6th December 2011 - 7 mins read
My dearest readers, welcome back.
You should know that I am a reasonable person. I have also never considered myself a feminist as much as I have considered myself a contender of equality between people, whether it’s race, gender, religion or age. Having said that, today’s topic is about sexual harassment. Yes, I am aware that it occurs with men too. But I am not a man and have never sexually harassed a man, nor do I know many men around me who have been through it. So I am going to discuss sexual harassment in females only today.
On Friday, I posted on my Twitter page that I’m going to turn sexual harassment into a good cause. What I decided to do is monitor for a month just how many guys stop and stare at me or my friends and for every time it happened, I would donate half a dollar to charity. By the end of the month, I’ll count how much I’ve saved and post an update on how many guys have done so in a month. And just so you know how fair I’m being, I’m only counting the guys that stare for long periods of time and/or do a double take stare. Even further, I’m putting half a dollar in the jar every time I look at a guy too.
You might be wondering, why am I doing this? First, charity is always good. Second, sexual harassment occurs so often for women that we almost don’t notice it anymore. And for those of us who do notice it, we only notice maybe five percent of what actually happens. Now, what exactly is sexual harassment? Is sexual harassment just physical? No. It’s hollering, it’s staring, it’s at work and at university, it’s on the street and in the car. It’s guys talking to their friends about women in the most disgusting words I never though existed in the dictionary. It’s rating women on a scale of one to ten. It’s everything that offends a woman to the point that it makes her feel like a piece of meat and it happens all the time.
You would think that we are at enough of an intellectual point in our societies where we don’t have to keep kicking and screaming about sexual harassment. Further, I would expect that such a society as the Arab one that portrays such high regard and deep value for its mothers, sisters and daughters would not have such a prevalent issue of sexual harassment. Now don’t get me wrong. I am understanding of the reasons behind sexual harassment in certain societies as well as I am admitting that the way women dress and seek attention plays a huge role in it too. But while it may be a cause, it is not an excuse. For the very least, women who are dressed from head to toe minding their own business and going out to do normal things should not be exposed to any form of sexual harassment. Not even a glance. The way I see it, society is giving us two options: Either we confine ourselves to the four walls of our rooms and never set foot outside the house or go out and face this disgusting behavior.
Yesterday morning, I left my house to go to work. I grabbed breakfast on my way and got back in my car, where I stopped for a few minutes to adjust my things. As I looked over to my right, I saw an older man sitting in his car just staring at me. It was eight in the morning and this man looked like a serial rapist. Had I been out of the car and seen this guy, I would have ran for my life, something I have actually had to do before. Absolutely nauseated by this man’s behavior, I reversed my car so I would be out of his vision. As I continued adjusting my things, I saw the man reverse to leave his parking spot. He turned around, continued staring at me and drove off. I got chills up and down my spine as I grabbed my phone to note down another half a dollar I needed to add to charity. Only a few minutes after I drove off, did my blood begin to boil over. What was I doing that warranted this kind of staring at this time of day? I was dressed conservatively and not even walking outside where he could see the entirety of my body. I did nothing to “seduce” him or attract attention to myself. Just by being a woman, I was subjected to this appalling excuse of a human being’s glares. If he had glanced and looked away, I wouldn’t have cared or even noticed. The fact that he pierced my core with his creepy staring is what pissed me off. As I continued driving, my rage took over me to the point that I started crying.
This situation reminded me of two other incidents I have been through and have been the most terrifying moments of my life. About a year ago, I stopped at the mall early in the morning for a work meeting. As I walked outside to go to the entrance, I felt a creepy presence around me. I turned around to notice a man following me, picking up his footsteps faster. I quickly looked around and there was no one in sight. I couldn’t scream or do anything else so I just picked up my pace faster silently praying and hoping to reach the door before he caught up with me. As I sped up, I heard the shuffling of his feet move faster to catch up with me and my heart began pounding. The next thing I know, I hear grunting and moaning coming right behind me and my heart collapsed into my feet. I finally reached the entrance and looked quickly behind me to find the man had walked off. I was relieved but completely terrified for the rest of my morning.
But the worst I’ve ever been through was about five years ago. I left my house one day at around 5 p.m. in broad daylight. The street I lived on at the time was the most crowded street you could imagine. Tons of cars and people passing by every second, it was impossible to feel a threat on this road. I was literally covered from head to toe in a long sleeves shirt and a long skirt to the floor. There isn’t an ounce of me that felt that anything could happen to me considering the sun was up and there was literally hundreds of people around me. My car was parked thirty seconds away from my house in a crowded parking lot. Due to the crowd, I was parked in between two cars that were both very, very close to mine. It was winter at the time so as I usually do, I got in and put my windows down. As I got ready to reverse out of my spot, I saw a man maybe two meters away from me diagonal to the driver’s seat in my car. The man was looking at me and slowly approached me, but my brain could not comprehend what was about to happen. As he got closer to my car, I noticed he was grabbing his privates and that’s when I started to freak out. He was only about 50 centimeters away from me and I reached for my window to close it. He then squeezed his way in between my car and the car next to me and before I had a chance to fully close my window, he violently grabbed my chest.
I was in such a great state of shock that I didn’t even process what had just happened. Like a robot, I proceeded to reverse out of my spot but as the man walked around my car and away in the opposite direction, I did not take my eyes off of him. I couldn’t believe what he had just done and was getting away without any consequences. He continued staring at me with his head over his shoulder as if telling me in a way that I was helpless. I drove off and within thirty seconds of leaving, an uncontrollable amount of tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt violated but worse, I felt unsafe. I couldn’t believe that right outside my house, with the burning sun out and hundreds of people around, someone could harass me this way. I always imagined that harassment would be in dark, quiet alleys in the middle of the night. But never like this.
I went straight to my friend’s house and told her the story while crying for the rest of the day. Five years later still, I could still cry about this. What was far more disturbing to me was that I shared this story with many of my girlfriends and almost every single one of them had a similar story, if not worse. Ever since that day, I always have an eye open like a hawk for my surroundings at all times. And in any time that I am in a car, I ensure that all doors are locked at all times. Yes, I do believe that security is only a measure, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. This is the least of what I can do to prevent this happening to me again.
I don’t know what the options for women are to avoid this kind of terror. While martial arts and pepper spray are good options, in my own personal experience, you tend to freeze in a situation like this. You really don’t know what to do because you are so filled with fear. And instead of focusing all our efforts on developing a defense mechanism, perhaps we should start targeting new methods of reducing sexual harassment. Until then, charity it is for me. And in the meantime, keep your hands, your words and your eyes to yourself. Thank you.
Kisses and hugs,