Trigger warning: sexual harassment
The truth is that no matter how outspoken you are about your experience with sexual harassment, there would always be someone that gaslights you. It does not matter whether it is a woman or a man; someone is going to question it. Talking about sexual harassment and assault is never easy for anyone. It takes a lot of courage and bravery to speak out about it to a mass number of strangers on the internet or to people that you know in your life. Most people will empathize with your experience and share their own stories, while others will try to blame you and change the conversation to ‘not all men do this.’
It is an ignorant response that has been often repeated to discredit stories. Of course, they all agree that sexual harassment is unacceptable and needs to be stopped. So why the need to mutter that response when victims share their stories? Sexual harassment is an uncomfortable topic. Women from all over the globe have experienced this at least more than once in their lives.
Have we stopped talking about sexual harassment?
We have never stopped talking about sexual harassment because it is our lived experience. This is not a topic that we want to discuss every single day of our lives. Trying to convince half of the male population that this is how we are treated in the society is frankly exhausting. I do not have to watch videos of men harassing women because I have gone through the same experiences as any other woman.
If you asked your female friends if they have ever been harassed at work, on the roads, or even at home, they would have many stories. I do not know any woman in the world that has never been harassed and has not shared their horrifying stories. We empathize and understand that the world is unfair to us. It targets us wherever we go, and there is no way that we can escape it. We are treated as sexual beings and discriminated against our entire lives. It takes a toll on our mental health and our confidence. We question everything that we do and often ask ourselves, am I the one to blame for this?
There is no rule book on how to avoid sexual harassment. Discussing sexual harassment in the workplace with your colleagues can be very uncomfortable and awkward but we must discuss these issues whether it makes you uncomfortable or not. We are not here to comfort anyone and we are tired of being gaslighted.
My personal experiences
I was 10-years-old when I was inappropriately touched while I was walking home from school. The man walked towards me and touched my leg. I did not even realize what had happened until I got home. It did not even occur to me that I was a victim. When I shared this experience with my family, I was the one at fault because I had glanced at him. Why was I blamed for his inappropriate actions towards me?
I started to become more aware of the people around me. Even at that age, I was told to lower my gaze and not to pay attention to other people when I walked on the streets. If I was harassed, that means that I was the one inviting trouble. I became aware of the inappropriate stares in my school uniform and my regular clothes. I started to wear long-sleeved shirts to cover myself up. It made me uncomfortable to walk on the street as I was scared that somebody might harass or physically assault me.
Trauma and the aftermath of it all
Fear is what I lived with every single day in the city. There are countless times that I was harassed on the streets of the capital. I was dressed in the ‘proper way’ to avoid any harassment and yet, it was still my fault. I blamed myself for it without understanding that sexual harassment is never the women’s fault and often the fault of the perpetrator’s inappropriate behavior. It is saddening to grow up in a society where patriarchy is always going to be the enemy no matter whatever situation that women are in.
That was just one of the times where I was sexually harassed on the street. I have been whistled at, inappropriately had my chest stared at while walking on the street and shouted vulgar remarks at me. These experiences have been very traumatic for me, and I have suppressed most of them. It is never easy for me to talk about it, but it is necessary.
When is the right time to talk about it?
To be clear, women have always been vocal about sexual harassment. It is the delusions of a few people that lead us to think about whether we have talked about sexual harassment enough. The reality is that we have lived through these experiences our whole lives. We have never taken sexual harassment lightly. This is not a competition of the sexes to determine whether men or women have it worse. When women are vocal about their experiences, they are silenced and accused of lying. Our stories are not taken seriously by the majority of the people who deny the existence of a patriarchal society.
The way we conduct ourselves in public and private spaces is being policed by people who are concerned about our safety when in actuality, we should not have to be cautious about when we walk outside. We are being forced to modify our behavior, appearance, speech, and interactions with men to avoid getting harassed. Women and young children do not have to fear for their lives.
Are we hijacking the conversation?
A recent incident that involved a male politician being harassed on the street had led to this conversation of whether women were hijacking the conversation. Victims of sexual harassment reminded people that they have been living through the same experiences for all their lives. Of course, male politicians condemned the act and supported the male politician by claiming that sexual harassment was disgusting. Why were one male politician’s cries more important than the majority of the women that have been victims of sexual harassment for much longer than before?
Where was the support when women filed sexual harassment reports in the workplace? Why did not any male politician speak out when women openly spoke about their sexual harassment stories online? There are countless stories of women who work in the government that have been silenced. It begs me to question the role that these politicians played as they tweeted their solidarity for another male politician.
Our stories are valid and true
This has never been about hijacking the conversation. The fact of the matter is that men do not face harassment on the same level as women do. It is safer for men to walk on the streets and not worry about their safety and well-being. How can women be hijacking a conversation about sexual harassment when it is their lived experience?
Women and young children face sexual harassment daily and we have never stopped talking about it. The stories we share are our experiences and every woman can see themselves in these stories. We have all lived through this and we do not need other people to tell us what we can and cannot say. Our voices matter. Our stories matter. We should never stop talking about sexual harassment in front of people, online or otherwise. Other people should not dictate or police our voices when we talk about sexual harassment.
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