This is a very personal blog. It is on sexual harassment and assault against girls and women. I am aware that men too are sexually harassed and assaulted, however this blog is not addressing that issue.
Visit the White Ribbon Foundation today, and learn how you can take personal steps to end harassment and violence against women. http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/
I didn’t mean to let you down,
But you left me on my own Sarah,
Why didn’t you scream?
Why didn’t you shout?’
Kate Miller Heidke, Sarah.
It was cold. I wrapped my cardigan around my size six shoulders. I could feel the bones in my bottom bruising against the train station bench. There was no one around, it was late. The trains were still running, but the passengers were fewer and I desperately willed my lift to hurry. And then suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore.
He was in his mid thirties, wearing a leather jacket. He was of Albanian appearance, dark hair with tight curls grazing his shoulders. He was thickset. His voice was gravelly. This is what I would tell the security guards. It was still a year before the Police Transport Officers would begin their duties.
He came closer. I shivered, and tried to tell myself it was because I was cold.
And then he was too close.
“I am going to fuck you up the arse so fucking hard. The things I am going to fucking do to you, you little bitch”
My eyes darted around. There were no passengers, no train, no police officers.
I was desperately, hopelessly alone.
I spotted a road.
And I ran.
And I prayed that a Sedan would reach me before the monster did.
I am attractive. I stop traffic. I make jaws drop and heads turn. I could justify things, yell with exasperation that I believe I am ugly, unworthy. But I don’t believe that. We live in a society which embraces self hatred, and admonishes self confidence. I have no time for that society. You may comment, tell me I am not beautiful, or whatever else you choose.
But this blog is about honesty. I do not believe I am more attractive than anyone else, but I do know that I am beautiful, and I will not apologise for holding this opinion of myself. Is it relevant? I don’t even know. I just know that you will blame me for it all the same.
When I was thirteen, I began to realize that something was amiss. I was gangly, all limbs and no breast. I was blonde, blue eyed, and hopelessly naive. Boys were beginning to take note of me. They would whistle, wink, make sleazy comments and their smiles would meet their groins. I was much too shy to even acknowledge their advances, let alone understand them. But one day I began to realize just what it was that felt so wrong.
It wasn’t boys who were looking at me.
It was men.
And from that day of realization, I became a little less naive, and a little more wary.
I remember the day of my fourteenth birthday. I had opened my gifts with my Mum, Dad and two brothers. It was a house of men, with Mum and I left to embrace football and toilet humor, a case of sink or swim. My Nan had given me forty dollars, and there was a new piano book I wished to purchase. I placed on my new pinafore, tights and cardigan, and was proud of my new ensemble.
As I finished with my purchase, I agreed to meet Mum at the tattlotto agent next door.
I was mere metres away. I could see her. But He saw me first. He looked me up and down, in my sweet little pinafore. He was in his sixties, and his moustache moved as he smacked his lips together.
That’s a nice, tight little arse isn’t it.
And suddenly I didn’t like my Pinafore anymore.
There was the time I was fifteen years old, wearing a pullover and leggings. I stood in line waiting to buy some chips and gravy. There was a man behind me, dressed in his suit and tie. It was lunch time. He stepped closer behind me in line. I assumed it must have been busy, he was polite, making room.
And then his fingers began to stroke my buttocks.
I didn’t want my chips and gravy anymore.
I was sixteen, he was my healthcare professional. I could count them on both hands and feet, all trying to desperately save my life. I kissed Mummy goodbye, and told her I would see her in an hour, as per our usual allocated time. I would talk, he would listen. A holistic approach to healthcare.
Take your clothes off. I need to weigh you.
I never had to take my clothes off, and he never had to weigh me.
I was seventeen and jaded.
He was the first to fill my tummy with butterflies, and make my heart do somersaults. We would kiss, we would touch, he gave me a bear. He made me feel beautiful, and he made me feel special. He was 22, I was 17. But I was mature, I was clever. I wasn’t like other girls.
Then one night Mummy sat me down with pain on her face, and tears in her heart. She told me he had been charged with doing bad things. Bad things to young girls. Girls much, much younger than me.
I remembered us kissing. The stuffed toy he had given me. And I vomited.
