Where I live all young girls are told how to act and dress properly. There are lots of spoken and unspoken rules surrounding how girls should avoid provoking unwanted reactions from men. I was told what to wear, where to go, and who to hang out with.
Don’t misunderstand me, I know those are the concerns of a loving family, which have always guarded my health and well-being. However, I have recently realised how these rules deeply effect my existence, I now question if this “responsibility not to provoke” should weigh on women?
I came to realise how many things you can be shamed for (as a woman). You can trigger a reaction by walking along an off the centre lane after 6:00pm. It is your fault if something happens after you let out a bad reaction after an absolutely unprovoked sexual comment. It is your fault if after a night out with your girlfriends you don’t want to make out with some guys you have just met. “Why would you be on a night out otherwise?!”, they say. Apparently, it is common knowledge that girls could never be enjoying themselves on a night out without intention to spread their legs open for some random dudes.
These pressures have passed from being an occasional consideration of mine, to effecting my daily habits. As I have restarted university, I found a very convenient parking spot next to the train station in my hometown. Every working day I used to get off the train at 6.15 p.m. to reach my car 4 yards away. Over a week I collected a plethora of insulting and indecent sexual comments. Over the time of a short stroll, a dozen strangers made comments about my breasts.
As I went home, still shaking with anger I conversed with my father over what happened. I told him that it is unacceptable to be the object of all kinds of insults for doing nothing more than walking alone in public. The reaction was not what I was expecting.
Dad told me that it was unrealistic for a woman to expect anything different in that area of the downtown. He explained that I was to shun that kind of situation by parking somewhere else. He made me feel like it was on me to take extraordinary measures in order to keep strangers from making unprovoked comments. My own father, whom I expected to side with me, made it sound like a fee paying female student can expect to feel relatively safe and respected only if she pays € 50 per week for a parking spot. He said it, like it was the most natural thing in the world, that if a young woman goes to certain places or badly reacts to a comment it is normal for something to happen to her.
Unfortunately, I am not an isolated case. A friend recently told me that someone shamed her face-to-face for being sexually assaulted by a stranger while smoking on her own doorstep at 1 a.m. After all she was out alone at night, what else could she expect?
Over these recent experiences, I came to realise that for women it is almost impossible to just pretend respect. Women are even shaming other women for not being constantly afraid of what could happen. Is it a crime to just pretend respect when walking or having a smoke? Are we crazy to pretend this much? What are we teaching the younger generations if we accept this as “normal”? Apparently, my father thinks that women must expect to be shamed if they exercise their right to walk in public.
Friends and families groom girls into believing that it is their responsibility to act accordingly to the bad behaviour of others, they teach them not to react. Women are told that they are to avoid being harassed by giving up on their freedom.
When I told my parents how that kind of reaction makes me feel they just replied “oh, you are so childish, would you rather take the chance of something really bad to happen? When you have children of your own, you will get how concerned we are; this is not something to be stubborn about.”
Women shouldn’t be forced to give up basic freedoms in trade for support and understanding. Any woman should be able to claim respect from any man independently from the circumstances. There should be no passive acceptance of harassment. No person should be told that it is her responsibility to guard herself/or himself from the consequences of someone else’s ignorance.
I have been driven to write this article to let girls know that they should not feel obliged to accept abuses because they have the support of people who went through the same experiences and share the same feelings. Together we can change the pattern and stop being cornered into being second class citizens. Passive acceptance only cuddles the problem into becoming bigger. Women must react together because shaming each other for being harassed will just lead to more abuse.