Today’s post is a serious one, as I’m talking about something that effects me on a weekly basis, sometimes even a few times a week. I never usually talk about it apart from the odd annoyed text message to my friends or my mum or sister who both get incredibly angry when I share some of my experiences with them. Sometimes I don’t even tell anybody because it happens so often I just get fed up of having to bring it up constantly, knowing that it’s unlikely anything is going to change. In this post I’m going to be talking about women and sexual harassment.
So I’m sure that by now we’ve all heard about Harvey Weinstein. If you haven’t heard about him, then I’ll cut a long story short for you. Harvey Weinstein, of The Weinstein Company, is a huge American film producer and I have been told by my sister (who has a film degree) that if you want to be anyone in Hollywood then you’ll want to be in his good books. However, being in his good books has meant more than just impressing him with your acting skills. There are a long string of female actresses who have recently released claims that he has been sexually harassing them for years and years. Huge celebrities like Cara Delevigne and Kate Winslet have spoken out about his behaviour towards them during their careers and there have even been allegations of sexual assault and rape.
In light of this whole situation I was sent an article written by Mayim Bialik, who discusses her experience of being a woman trying to make it in the film industry. Specifically, she discusses how she felt, being what was seen as far less attractive than some of the other women in the industry and how this affected her confidence, behaviour and the roles she ended up auditioning for. It’s quite an interesting read and although I can understand the points that she is making, there are two things I really don’t agree with. Firstly, I feel as though Bialik appoints blame to women who find themselves involved in incidents of sexual harassment and she does this by emphasising that they have been harassed because they are attractive. Secondly, she then propels that blame into an issue of judgement, seeming to claim that these women are at fault because they continue to pursue a career in an industry that shames women for not meeting beauty ideals. If you want to read the article, you can do so here.
Now, I’m not here to talk about Hollywood because that’s a completely different issue that I have barely any knowledge of. I don’t know what it’s like to be an aspiring actress in an industry that is almost entirely dominated by men. I can only imagine how frustrating it can be and how conflicted these women must feel wanting to be recognised for their talents, but constantly being recognised by their image instead. But I’ll have to leave that one there because as I’ve said, I can’t really speak openly on something that I haven’t extensively researched and don’t have a huge knowledge on.
What I do have a huge knowledge on is this. The issue that the above article raised for me was the way that beauty and sexual harassment always seem to be perceived as partners in today’s society. Let me explain. I left my house one morning last week to go to the gym. I crossed the road, turned the corner and there was a queue of traffic lined up along the street. Sat in traffic right by the corner I was turning, was a small white van and inside the van were two middle aged looking men. So there I am walking to the gym, minding my own business and one of them shouts “Alright sexy!”. Let me give you another example. Walking back from the gym about a month ago now, I passed two boys along the street and one of them said “You alright babe?” and when I ignored him and continued to go on about my day, he turned around and called out “You’ve got a nice arse!”. And if this is not enough to anger you, let me give you another example. I was walking down Oxford Street with my sister just two days ago now, eating a packet of Wotsits and two men passed us. One was on a bike, the other was walking beside him on foot. The one on foot turned around and went “Hey baby!” and then his friend on the bike went “I like the way you eat!” and started laughing. I mean that one is almost laughable. I was eating a packet of Wotsits, seriously? It’s mind-blowing.
All three of these incidents have happened within the space of one month and they’re honestly only a fraction of the comments I receive on a weekly basis. This has been going on for years. I once got called the c-word by a man who tried to talk to me on the street because I kept walking. Whenever I mention these incidents to my girl friends, they completely understand where I’m coming from when I say that it makes me feel uncomfortable, irritated and honestly, a little bit concerned for my safety. If a man thinks he can talk to me like that in the first place, then how would he actually treat me if I gave him the time of the day? Or if I didn’t give him the time of the day. If you’re a boy reading this, then ask yourself if you would seriously yell any of these comments to a woman walking down the street. If you would, then I would actually love to know why. Why do you think it’s okay?
I understand that you can see someone and find them attractive. There are some girls that don’t mind being approached on the street. No shade, but I personally don’t. Although I think that there can be a respectful and flattering way to go about doing that, I’m just not interested in being approached in that way. Unfortunately the comments I receive are neither respectful or flattering, they’re offensive and derogatory and they make me really nervous and uncomfortable. Besides, many of these men just do it because they can. They’ll honk their horn at you as you walk by or they’ll whistle and call out to you. During my university Freshers week I was out on a pub crawl wearing cat ears and after hearing somebody shout “Meow!” I got grabbed by a group of boys outside a pub I was walking past. Thank god I was with a huge group of people otherwise I would have been absolutely terrified.
I have mentioned this to some of my male friends before and all of them apart from one have told me that it’s because I’m fit and I should feel chuffed that I’m seen as attractive. Whenever I hear this I’m completely confounded. Round of applause to you boys, because I honestly didn’t think I was attractive until some piece of scum on the street called me sexy. I find it completely degrading. I don’t need or want random men shouting things at me on the street about the way I look. I don’t need to be called sexy or to be told that I have a nice arse or to be insulted for not paying these men the attention they desperately grapple for.
But what are you meant to do in these situations? At the end of the day, these are all random men with no manners who I’ll probably never see again. It would take giving a lesson to each and every one of them to make sure it stops happening altogether. And lets be honest, they probably wouldn’t listen anyway. Sexist men like this may not ever change which means that women everywhere are going to have an experience like this at least once in their lives – but probably way more than that.
Now I know that there will be some of you thinking that these comments are easy to ignore, but they honestly aren’t. Firstly, I remember all of them. It’s not the kind of thing you just brush off and get on with your day after hearing. And it makes me so angry because I feel so helpless. If I got called the c-word for not responding to one of them, then what if one day someone gets angry enough to put his hand on me for not responding? You don’t know the lengths that some people will go to.
And what’s worse? The way that it has made me feel about my own self image. I dread the thought of going out on my own to meet a friend wearing a slightly low cut top or a short skirt without a longer coat over the top. I think about the way I dress and the kind of attention I will get pretty much all of the time. There are certain outfits I just won’t wear in the evenings because I’m worried that I’ll get even more comments and if there is any way that I can minimise the chances of this happening, then I’ll take it.
I know I’m not the only girl that feels this way. It’s not about being pretty or being ugly. It’s not even about the clothes you wear. Even if I went out in a low cut top and a mini skirt I wouldn’t be inviting this attention at all. I just know that some men would feel even more entitled to yell comments at me than they already do. It’s not okay and unfortunately there isn’t much that I can do apart from to keep ignoring it. I just hope that one day, more people realise just how much of a massive issue this is. And that more men realise that it’s not okay to behave like this.