i was assaulted because…
When I was sixteen years old, I was assaulted.
I had attended the Williamstown High School formal. It was past midnight, and my friends and I were walking through a dimly lit street towards home. I was shocked and paralysed with fear as a bottle of Carlton Draught smashed against my bare back from the window of a passing vehicle. As the vehicle fled, what I could gather from the abuse the driver was hurling out of his window boiled down to this: I was assaulted because I was a girl wearing a short dress.
When I was seventeen years old, I was harassed by a group of men at North Melbourne railway station.
Four of them cornered me and began interrogating me as to where my “boyfriend” was. As I invented an imaginary boyfriend at an imaginary location, they made derogatory comments about my appearance. When the train arrived, I was grabbed and forcibly made to sit with them. It wasn’t until they got off the train that anybody offered me any assistance. As I told the train passengers that I was okay now it boiled down to this: I was harassed because I was a girl who was travelling alone.
When I was eighteen years old, I was banned from an Internet music forum.
As non-eventful as it seems, I was subjected to months of online sexual harassment from an older male user. He knew nothing about me beyond the female gender symbol next to my username. I decided to use my keyboard to inform said older male user exactly what I thought of him and I no longer had access to the forum. As I vented my frustration to the forum members I was connected to on Facebook it boiled down to this: I was banned because I’m a girl.
I am twenty-one years old now and I will not stop being enraged when females are assaulted, harassed, demeaned or treated differently on the sole basis that they fall under the category of female.
The incident on the music forum is particularly enraging because I was punished for defending myself against sexism.
What sort of message does that send?
That we should be asked to accept gender-based harassment? That we should be asked to sit back and accept a complete stranger feeling that they have the right to evaluate us right off the bat because we were born with two X chromosomes?
What is even more baffling than this absurd message is that gender-based harassment is still trivial in the eyes of an alarming number of the population.
Gender-based harassment can start off small. How many times has somebody asked you to smile? How many times has somebody told you that swearing isn’t ladylike? How many times have you perused any given comments section on the Internet to find a handful of tasteless jokes? The traditional confusion as to why a woman is on their computer screen rather than in her kitchen.
The Internet comments are less invisible than other physical forms of harassment but “invisible” is part of the problem. It certainly wasn’t an invisible bottle of Carlton Draught that smashed against my bare back when I was a teenager.
It was real.
And it hurt.
Our experiences are belittled because those who deem them trivial don’t see them occurring on an endless basis. This argument is about as logical as saying incest is a non-issue because every second person you pass by on the street doesn’t have six fingers on one hand.
This argument is discounting my experiences.
It’s discounting the experiences of every woman I know.
It’s discounting the experiences of women as a whole.
So what can we do?
We can start by not belittling anybody’s experiences. Whether they’re talking about the abuse that was hurled at them for choosing to wear a particular article of clothing, or the time they went to Disneyland when they were six, they’re not your experiences to reflect upon. It’s not your place to say that perhaps they would not have had vulgar abuse hurled at them if they had not worn that particular article of clothing, just like it wouldn’t be your place to scratch them out of their Disneyland keepsake photos to replace with a photo of yourself.
The story of my uncomfortable train ride from North Melbourne railway station brings me to the conclusion of my collection of anecdotes:
When you see gender-based harassment happening, don’t stand idly by and let it happen, lest we perpetuate the notion that public places aren’t public places at all, or that making tasteless jokes about women in YouTube comment sections is a valuable use of somebody’s time.