Published in Catalogue, 2016
When it comes to being a woman in society, sexual harassment and indecent assaults are basically part and parcel to our experience. Catcalling, sexual threats, sexual intimidation, groping, leering, following, and touching without consent are all so commonplace in a woman’s public life that we accept them as little more than daily inconveniences; we roll our eyes, back away, swear a little if we’re not too frightened and then get on with our day.
Catcalling is an insidious symptom of a society that fails to respect the sovereignty of women and I haven’t grown up with, nor encountered, a single woman who hasn’t experienced it regularly since the age of twelve or thirteen. However, it’s easy to chock up this intrusive, pestering behaviour to the innocence of ignorance – idiots participating in a wider, largely unrecognised culture of subjugation – but where then, do we draw the line? How do we effectively distinguish between occurrences that we ‘can’ report, and ones that we can’t?
When it comes to actual legislation – was it a criminal act when a man in a movie theatre sidled up to my friend – alone at the time – and placed his hand on the inside of her thigh? Was it a criminal act when a man in a business suit grinned and displayed his erection to another friend of mine on a packed train? Was it a criminal act when last year, I was followed on my walk home at night, divided by a distance of approximately one metre? Was it criminal when a man followed my friend’s sister down a deserted beach and repeatedly flashed her his genitals? Or perhaps when I was purposefully surrounded by a large group of men on a dark street one night who proceeded to joke that I shouldn’t worry because they “wouldn’t rape me”?