I have so many miscellaneous encounters filed in my brain that they almost blur into each other – it’s hard to remember the exact circumstances of each one, and lord knows I’ve probably repressed a fair few. Street harassment has been a constant since the age of 13. I have been called a slut, a cunt, sexy, baby, whore – simply through the ordinary act of walking down the road (usually in a fairly suburban, populated area, and usually in the daytime). Like many other women, I would look down, quiet and ashamed, making a mental note of my outfit choice (though I was often fully covered, wearing sneakers, jeans or hoodies – not that it matters).
Once a man stopped me at a bus stop by my house and asked me how to get to the mall in order to get me talking. He said I was pretty and asked if I had a boyfriend. I lied and said yes and told him I was 14. He smiled and said “14 is a good age”. I pretended to see my father in a car parking close by and ran off.
When I was 15 I got my learners license and started taking driving lessons. My instructor would smoke in the car and offer me cigarettes. Once, on a small curvy road out west, a car crossed the center and nearly hit us. He told me to pull over and as I sat there, visibly shaken, he rubbed his hand up and down my leg, cursing the driver for “scaring my poor little ____”. To this day I associate driving with being uncomfortable and afraid.
When I became old enough to drink in bars, sexual harassment became a common part of my weekends. I have had men open my top to put loose change in my bra, men try to throw a ping pong ball into my cleavage, and countless men grabbing my ass or making comments about my appearance as I walk past. When I was dating my last girlfriend, we were hit on as a collective. It was revolting. Eventually I became careful to never go out with her alone, after dark. I knew I wouldn’t be able to protect her, or she me. After years of being hit on, I have noticed that only one thing stops men from making advances – telling them you have a boyfriend. The simple fact of being ‘claimed’ by another man is the only thing that is enough to stop them – saying you have a GIRLfriend or are otherwise uninterested is rarely sufficient.
This culture is, unfortunately, still prevalent in our country. I am sick of feeling unsafe in certain environments. I am sick of automatically feeling on guard around unfamiliar men (especially as 99% of the men I know are brilliant, kind, caring, pro-equality people who despise this kind of behavior). I am sick of being touched without my consent. I am sick of comments being made about my appearance. I’m sick of it all. #iamsomeonenz