men believe they can do whatever they want with them: comment on, evaluate, touch or use at will for their own sexual pleasure.
Most women experience a garden variety of sexual harassment. Catcalling is honestly just a daily experience to which I never know how to react. As I work from home for instance, I like to go for a cycle or a walk during lunch. The problem is that the nearby construction workers take their break then. I can’t go past one not to be catcalled and neither can any other woman who’s on her own. Why do men do it then? Probably because they can. It’s certainly not to actually get anything out of it:
Catcalling makes me a mixture of angry and ashamed. I want to react or do something but mostly I’m scared. Perhaps if I reacted to a guy who’s on his own I could get him to think about his behavior but a group would mock me or perhaps become aggressive towards me. I’ve gone out a few times preparing myself to say something next time I’m spoken to and I’ve always chickened out. Now, I try to go out before or after they’re gone. I’ve lost, I’ve altered my behavior. That’s just catcalling. Being a woman, however, means a lot of fear in general. You’re scared of being raped too. You may second guess a guy’s intentions when he invited you for a cup of coffee to his house. You walk faster when it’s late and men feel like a threat. Sometimes someone gives you a predatory look and you feel that if circumstances were different he would hurt you but after all it’s not like anything really bad has ever happened to you, right? Are we supposed to count ourselves lucky because we haven’t been raped, though? Men don’t count themselves lucky because no one chopped their arm off or they didn’t get murdered, do they? Of course, it’s much more probable for a woman to get raped than to any of this to happen to a man. The point is that every time a woman feels threatened, she feels like this not because she’s crazy but because something could happen.
Something should be done to make people understand the problem. Will #metoo do it? I doubt it. It feels like preaching to the choir. The women who shared the hashtag in my feed are all lefties and that’s who likes on my own status came from. I haven’t seen any negative reactions but I haven’t seen any positive reactions either from anyone outside of my circle of expectations. I’m sure some people thought about some women’s statuses “she should only be so lucky that someone harasses her” but in the age of social media finger pointing they knew better than to share such views on Facebook. Perhaps the hashtag is not so successful in achieving its goal but that doesn’t mean it has no use at all.
As much as people may not change their mind because of this social media campaign, it has become a voice of female solidarity. We are all ashamed of our experiences with sexual harassment and we often feel guilty. It’s something we don’t talk about because often if we looked for sympathy after we are harassed we just found more sexism, even in women. When I was slapped on my bum by a stranger in Paris a friend of mine who was walking with me replied to my outrage: “Chill, it’s not like he’s taken away your virginity or something”. When I was maybe 10 a drunk guest house manager stopped me on my way from the communal toilet back to my room. He started hugging me and making inappropriate advances. Then I saw a ray of hope walking down the stairs: a female friend. She ran away when she saw us, though. I eventually managed to escape and then was shaken and outraged that she didn’t help me. She just said it wouldn’t have happened if I was wearing long pajama pants like she did. These are of course just illustrative examples not the entirety of my experience. All women experience sexual harassment and certainly they all experiences negative reactions to trying to speak up. The bigger the trauma, the more shame there is associated with it and the more potential there is for a negative reaction for speaking up from both men and women. Yesterday, however, some women had the courage to talk about unimaginably horrible events such as rape when they were still children, gang rape or sexual abuse in family. It is sad and it is so depressing that such things happen but maybe by talking about it, we’re making even more people share their experiences. In taking the shame away from the victims, we can finally move to focus on the perpetrators. It’s NEVER the victim’s fault.
Today a new hashtag is trending: #iwill to express what will we do to help to improve the situation. Can we really do something? What do you do? Any thoughts on #metoo, Dear Reader? Do you think it can truly help spread awareness? Feel free to share your #metoo stories in the comments.