I walk home alone.
It’s 2am and I’m carrying my heels as I’ve replaced them for flip flops. I’m on the final stretch of road before my housing estate when I hear the whistling. I wrap my coat tighter around myself, phone and keys still in my hands. They are jeering and calling at me. I make it home and text my friends that I arrived safely.
It’s 4pm and I’m carrying a bag of groceries. I see them looking at me so I divert my eyes and quicken my pace. They lean in towards me, blocking my way on the path before laughing and letting me pass. I lock the door to my house when I arrive safely.
Its 8am and I’m carrying my school bag with more books in my hand. I see them coming before they see me. I contemplate crossing the road but I tell myself not to be so paranoid. Seeking approval from his friends he tries to lift up my skirt. Keeping my head down I walk faster, tears prickling my eyes. I don’t cry until I arrive back home, safe once again.
I arrived home safely every time, but we’re not all always that lucky.
How we dress most certainly does not mean yes, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what we wear. I have been harassed while wearing gym clothes, bundled up in a jacket, an oversized scarf and hat, in a short dress on a night out and even when I was in my school uniform. And that’s just the playful banter from strangers. Often it is people we know who take it one step further.
I’m not alone.
I’m in the pub drinking Jameson and dash with my friends. We’re annoyed because the guy sitting behind us has pinched my ass about six times since we sat down. When he leaves our conversation takes a darker tone. We talk about sexual assault, but we never use those words. We never use the word rape because we have been taught not to. Instead we are encouraged to revaluate everything that happened, to ask questions like “maybe it was consensual”, “maybe it’s what I wanted”, “maybe I was asking for it” or “maybe it’s my fault for leading him on”, even though we know deep down the answer is no.
Every woman has a story, if not about themselves then about someone close to them. We know what it’s like to be pressurised into a situation where we were in no position to give proper consent. How are protestations are met with, “sure it’s only a bit of fun” even when we are clearly not enjoying ourselves.
In Ireland it is estimated that 1 in 4/ 1 in 5 women (depending on the source) will experience sexual assault during their adulthood. 1 in 12 female university students will be the victims of rape. Approximately 10%-20% of these incidents will be reported to the Gardaí and the conviction rate is less than 8%. 98% of the perpetrators are male, with 93% of them being known by the victim.
Young boys are taught over-sexualisation while young girls are taught to be ashamed of our sexuality. When we were 11 years old my friends and I used take turns changing after swimming lessons as one of us always had to stand guard in case the two boys in our class tried to peak under the cubicle again. I remember the rumours that were spread about me from this young age and the shame I felt towards myself and the body I occupy as a result. Us girls are taught no longer relevant terms such as purity and virginity and that sex is something that should be kept for that “one special guy”. It’s something we are supposed to give away to a man. But our sexuality is ours alone and we should be the only one’s controlling it and expressing it. We get to decide who and how many we explore it with. It is not something a person is entitled to take from us at any time.
There are times when I have been left speechless by the blatant sexism directed towards me that the moment often passes before I’m given the opportunity to speak up for myself. However, I can be quite aggressive when I do manage to speak out against this behaviour. This led to a soft warning from my mother who told me to be careful because one day I’ll talk back to the “wrong guy”. And as much as I wish it wasn’t true, I know she has a point. I also highly doubt that this “wrong guy’s” mother or father ever gave him a similar warning or even tried to teach him not to speak to another person so crudely. It’s a double standard that is prevalent when it comes to gender inequality in Ireland and across the western world.
These, of course, are only my own experiences with sexual based gender inequality and I won’t delve into them further for personal reasons. But it goes far deeper than this and that is a major problem.
While the majority of people seemed to support the Women’s Marches which took place across the globe on Saturday, there was of course some backlash. Criticisms included the remark that women already have equal rights. And in most countries we do – on paper. In practice these rights don’t always translate. Gender pay gaps, denial of bodily autonomy, gender based violence, discrimination towards women of colour, the fetishisation of gay women’s sexuality and the intolerance towards transgender women are just a few examples.
And while yes, it’s important to remember that it’s “Not All Men” – it is “All Women”. Women are united for so many reason, not least because we have all experienced unwanted sexual attention at some stage in our lives of varying levels. We know what it is like to be objectified and sexualised and it doesn’t matter what age we are.
These marches are a reminder that we are not walking alone.
*statistics from RCNI (Rape Crisis Network Ireland) and USI (Union of Students Ireland)