We’re still unsure about how to react

I’ve been thinking about posting this for about a year. I’ve struggled with the fact that it might come across as attention seeking and with the fact that these are memories that I either want to push to the back of my mind, or that in the past have made me feel ashamed, because I didn’t have the strength to act at the time. The truly sad thing about this exercise is how much I had forgotten until I chose to remember. I have never reported any of these incidents to schools, employers, or the police. Even as an outspoken feminist, I’ve gone through life and thought this stuff just happens, it’s normal, it’s no big deal. Walk on by. But do you know what? I was brought up to be streetwise and if this is even a hint of what someone with a pretty decent sense of self-esteem endures without saying much, then I can only imagine what it is like for others in less fortunate circumstances. This list does not include the countless incidents of catcalling, microaggressions, hostile manipulations and street harassment that would make this post longer than I care to spend on it.  So why am I doing this now? I don’t know. Maybe because I finally don’t care what people think if I reveal this information. But mostly, I want to point out that your friend, your sister, your mother has probably endured a lot of things she isn’t telling you either, because it is really really hard to talk about this stuff without feeling judged, or like you are the one who has done something wrong simply by living your life like anyone else. So before you ask her, “how late were you out?”, “did you walk home alone?” or “what were you wearing?” Remember, it doesn’t matter. These are not freak incidents, but an every-day accumulation of by-in-large socially accepted traumas that keep half the population less free than the other.

Age 13. My friend’s 17 year old brother grabs my bum. Pushes me into some bushes and then pulls me into a dark room “because it was funny”. My friends look on. We’re all unsure about how to react.

Age 17. A fellow volunteer keeps insisting we hold hands and manipulates me, more than once, to get us to spend “alone time” together.

Age 18. I’m slapped several times at a concert. The male friend I’m with doesn’t believe it happened.

Age 19: I top-up my phone at a corner shop. The man behind the till takes my number from the top-up confirmation. He sends me anonymous texts for two weeks.

Age 21. Man with empty glass beer bottle follows me home from my bus stop and jumps me. I eventually get away.

Age 21. From a bus I see a man driving past while exposing himself.

Age 21. Man tries to get me to get in his car by pretending (badly) to be a taxi driver at a train station. When did you last see a taxi driver in a string vest?

Age 21. Man masturbates in front of me and two friends on an empty train between stops.

Age 23. Colleague I barely know sends an email about my office dress and how great it is.

Age 24. Old man drunk in the daytime grabs my bum as I walk to my flat.

Age 25. Man forcefully tries to kiss my friend as we dance together.

Age 26. Young men in a car stop me and my friends on a busy street.

Age 27. Young men in a car stop me and my friend on an empty street.

Age 28. Man follows me around for two days and makes inappropriate remarks at a work conference. Star Wars reference. Golden bikini. My fellow conference goers look on. We’re all unsure about how to react.

Laura Hemmati is Cofounder of Leadarise, a network that encourages young women to lead for positive social impact.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Thanks for opening up about this Laura. It’s such a nasty subject that people want to forget. Of all the cities I’ve lived in, Brussels was hands down the worst for harassment. I learned that sharing these bad experiences with both male and female colleagues can really help digest what’s happened and raise awareness across sexes that this isn’t ok. You might already be aware of them but http://www.ihollaback.org/?s=brussels do some really great work. xx

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