In my last year of primary school I was 12 years old and I was beginning to develop breasts and hips. I always did look a bit older than my age when I was growing up, being quite tall and developing slightly prematurely. Even so, at 12 years old I couldn’t have looked older than 14. Nevertheless, it was when I was 12 years old that I first experienced sexual harassment.
I was walking home from athletics training with a friend (also 12 years old) and a van tooted its horn at us. It was on a main road, and it was light outside with many other people and cars around, but no one looked over at us or the van, no one even really noticed it. To everyone around us, nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. The men inside the van were honking at us presumably because we were young females, and apparently that gave them the right to objectify us, to leer, to ‘harmlessly’ toot their horn. From then on I was under the impression that this was normal, that this behaviour was acceptable, that men were allowed to objectify me and that was something that I would just have to accept because that’s what comes with being a woman.
It seems as though, despite many successes in gender equality, this is one area where some men believe that they still have power over women, although we are all equal human beings. I respect others' bodies and personal spaces and do not abuse them, so what makes some men think that they have the right to abuse mine? Our bodies are the container to our thoughts, morals, intelligence, memories and emotions. We should respect one another, not objectify others based on their gender and forget about the importance of their body.
Now, as a 19 year old, sexual harassment is something I deal with on a regular basis. I walk down the street and I am met with wolf whistles and cat calls. I go to work and men think it’s acceptable to make vulgar comments about my bum and my breasts (or, even worse, grope me). I can’t go out wearing a short dress without ‘asking for men to touch me’.
And what’s worse is that no one seems to care or take notice. People will watch as I awkwardly squirm when a drunken man throws his arm around me and begins to rub my behind, but they don’t offer me help or simply ask if I’m okay. This is seen as normal behaviour; although many men wouldn’t behave that way themselves, very few would actually do something to try and stop another man sexually harassing a woman.
The media tells us that women exist for male pleasure. Things like page three models have taught us that it’s okay to be objectified. As has social media with the likes of ‘The Lad Bible’ posting photos of female celebrities and instead of commenting on their contribution to film or sports, they are more interested in how big their cleavage is.
It’s for reasons like this that I support the ‘No More Page Three Campaign’ and the ‘Everyday Sexism Project’. I believe that more publicity around these issues will increase awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment, and will empower more men and women to stand against it. As a member of Sexpression, I also can’t help but emphasize that education is key in an area like this. Many young people don’t realise the negative repercussions associated with ‘lad culture’ and ‘harmless banter’ relating to sexual harassment. Simply educating them about the topic will enhance their understanding and hopefully help them to make the right decisions about their current and future behaviour.
If society continues to allow men to sexually harass women with their ‘harmless’ comments or gestures then this could ultimately contribute to men sexually abusing women. After all, if it is ‘acceptable’ to objectify women, who is there to show boys where to draw the line? If your wife/girlfriend is a sexual object, does that mean that it is your right to have sex with her whenever you want? Sadly some men believe this and until people realise the dangers that sexual harassment entails, this kind of attitude will likely continue.
If you would like to help tackle this issue I would urge you to contribute to the Everyday Sexism Project, or take a look at organisations such as HollaBack! and White Ribbon Scotland, where just a few minutes of your time can help to make a huge difference in fighting sexual harassment.