This is a pretty special blog dealing with a topic I thought I would never be able to share… at least publicly. But Sunday was for me one time too many. And after I recovered from my emotions – after the phase of shivering and trembling and feeling stupid – I made the decision to actively do something about it and this post is an introduction to what’s coming up soon.
So on Sunday, I was on my way back to Lyon. I took the train and arrived at the station at about 8:30-8:45 pm (so not very late, right?!). I stepped out of the train, went back inside the station before taking the escalator that’s leading to one of the main squares in town and to Victor Hugo’s street, which I walk every single day back and forth when I go to uni. My brother wasn’t there with me last weekend since he had just started his holidays… I know that will seem absolutely ridiculous to some people living in some other countries, but for a girl in big cities in France, walking home alone at night – even not late at night – is considered unsafe… because it is.
I was walking fast, looking down, I had my headphones on and was going on this big escalator taking me outside when this guy, who was before me, turned back up and blocked me against one side of the escalator. I was still looking down, ignoring him the best I could… but I could hear him way too well and feel his inappropriate gestures way to close. I was scared but didn’t show anything. That’s the last thing to do in those situations. He was insisting. He didn’t want to stop. He didn’t stop. He then took my headphones off to make sure I was listening to him but I faked not to understand a word he said, I pretended I was a foreigner and I very politely said to him ‘I’m sorry…’ but he kept on being incorrect.
At the end of the escalator, I speeded up, trying to distance him… it would have been too great to finally see the end of this nightmare… but this idiot started following me. He followed me nearly the whole way to my place until he faced a busier zone, where he finally decided to let me go… I got to my apartment two minutes later. I locked me up inside and crawled into my bed. I was trembling. I was feeling all dirty and violated (I don’t know if that’s the word you’d use in English but that’s the idea), as if someone had reached an inner part of myself that was not meant to be his.
It was the third time. The third time it happened.
The first time, it was also outside the station on a Sunday evening, around the same time, when two young guys started giving the usual wert whirl whistle, yelling at me for the purpose of getting my attention in hopes of a future hook-up I suppose. I let you imagine how uncomfortable and unsafe that makes you feel.
The second time, I was also walking home at night. I think it was about 10 pm and a group of four older completely drunk men surrounded me and blocked the way. I couldn’t move. In this moment, the only thing I could do – and therefore did – was hope. I hoped it was going to be fine, that they’d eventually leave me alone or that someone would do something. I won’t give details here… I guess you can imagine what kind of words men can say to a young woman, what sort of once again inappropriate gestures they can have towards her. Hopefully, a couple finally showed up and when the men saw them, they just left.
I guess I was lucky then. I guess I was lucky those three times. But these experiences are never harmless. They leave their marks and I guess they help explain why I’m so scared of going back home alone at night.
I don’t want to call myself a victim. I’m not. When you call someone a victim, it feels and sounds like they’re weak (at least to me) and I am not weak. I may be scared but I want to fight. And I will.
‘Street harassment’: what is it exactly?
© Mini portrait by Diglee!
Micaela di Leonardo, the author of Political Economy of Street Harassment (1981) wrote: ‘Street harassment occurs when one or more strange men accost one or more women… in a public place which is not the women’s worksite. Through looks, words, or gestures, the man asserts his right to intrude on the women’s attention, defining her as a sexual object, and forcing her to interact with him.’
That is basically it. Street harassment regroups all kinds of behaviours that occur in public spaces and aim at calling out to people, sending them intimidating, insisting, disrespectful, humiliating, threatening and insulting messages regarding their gender or sexuality.
It ranges from leers, whistles, honks, kissing noises, gender-policing, and non-sexually explicit evaluative comments, to more insulting and threatening behaviour like vulgar gestures, sexually charged comments, flashing, and stalking, to illegal actions like public masturbation, sexual touching, assault, and murder.
The main targets of street harassment usually are LGBT people, teenagers and women in their 20s (but women in their 80s have also shared stories).
And consequences to these are violations of our dignity, liberty, security and autonomy.
What also has to be understood is that these remarks that are made on a daily basis are in no way humoristic nor chat up lines! Chatting somebody up is holding out one’s hand. Harassment is a hand that’s cutting down.
Street harassment of women: It’s a bigger problem than you think!
In France, I feel like the phenomenon is getting worse every year – if not every month. From Yemen to California, more than 90 percent of women have faced public harassment.
