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Why Speak Out About “Mild” Sexual Harassment

Why Speak Out About “Mild” Sexual Harassment June 2, 2016

A Russian poster urging viewers to open their eyes to the violence happening against women. I found the image really striking. Shared on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
A Russian poster urging viewers to open their eyes to the violence happening against women. I found the image really striking. Shared on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Some of the comments on my recent posts, like Why Being Sex-Positive, Sexy, or Anything in Between Doesn’t Mean You “Deserve It” and Sex Positivity and Sex out of Context, have gotten… interesting. And by interesting I mean victim-blamey.

(content note: contains discussion of physical violence)

Did you read my post defining the story genre known as a personal narrative? Everyone has these first-person stories they tell about their life experiences, and, sadly, most if not all women have stories about being harassed (or outright assaulted, abused, stalked, harmed).

This morning I saw this public Facebook post, which I’ll quote in full:

Today, I talked back to a catcaller. I do this often, and when I say I’m putting myself in physical danger when I do this, I’m laughed at. I’m told to stop overreacting. I’m called overdramatic.

Today, I talked back to a man who touched me in the street without my permission. It doesn’t matter what I said. What matters is that he grabbed me by the back of the head, called me a whore, and threw me into a wall. Because I stood up for myself *after* he put his hands on me.

The details are irrelevant. I will tell you that this happened in the middle of the afternoon. I will tell you that there were onlookers who did nothing to help. I will tell you that as I crawled around on the sidewalk, feeling for my dropped glasses, nobody came to help. I will tell you that as I walked away, shaking, bleeding from my mouth, nobody offered to walk me home.

I will tell you that I sobbed in the arms of a friend, and asked him to help me invent a story to tell the rest of my friends, because I was so ashamed. I will tell you I blamed myself for being too mouthy. I will tell you I’m still crying.

I will tell you this isn’t the first time. That I anticipate it will not be the last. I expect to get hurt again. I expect to be hit by more men in my lifetime. I expect to be called names and threatened. I anticipate it. It has happened enough for me to anticipate it. And still, I was not prepared.

I will tell you I was terrified to post about this for fear of being called more names. Things like “overdramatic” and “attention whore”. I was terrified to even tell anyone what happened. Because I assumed I would be blamed. I will tell you that I’m a tough cookie and a badass woman, and I still can’t help but blame myself.

This is 2016. I was attacked by a man, and I am preparing myself to be asked what I did to deserve it, and told what I should have done to prevent it. This needs to be talked about. My story is not even a little unique. #notallmen helps no one, when#somemen are all it takes.

This personal narrative exemplifies the victim-blaming aspect of rape culture that is horrifyingly pervasive. You don’t have to be a card-carrying feminist to read this story and believe that there’s something wrong with how this woman was treated.

And this is why we talk about even “mild” forms of sexual harassment such as catcalling, groping, and street harassment. Maybe these aren’t the “big deal” forms of abuse/assault/rape that garner a lot of public attention, and maybe they’re not as traumatizing (though as I’ve learned about trauma, the events that trigger a traumatic response can vary in scope, and that doesn’t make the trauma less legitimate). But microaggressions stack up in people’s experiences of the world, wearing us down and making us feel like our experiences are too small to bother bringing up even as they’re gnawing at us. And, as in this personal narrative, when even just speaking up against a microaggression is enough to incite violence – what the fuck kind of a justification makes that okay?

I’m frustrated and sad that we still need to be having this conversation. But I guess I’m not terribly surprised, as there as Christian thinkers saying rape within marriage isn’t possible, as well as the long litany of examples of rape culture in secular society.

So I’m going to keep talking about everything on the harassment/abuse spectrum. It’s not a fun topic, but it’s one we can combat with conversation and education, and as an educator, this is one of my contributions to society.


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