Have we all still got to get over a niggling invisible feeling that talking about our experiences of harassment is somehow akin to bragging? Or that it’s somehow not share-worthy? It’s a frightening concept that maybe it’s so ubiquitous that nobody finds it interesting anymore. I, for one, end up playing things down to so,e degree to avoid coming across as hyper-sensitive to a non-issue, even as an open advocate for action against that issue. I’m a 24 year old lady who is known to be constantly ‘harping on’ about feminism but a subtle voice still tells me that I need to either avoid sharing personal harassment stories or share only the worst ones for fear of an unsympathetic audience. I guess that’s because a little bit of light harassment is often just not seen as a problem. It reminds me of a speech David Foster Wallace gave about a fish who asks another fish what ‘water’ is – the point being that we often can’t even see or define what surrounds us. Unless we ask ourselves to pay attention; in our case, to call attention to harassment.
I told a colleague a topical story the other day about a bouncer groping me in a club while I was dancing in my student days. She asked if it had been “boobs or bum” – when I said “bum” she thought I was referring to the habit of men on British dance floors to give your ass a light ‘cupping’ as they pass, and she thought little of it – like the French pinch, it’s just ‘part of the culture’. Everybody knows that cupping. Many of us, at least, have felt the intimate wrath of some cheeky chappy getting his fingers right up into the bum-thigh skin junction to cop a brief, too-soft feel before disappearing into the crowd (it always seems to be creepily soft; I’d take a harsh slap over unsolicited delicacy any day).
The bouncer in my story, in contrast to these sneaky sneakers, did happen to take a fist- rather than finger-full, so my colleague was satisfied that my story was worth telling. But was if it was just a passing touch? Or a poke in the belly? Is there a marker point of severity that justifies our annoyance? I don’t want to feel like I’m a weirdo for feeling anger in these situations. Sorry, but I’m just not naive enough to go along with the ‘whoops my hand slipped’ escape route anymore, and any unwanted touching is enough to warrant a response.
One of my favourite things about my twenties is that every day I feel more comfortable with acknowledging and vocalising new feelings and opinions I might have found too trivial to bring up when I was slightly younger at the cost of going with the flow. I considered myself a pretty progressive, self-accepting teenager but I love nothing more than my newfound awareness that it’s okay to be imperfect, be lazy sometimes, and allow myself to act on my feelings. It’s okay to vocalise emotions that aren’t necessarily earth-shattering, just like its okay to tell your pals what you do and don’t feel like doing on a Saturday afternoon. I suppose my point in bringing this up is that it’s a really great feeling when you give yourself a voice, and no story is too small.
Please don’t feel like any comment is too short, or not interesting enough, to share. Whatever your story’s level of ‘severity’ (or alleged lack thereof), we want to hear you. Help us to map street harassment and show that yes, it is a real problem, even in this shiny, green, western city of ours.