I was 18, and out on my first night nightclubbing. I was painfully shy, and smiled quietly. A young man introduced himself, and kissed my hand. I blushed. And then he smacked me on the backside, and high fived all the men in the pub.
I smiled even more quietly after that.
I was 19 and driving my younger brother on his first night out, with his best mate. We stopped at McDonalds, and while I waited for our drive thru order, they went inside to the toilets. I spotted a man outside my window. I lunged for the lock on my car door, just as he lunged to jump into my backseat. He started screaming, bashing the window.
‘Let me in you fucking bitch. What the fuck is wrong with you, who the fuck do you think I am.’
And I prayed my brother would come back before he smashed the window.
I was 20, and I was on a tram. Every now and then a tear would slip down my cheek. At every tram stop there were photos of missing woman Jill Meagher. Her raped and murdered body would not be found for a few more days, but the state instinctively knew that she would not be returning home. And the women instinctively knew that we were not as safe as we once thought.
I was standing on the tram, thinking sadly about this poor young woman when two men got on the tram. They were in their forties, six foot tall and drowning in heroin. The moment they stepped on the tram, I knew what was coming.
‘Holy fuckkkkk. Look at her! Fucking hell the things I would do to her!
The tram was filled with men. Men in suits, men in casual clothes, men in trade uniforms. The men’s descriptions of what they would ‘do’ to me echoed throughout the carriage way.
And not one a single man stood up. Not a single man said ‘Leave the lady alone’. Not a single man offered to help me.
And every man on that tram left me to listen to the fantasies of these men for fifteen minutes. I didn’t dare leave the tram before them, terrified they would follow. And I was acutely aware that not one man on that tram was going to help me.
A few months ago I drove home late one night, and filled my car with petrol. Suddenly a car swerved onto the path next to me. A man jumped out, and I realised at once what was going to happen. At the moment he tried to grab me, I kicked off my shoes and sprinted into the service station. Tears welled in my eyes, and my voice shook. I ran to the man serving, and blubbered ‘There’s a man outside. A man, a strange man, he is harassing me.’.
Did he offer to escort me to my car?
Did he ask if I was okay?
Did he force the man to leave?
He looked me up and down and said ‘Well, you’re pretty. You’re going to cop that’.
And that was it.
I have never been raped. I have never been molested. I have never been sexually assaulted. I have countless female friends who have confided to me that unlike me, they have endured the depths of despair at the hands of a man. No, I have not suffered like them.
But every single day I am sexually harassed, threatened or made to feel incredibly uncomfortable about my appearance and sexuality.
This is not a feminist rant, an assault on all those with male genitalia, a list of the shortcomings of the male sex. I live with my Dad and young adult brothers. I am the girl who has more male friends than female. I know so, so many men who would go to the edge of the earth to protect a woman, even if it placed him in danger, nor would they ever sexually harass a woman in any way or form.
But the reality is, many men simply will not. I am sexually harassed in public on a daily to weekly basis. And never in all these years has a man intervened, asked a man to display some respect, or simply told them to tone things down.
We condone and encourage a culture of sexual harassment. Wolf whistling, cat calling, beeping from a car, commenting inappropriately to a woman, a tap on the arse. We live in a society which holds true the belief that it is a man’s right to appreciate a woman in any way he pleases.
When a woman is raped, it is her fault. Our society asks her how much makeup she was wearing, did she flirt with him, how long was the hem on her skirt?
If you do not appreciate a catcall, a slap on the arse, being told how they would ‘love to fuck you’ you are a feminist, a ‘dyke’, a ‘highly strung bitch’, a ‘cocktease’. You wore too much makeup, shouldn’t have worn high heels, that’s what to expect for having large breasts or a small waist.
I am almost 21. Yesterday I was shopping for a get well card for a friend. Two men in their forties wound down their window. They spotted me, nudged one another excitedly, and it began. They beeped their horn over and over, whistled, stuck their ruddy faces out the window and spat sexual innuendos across the carpark to me.
And then they parked, and I saw one of their 8 year old daughters get out of the backseat of the car.
I wanted to tell her I was sorry.
I wanted to tell her it wasn’t okay.
I wanted to tell her that this wasn’t normal.
I wanted to tell her that when she reached my age, she had a right not to endure what I just had.
Most of all, I wanted to tell her that one day, this will be her.
And I wanted her to know that I never asked for him to find me pretty.