What sexual harassment feels like; my experiences with men in five different countries.
This post is written for men and to men, in the hopes that you comprehend the impacts of your behaviour. I also write in solidarity with womxn everywhere — who deserve better than to walk as imposters through a man’s world.
CW: rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, men’s violence against women.
In the last 6 years I have lived in Melbourne, Shanghai, Tokyo, rural Japan, Seattle and Paris. This evening I had the sad realisation that the uniqueness of my experience is not that I’ve lived in all of these amazing cities and countries, with diverse languages and cultures and what an incredible time I have had. My realisation is that I have experienced the uniqueness of sexual harassment in each of these places — in each city it looked a little different, but it was there bubbling away.
In Melbourne, 6am walks to the train station heading to yoga and work meant encountering you drunk on your way home from a night out. What you, Australian men, refuse to grasp is that even what you perceive to be “innocuous,” what you consider to be a “joke” constitutes harassment and causes us a great deal of trauma.
You were drunk and you invaded my personal space and you said to me… “are you Jenny from the block?” What I want you to understand is that this behaviour shatters us. It shatters our psyche.
One minute I am walking confidently down the street, head bobbing to my favourite tunes, basking in my happiness that I managed to wake up early that morning and the next minute I am afraid for my life.
I do not know you. I do not know your intentions. I do not know what will come next. I do not know if you will drag me into the alleyway or into the park; if I will be the next Jill Meagher or Yuk Ling (Renea) Lau; if my loved ones will need to look up my last location on Find My Friends when I don’t show up to work. This is what goes through our heads when you “joke” with us in the street.
When I told you to leave me alone, you and your friend called me a bitch. Because when womxn do not smile and nod, when we don’t roll over and submit to you, you call us bitches and sluts, cunts and whores.
You are so shocked that we aren’t grateful for all the attention that you’ve bestowed upon us. You have to put us back in our place, where you think we belong — below you. Always below you.
You get away with this behaviour without consequence too often. This is why you continue to do it unceasingly, because you know you will never get caught; that no one will ever call you out.
But not this time.
I spotted a police car approaching and flagged down the officer. You were so horrified that you would be held to account, that you tried to stop me with your cutting words.
He rolled down his window and I said quickly to him that you were harassing me, I pointed to you and then ran. I didn’t even wait for the officer to respond but I looked back once to see the police car still there and him having a conversation with you. I always think back to that moment and wonder if I should’ve stayed there and told my side of the story, but I was too afraid to be near you.
You force us to question ourselves and our every reaction when the burden should be on you to behave with decency, kindness and respect.
The responsibility is always on us to wear more appropriate clothing or to not walk alone, when it should be on you to not rape, assault and harass.
Of all the places that I’ve lived, I have experienced the least street harassment in Shanghai, in terms of seriousness and frequency. I often walked home past 3am after a few (or many) drinks without a hint of fear.
The harassment came in other forms, for example, you would take stealth photos of me because you thought I wouldn’t notice, and you, a tuk-tuk driver grabbed my friends breasts when you dropped her off at Chinese school one day. There was also the time I was leaving a club and you pulled my arm so hard that my friends had to drag me away and I was terrified that they wouldn’t be able to.
Now I see the harassment on a spectrum; low, medium, high — and what I experienced in Shanghai was low-grade. This is what you do to us. You subject us to so much that we become desensitised and accustomed to the feeling of being less than you.
You groom us to accept it so that you can continue subjugating us. You never question your perceived superiority, but when womxn finally reach a superior position, we can never go a day without you questioning us or how we got there.
Tono, Iwate, Japan
In rural Japan the harassment was not physical or violent in nature, it was verbal and entrenched in cultural norms. For example, you always made womxn prepare the tea and the food, you always made me sit in the very back of the car, even though I was the tallest with the longest legs, you always preferred me to walk behind you and to wear makeup and cute clothes, to feminise myself, to cover my mouth when I laughed, to speak in a more high pitched voice, to submit.
One time when I was working outside, the back of my top kept lifting, exposing my lower back, so I wrapped my sweater around my waist. A woman that I knew came over and gave me a towel to wrap around me, saying that there were a lot of you around and that I had to cover up because “me ga aru” — literally translates as “there are eyes”.
Once again the burden was on me to cover my body, instead of it being on you, to control your urges and not sexualise me.
You were obsessed with my underwear. You, a 60+ year old man would come up behind me when I was doing my laundry and you would ask me if I was washing my panties. Or when we were all sitting down on the tatami, with your girlfriend right there you would ask me what colour panties I was wearing…then when I wouldn’t say, you played a guessing game.
Harassment in Seattle has looked somewhat similar to Melbourne so far. You will roll up slowly in your car beside me as I’m walking home, perhaps in broad daylight, perhaps after dark. You will try to strike up conversation with me and ask me if I need a ride, trying to get me in your car. Or you will just yell “I wanna fuck you” or other obscenities at me while you’re passing by. Now my stomach starts to churn every time I feel cars slow next to me while I am walking; I always feel the urge to run.
The real show-stopper has been Paris. The icing on the sexual harassment cake. Before living here, I’d never walked home at night with my handbag open, knife in hand. Where my best friend walked home with a trans womxn who she protected from you as you stopped on the street to yell and spit at her, and threaten to kill her.
We are worth nothing to you. You all have mothers, grandmothers and probably sisters, aunts and daughters, too, yet you do not equate our lives with theirs.
The reason why we use the hashtag #menaretrash, is because you are the reason why we cannot and do not feel safe. Anywhere.
When I tell my friends to message me when they get home safe, it is not because I fear that womxn will attack them in their doorway or on their walk, it is because you have laid in wait before. You have watched them try to enter their building, and when they have hesitated you have run towards them, intentions unknown. You have drugged them. You have raped them while they were sleeping.
You. Men. Not womxn. You are trash. For making us feel that we are safe nowhere. That is no way to live, but it is our reality.
Why must you constantly oppress us with your presence and your predation?
We are not animals; to stalk, threaten and kill.
Why can’t we have a night out with our friends without you aggressing us? Why must you touch us without our permission? Why don’t you accept that no means no?
You have no right to our bodies. No right to our attention.
You have no right to us at all.