Content warning: explicit descriptions of sexual harassment and assault
Ask any girl group if they’ve experienced sexual harassment and you’ll be bombarded by a plethora of stories, ranging from anecdotes of catcalling to Trump-style ‘pussy-grabbing.’
I duly posed this question to my group and the result was as predicted. The first story detailed my friend’s journey home from school one day. Attired in her uniform, she was startled when her path was blocked by two men clearly attempting to engage with her, commenting crudely on her appearance in what they deemed to be a vocalised melange of flattery.
Avoiding eye contact, she slipped past and escaped unscathed, but not before she discerned one spit, “bitch.” This man surmised not only that he had every right to attempt lewd engagement with a schoolgirl, but that when he did so, she, through some perverse adherence to social convention, should express unreserved gratitude for his efforts.The premise of catcalling is grounded in these assumptions: both the perceived acceptability of voyeuristic expression and the expectation of reciprocal appreciation.
Another story followed, in which my friend was offered a drink by a man she met at a bar. When she politely declined, explaining she was in a relationship, the response was acrimonious: “well, you don’t act like you have a boyfriend.” My friend’s self-assurance was vilified, the motivations behind her affability challenged. The man projected onto her the blame for his bruised ego, declaring that her intentions were to tease despite his lack of qualification to do so, thus undermining her control over her own sexual agency.
Next, a friend was minding her own business in a club when a guy approached her, swiftly shoved his hand down the front of her jeans and hissed in her ear, “I love white girls.” The physicality of the harassment shifts the charge legally to assault, whilst the perpetrator’s focus on physical characteristics is deeply unsettling and problematic, suggesting that in his mind, girls can be allocated desirability or inferiority based on the colour of their skin. Worse still, this man, like others in our stories, believed that he was complimenting his victim by expressing desire for her complexion.
I have a story of my own. From Prague, the summer we finished our A-Levels. You wouldn’t expect harassment to follow you into a fast food restaurant but there it was, staring at us unapologetically from across the room. A man had his phone propped at an irregular angle, camera pointing towards us. Thinking I was being paranoid, I tried to quell the growing trepidation in my stomach, but my suspicions were confirmed when he rose and sauntered past, phone still trained on our spot. Dreading to think what he wanted to do with the footage he was collecting, I gathered my pals and evacuated the premises to avoid further exposure. Chillingly, at the next bar we visited, the same thing happened, but this time another pub-goer noticed and alerted us of the danger.
Tragically, each of these stories is uniquely horrifying in its typicality.This is our perverted norm: merely the universalised script of being a woman. That needs to change.
On 2 April, we will march against sexual harassment and assault. We will crusade to reclaim our night, because we abhor the fact that on dark streets, late at night, the sound of our own footsteps fills us with fear.
Pick your weapon and Fight for the Night with us.
Image: Ed Schipul via Tendenci