Walking home from work the other night, a well-lit street in a downtown area.
“Hey gorgeous – where you going? Wanna come with us?” etc etc etc.
It had been so long since anyone had catcalled me (the first time being when I was 12) I didn’t realise at first these dickheads were talking to me. I kept walking, head down, eyes rolled and a sigh to the universe expelled as they continued to yell. It was only 10pm on a Friday night so I was probably one of the first lucky ladies to be graced by these gentlemen that night. And here’s the thing – I can handle it. BUT – many women can’t. It isn’t because they are somehow weak or deficient. It is because their experiences are different from my own.
My sister once told me a story about a friend Amy* from work. After dinner one night they were walking down a fairly busy restaurant lined street when a car pulled up next to them to ask for directions. My sister sent them on their way before turning back to see Amy peeking out from the doorway of the nearest pub. Amy was from a South American country where she had been kidnapped MORE THAN ONCE. The sight of a car pulling up near her on the street, triggered past experiences and saw her RUN THE OTHER WAY. This totally innocent interaction forced into action all self-preservation instincts, but also demonstrated how on her guard she was at all times. This is just one other experience.
So, let’s say the woman catcalled the other night was someone who had been abused in some way (and based on statistics, that is pretty likely). That person may feel threatened, objectified, humiliated, terrified or any combination of negative emotions. The one thing I guarantee you she won’t be feeling is stoked that some fucknuckle took the time to leer and comment in a way HE thought was complimentary/a joke/whatever excuse he needs to justify behaving this way.
It’s the same reason rape jokes aren’t funny. Because – shock horror – people been raped, and women are almost always the victim (93%), and, based on the fact only 1 in 6 people report rape, the chance that your audience has experienced some form of sexual assault is pretty damn high, and therefore may not share the “universal” view that “it’s just a joke”.
Men, repeat the following: “My experiences are not the same as the person next to me”.
Now, I understand a lot of people don’t intend to hurt anyone, but ignoring the fact when you do is worse. You say free speech? Well it goes both ways, so while you protest your right to say what you want with no care of how it impacts others, then we have just as much right to say “you’re not funny, and I am in no way obliged to pretend you are, in the hope of sparing your feelings”. See the irony there?
Now consider the following: you know at least one person who has been raped or subjected to sexual violence. Even if you don’t know they have. Just because your friends are top blokes (and maybe they are) and you have a jolly, wholesome time together, doesn’t mean that every circle enjoys such positive interactions. Just because it doesn’t happen in your direct line of sight, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Our experiences say otherwise, and if men weren’t so concerned with their own hurt little feelings, they might have more time to consider someone else’s. But, I guess that’s always been the job of women, and unfortunately for the time being, remains so.
*Name has been changed