Laura Bates brings issues of harassment, assault and abuse of both men and women to light, after being deluged with submissions to her website and Twitter accounts. Seemingly small incidents of off-hand remarks can feel like the death of a thousand cuts when they happen everyday in every facet of your life.
These sexist ouccrences happen so often and are so insidious and pervasive in Western society that they’ve become normalised to the point we feel silly for being upset about instances others brush off and disheartened when our complaints are ignored. All of this undermines confidence and erodes self-esteem. Even if we don’t realise it, we’ve all witnessed sexism – on the street, in the media, at school and work, and now online with social media and comment forums. As Bates says, ‘Enough is enough‘.
Sexism is more socially acceptable than racism. Misogyny and misandry. Men get their own chapter but instances of misandry are sprinkled throughout. Bates doesn’t just focus on the stereotypical, she points out that women can rape men, women can rape other women, and that men can be feminists.
Recently I admitted some of the most damaging harassment I’d faced, in response to Moonlight Reader’s excellent article.
Huh. Reading your post, I realise now that I experienced sexual harassment at 18 in my first office job – I’ve never thought of it as being that before. He was a 40-year-old client who publicly harassed me in front of my colleagues. I had no idea what to do because he was also a friend of my boss and almost everyday he would come in for an hour after he’d finished work, every time hitting on me and trying to shame me into submission because I was so young and inexperienced – I’d yet to have a proper boyfriend. This went on for months until my only female colleague told the boss, and suddenly the man didn’t come in as much. I didn’t tell any friends or family because I found it deeply embarrassing that I couldn’t handle it.
As a result, I changed my behaviour towards men, practically fearful of them for years afterwards; making as little eye contact as possible in case I was encouraging any of them, and always making sure I wasn’t showing flesh or wearing too much make-up. But I’d still attract the creepers. I look very young for my age – as in not legal – and every now and then an older man will approach me. The worst was when I was in the YA section of the library (I get approached there alot so I don’t go in much now) where a man said he wanted to be “my friend”. I had Pippi Longstocking-style plaits/braids at the time and was wearing teenage clothes precisely to deter attention.
But that’s not all.
Age 12, holidaying in the Seychelles, a native reaches out to touch my left breast “They’re coming in nicely,” she says.
Age 18, Freshers Week at uni saw a guy banging on my dorm room door for ten minutes shouting that my room used to be his and he wanted to see inside again. I didn’t open the door.
Age 19, being followed around a clothing store then out into the street. Quick thinking had me walk into the well-staffed John Lewis which he refused to enter, instead waiting for me outside. I left via another exit.
Age 21, interviewed by a lecherous man who couldn’t take his eyes off my chest. Was offered the job immediately. Despite the huge increase in salary and intriguing career-making job description, I turned it down.
Then there are the occasions when a man asks “where’s that smile?” or “smile, might never happen” which somehow gave rise to ‘bitchy resting face‘ which only appears to affect women. Hmm.
Sadly, as the majority of the perpetrators of the incidents that left the biggest impressions on me have been Pakistani and seemingly African immigrants (I live in a town with large communities of both), I’m wary of men from similar backgrounds.
83 per cent of Egyptian women report experiencing sexual harassment in the street. Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, 2008
More like 100%. I visited Sharm El-Sheik in November 2008. Worst. holiday. ever. I needed another holiday to get over the stress of that one. The Lonely Planet Egypt guide dedicated just a couple of sentences in the safety section on the street harassment of women so naively I believed it wouldn’t be a problem. Nothing prepared me for what I experienced. I’ve very briefly talked about this before.
I travelled there with only my sister while in our early 20s. Big mistake. We were harassed every day. We didn’t even have to leave our hotel room to witness it. We saw it from our balconies. Men clustered around the pool and the massage tables openly staring at women. Men calling after us in the street, trying to get us to follow them down dark alleys in that creepily cliched way we were warned of as children. They took every chance to touch us, to compliment us, to grill us about our marital status. A wedding ring or a husband standing by your side didn’t necessarily protect you. (I was surprised the husbands tolerated the blatant disrespect of their wives, I kept hoping the offenders would receive a bloody nose or a black eye.)
I received multiple marriage proposals, me more so than my sister, we reasoned that was because she was gobby while I was quiet and observant, constantly looking out for grabby hands and other dangers. As for assault, my sister’s breasts were manhandled. She tried to let it roll off her but I could tell it was starting to get to her. We decided to abandon our plans to visit Cairo and the pyramids – too risky. Would I ever go back? No. I don’t want to feel like I need intimidating bodyguards to feel safe walking down the street or relaxing on the beach. No wonder native women didn’t leave the house, the one or two I did see wore stiflingly hot burkas.
For awhile now I’ve held the belief that our deeply ingrained gendered stereotypes beaten into us as children and reinforced by society at large, are the main contributor to society’s inability to accept the transgendered. Gender should be a matter of biology alone with none of the additional spurious and unequal social expectations, that if not met, leaves those ‘failures’ vulnerable to public disapproval and condemnation.
This is my new top 5 of non-fiction feminist reads:
(1) Everyday Sexism
(2) The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women
(3) Rape is Rape: How Denial, Distortion, and Victim Blaming are Fueling a Hidden Acquaintance Rape Crisis
(4) All the Rebel Women: The rise of the fourth wave of feminism
(5) Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
Okay, so Everyday Sexism took me 3 weeks to read it because I had to pause for a mental swig of spirits every now and then when the rage overcame me, but I can assure you this is a 5-star read that I recommend to all.