16 Jan The Other Side of sexual harassment: When women silence women
Looking back on my life, there have been many instances where men have sexually harassed me in every imaginable setting. In spite of me saying no, they would persist to violate my boundaries with no respect for my no with their:
- Unwanted touch
- Sticking their tongue down my throat
- Grabbing/touching/pulling my hair
- Sexual comments about us being together
- Sexual comments in general
I wasn’t always brave enough to stand up and fend off or fight. I would just run away from the men in fear that they would become angry at my rejection or even resort to physical violence. Or even worse, I would brush off their unwanted advances with nervous laughter or take a long break from seeing them again.
I agree that men need to start taking responsibility for their words and actions. But as women maybe we need to be more mindful when our friends, colleagues and strangers share their story?
I have had women who have taken the men’s sides when I shared with them that these men violated my boundaries and have invalidated my thoughts, feelings and opinions.
In our society, to be desirable means warding off unwanted advances and as women we may even perceive these advances as making us desirable beings. Nonetheless, there should be a respectful way for men to be infatuated with women. When a man’s advances crosses a line which makes you uncomfortable as a woman, there should be no denying your intuition. Distance yourself from the individual.
There have been times when I would have confided in women about unwanted advances by men I met or I interacted with and my concerns were then either dismissed by these women because they claimed “I wasn’t attracted to him so the advances felt intrusive” or other comments such as “Oh, of course, he touched your hair – you have beautiful hair.” Or in some way deflecting to make excuses as to why my concern may be an exaggeration of the situation. It was in my head and that the men were just being men.
I was the one who needed to change my perspective.
I don’t think that any of these women meant to hurt me, but it highlights just how brainwashed we are as a society that even when women confide in you about red flags, it is brushed off. It may also be symptomatic of their checked history with men and how they needed to deflect to deal with unwanted advances towards them.
All of this rambling is to say – women need to honour when other women feel unsafe, when other women express how scared they are. And if it makes you uncomfortable – instead of making excuses or telling them that it’s in their head – take a deep breath and have the courage to say “I might not be the best person to tell this story to…”
To any woman who has told me about an uncomfortable truth where they felt scared or victimised and I didn’t offer the appropriate level of “WTF!” I apologise profusely.
I promise going forward to be a better sister to the women in my life and may I, in turn, have the courage to let women know that it is not ok to silence me.