As women in this world, we have particular experiences unique to us. And sadly, familiarity to acts of sexual harassment is one of them. I never met a woman who hasn’t been harassed in one way or another in her life. Let that sink in.
And from this unfortunate common experience, we have therefore developed rituals only to us. Cartoonist @sparespear shared her insightful take on one of these through an illustration: The act of us telling our girl friends “text me when you get home” after a night out. There is an unspoken understanding behind the simple reminder and we women know the “casual ritual” is more than just a polite farewell. We have all experienced a scare—a brush with harassment—and so we naturally worry about our friends.
“The reality is that women have to be constantly vigilant in a way that men don’t,” @sparespear wrote.
This statement was corroborated by Jackson Katz, a prominent social researcher, who authored the book, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help. One of his famous anecdotes was about how he asked men in the audience what steps they take on a daily basis to prevent from being sexually assaulted. “At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter,” he noted. “Occasionally, a young guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’ This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’”
Then he proceeded to ask the women the same question. He received an overwhelming response. “As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine,” he shared. The answers he got includes, “Hold my keys as a potential weapon, carry a cell phone, don’t go jogging at night, be careful not to drink too much, don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured, carry mace or pepper spray, vary my route home from work, watch what I wear, go out in groups, meet men on first dates in public places, don’t make eye contact with men on the street, and make assertive eye contact with men on the street.”
Men ask why women are so pissed off, even guys with wives and daughters. Jackson Katz, a prominent social researcher,…
While data on prevalence of sexual harassment here in our country is limited or not easily accessible. The first survey on sexual harassment and violence against women in the Philippines done in 2016 by SWS found that three out of five women have experienced sexual harrasment in their lifetime, with 58 percent of those described as “experienced in the streets, major roads, and eskinitas.”
In the US, data released last year by a nonprofit orgaization Stop Street Harassment revealed that 81 percent of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime. “That includes verbal forms of sexual harassment, like being catcalled or whistled at or getting unwanted comments of a sexual nature. It also includes physical harassment, cyber harassment and sexual assaults,” NPR notes.
In terms of location, it was found that the majority of women (66 percent) said sexual harassment happened in public spaces. “The public forums are where you see the more chronic experiences of sexual harassment,” Anita Raj, director of the Center on Gender Equity and Health at the University of California, who analyzed the results of the new survey, said. She additionally claimed that these include verbal harassment and physical harassment, like touching and groping. According to the study, 77 percent of women had experienced verbal sexual harassment, and 51 percent had been sexually touched without their permission.
“Sexual harassment until more recently has been viewed as part and parcel of what people experienced,” Michele Decker, director of the women’s health and rights program at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, told NPR. “It’s often been dismissed, because it’s considered not as egregious as sexual assault or rape.” However, she stressed that this report shows that sexual harassment, too, is something that should be taken seriously, noting that victims also undergo anxiety and depression, similar to rape and sexual assault victims. “We want to know that we’re responding to things that are prevalent and common, and this is showing that sexual harassment is really prevalent,” she added.
But let’s face it: Women don’t need studies to confirm the prevalence of sexual harassment. Our own experiences are enough. That’s why we have that “casual ritual.” In fact, reminding our girl friends to assure us they arrived home safely isn’t the only way we’re looking out for each other. We have adapted a more active way to protect our sisters. Search online, and you’ll see the many stories of women who have had to resort to unorthodox ways to help a sister out. Like that viral post of a netizen who was saved by a female maintenance worker when she was just 14. “That was the moment I realized women were the most important beings on this planet and we have to protect each other because nobody else is going to,” she wrote. “She didn’t even know me, we couldn’t even communicate that well because of the language barrier, she could have lost her job for waiting with me in the parking lot, but she looked out for me when she didn’t have to,” she further shared. “She had nothing to gain from it. I’m 21 now, and I tell everyone this story even though it happened seven years ago. What she did that night helped me form and shape a lot of my beliefs early on.”
This girl code or protocol is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Sure, it shows a sense of solidarity among women. But the fact that it’s becomes a necessity borne from the pervasiveness of sexual harassment is f*cked up.
I remember this other experiment where one Twitter user asked women what they would do if men had a 9 p.m. curfew. The responses—which showed how supposedly ordinary life experiences become mere dreams to women because of the existing threats of sexual harassment—were almost too painful to read.
I wouldn't have to say "text me when you get home so i know your safe" to my friends or "stay safe" when heading off in different directions after a night out. I don't pass every guy thinking he's going to attack me, but I still have to be careful where I walk. Do guys?
— Lorraine Gronan (@lainy1877) October 2, 2018
I would walk to my car with my keys in my purse and not spread between my fingers as a potential weapon. I would listen to music on headphones, as I strolled and admired the lit street lamps in Central Park.
— Donna Lynne Champlin (@DLChamplin) September 25, 2018
Geez… so many things.
Sleep first floor with windows open
Go running at night without fear.
Walk to the corner store at night.
Walk my dogs at night.
Overnight camping at public parks.
Walk to my car at night without keys in fist as weapon.
Exist without fear.
— AGirlHasNoPresident (@luhlar) October 3, 2018
I’m a white guy who regularly visits other countries by himself, walking city streets after midnight while listening to music on my headphones while not speaking the language. Never even occurred to me that this was a gender privilege.
— Dr. Beagleman ?️? (@DrBeagleman1) September 26, 2018
Like @sparespears wrote, “Someday, [we’ll] live in a world where being a woman doesn’t make you a target, and [we] won’t have to worry about [our] friends getting home safely at the end of the night.
But until then, [we] all have to do our part to ensure we’re all looking out for each other.”
Art by Tricia Guevara
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