22 October 2017

Me too

Sometimes, a social media hype touches you. Sometimes, they make a difference. The ice bucket challenge, which I didn't join, actually did raise so much money it made a significant contribution to research on the disease. When I started to see people post 'me too' on Facebook, I felt I should join. Started by actress Alyssa Milano (for the rare people who didn't know that already) it was clearly meant to give sexual violence/intimidation/harassment a face. Statistics are one thing, and probably wildly unreliable anyway in this context as people are notoriously reluctant to talk about this, but if you hear it from people you know, very many people you know, the message might hit home. I think women in general know how widespread this sort of thing is, but do all the men know? I think not. I posted as well.

So what was I posting about? Do I want to talk about it? Well, not all of it. But I can mention the men hitting on me in public transport, and who wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. And when I was relieved to reach my stop I found they get out too and followed me. I'm not defenseless, but that's just scary! There is no guarantee at all I could keep a man like that off me.

I can mention the bunch of young men on a deserted railway station, one of which pissing on the rails. When he saw me he addressed me without putting his cock back first, and that seemed quite on purpose. I don't remember what he said but I do remember I was trying to look cool and un-intimidated while quickly assessing which direction I could run in.

Or shall I mention the man masturbating in the park?

Or the men who wrapped an 'amicable' arm around my shoulders, to try to feel my breast from the side? Or those that slapped me on the bum?

Or the men that sat next to me, unnecessarily close, in (again) public transport, especially when you consider the carriage was otherwise empty? Or those that moved their hand over mine when I was holding on to the vertical bar so as not to fall over when the carriage decelerates?

What about the man at the bus stop (public transport again!) who said he would come with me, and yelled all kinds of rather unfriendly things at me when I said he certainly was not, and stuck to my opinion? And who passed me several times more in the months to follow, clearly recognised me, and grinned menacingly?

Or maybe the man who suddenly lowered his head to kiss me straight on (or probably, rather in) the mouth at a party, and who I only managed to stop before it was too late because I didn't trust him at all? And why did I not trust him? Gut feeling. Never ignore your gut feeling!

Or that bloke who said I wanted to have sex with him, and that if I erroneously thought I did not, that  that was irrelevant; he knew best. He had made sure to point out his muscular physique first.

A man who grabbed my head and pulled it towards his crotch. Just banter, of course.

So many of the male cleaners at university who immediately got too keen if you greeted them. It was so common I turned rude and ignored them altogether. I hate the snootiness of pretending cleaners aren't people! But I'd had enough. Luckily there were some female cleaners too; I could greet them all I wanted without any of them then getting unpleasant.

A man who threatened to pull my breast out of my clothes in public as revenge for me having slightly mocked him.

A creepy GP that was a bit too keen pointing out that some of his patients fall in love with him. Luckily there were more GPs available in the area.

Need more? I hope not. There's more of course. Among other things, I've left out all the men shouting things on the street, but in more fleeting circumstances. Men you can get away from quite easily. Things like that blend into one amorphous blob over time.

What strikes me in that list is that most of this was in my time in the Netherlands. I don't know if it just happens less when you're older, or because I now live in countries with scarce public transport, or because I have got better at avoiding it. Maybe all of it. I'm glad with the change but I also know that it also means most happened when I was more vulnerable.

So now what? I think there are quite some men who indeed had underestimated the magnitude of the issue. Maybe they might think about it a bit more. Maybe even speak out. Maybe think twice before they made a questionable remark. I sincerely hope so!

On the radio, a woman called the whole episode mass hysteria, and women wallowing in victimship. I don't see that. Does worrying about this make anyone some trembling damsel in distress? Heck no. Anyone faced with a potentially outnumbering enemy is right to worry. (One person can already outnumber you if they are particularly big and/or competent in fighting.) And what I see is women making this personal for men. Do I normally tell the men around me about this? Well, not regularly, one prefers to talk about happier things. But maybe I should. I've started now. If I don't say anything, how can I expect wider society to know?

And what more do I want people to know? Parents, tell your children to trust their gut feeling. They'll need it! And every single time I was young and inexperienced and thought to myself 'why shouldn't I trust this person, I am just being silly' I regretted it. Tell your children to trust their gut feeling! (A lady in the Guardian said pretty much the same thing!) And speak out if you see or hear something like the above happening. If people feel like they won't get away with such behaviour, they might think twice! People used to smoke indoors everywhere all the time, and that's become unacceptable; change can and does happen.

I would also recommend everyone to watch the 'kjaere pappa' video... (linked here in the English translation). I think it says well why I think it is important to address the smaller things: the jokes, the casual remarks; I don't think they are separate from the bigger things...

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