It’s not a compliment, a minor annoyance, or a woman’s fault. It’s a bullying behaviour. And we can’t just ignore it.
At work, there is a government-approved definition and rules to be followed. There are departments to hear grievances and punishments issued to offenders. But out in the street, or on public transportation, that line is blurred or non-existent.
Who’s responsible for such a situation?
Before I start, I would just like to be clear on the fact that this is only my opinion.
From my point of view, I think the main problem is a problem of education – whether it is the targets’ or the harassers’.
On the targets’ side, girls (and I can fully be included in this category – I must admit) – when they were younger – were told never to go back home on their own at night, not to talk to strangers, not to make eye contact, to have someone (preferably a boy) see them out, to walk fast but with purpose, head down and headphones on, to take a taxi or to walk opposite the sense of traffic…
Even though these are simple pieces of advice aiming at protecting the ones we love, they clearly prevent us from living. They most of the time screw everything up. Women grow up thinking the street is a male-only environment that is unsafe – dangerous even. Some even grow up in the fear of men…
And on the harassers’ side, some boys grew up witnessing the non-respect towards their mother first and then towards, their girlfriends…
It’s not a one-side responsibility to me. It’s two-folded.
I’ll be very clear here and will only state three things.
ONE, THANK GOD! Men are not all like those inhumane, lustful and uncontrollable dicks!
TWO, some men have no idea or do not measure the extent & the seriousness of the phenomenon.
And THREE, there are the ones thanks to whom I still have hope. They are the amazing and respectful ones.
The question of the outfit
Heeelloooo, you idiots! Wearing a skirt doesn’t mean we want to hook up!
I shouldn’t even have entitled it ‘the question of the outfit’ because this is not a question! I find it so stupid when people say: ‘yeah, she’s been harassed but she kinda looked for it, she was wearing a skirt!’
So if I understand this, it means we can’t wear skirts or dresses or make up, etc. and basically we can’t be pretty and feminine because of some jerks who can’t control themselves!?
HELL NO! We shouldn’t be allowed to think that way! It’s called slut shaming and it has to stop! Some people consider that wearing a skirt is an unconsidered act of carelessness.
It’s like girls who say ‘we get used to it’ or ‘you’ll get used to it’. Well, I say NO! No, I won’t ever get used to this! This is not something we should get used to. This is something we should combat and face! And denounce.
To use the pepper spray or not to use the pepper spray?!
I personally am against these practices because to me, they’re expressions of violence and I am so against violence. Violence never solved anything!
But even though that could go against my principles, I must admit I have already thought about getting one of them…
The situation in London (from my point of view)
When I first went out in London and had to go back home pretty late (yeah it wasn’t a 9 pm kind of late – it was more like a midnight kind of late), I was scared. Of course I was! With what had happened in France – in Lyon – which is clearly and unquestionably way smaller than London, I could only be more worried than I usually am in similar situations.
My friends there didn’t get it first – and maybe if they read this post, they’ll understand better – and told me I should be fine.
And surprisingly enough, I was fine. It always went so smoothly I could not believe it. Men loitering in my neighbourhood or in the streets looked just right through me.
How awesome! ALLELUIA!
I felt free. Free to move and free to live! At last! (Before you ask me… this is not the main reason why I want to move to London, but it surely is one of them!)
Now I’m not saying this could never happen in London but the facts showed me and proved to me that it clearly was a more rare phenomenon across the Channel.
Every time I come back to France, it’s – as you can guess – a cultural shock!
I am calling on men to join us in this fight
As Emma Watson perfectly stated it in her speech at the UN, a movement won’t have meaning without the support of men. We do need them on our side and by our side. Because we (women) might be the evidence of this harassment but they (men) are the ones who can fight it.
I know there are some men out there, who care about the current and next generation of girls; who support equality and believe in human decency. And because I know these men won’t sit by but will actually fight, I want to create the hashtag #BeAFighter to start our little revolution!
It’s time to say STOP to street harassment because accepting it as a way of life, even in its most mild incarnations, makes other forms of gender-and-sexuality-based violence okay.
I’m currently working on a poem that’ll have this hashtag as title. This poem will be featured in an upcoming video that I hope will go viral!
‘Don’t be a victim.
Be a fighter,
And never ever surrender!’