Tuesday, January 22

Fighting Sexual Harassment

After a blog post at "The F-Word", the woman writing it has launched a special blog - "don't look, don't touch" - to bring more awareness to the problem of sexual harassment of women in public places like the street, a train and so on.

I personally think that this blog - and various sites named there with links - are a very good idea. The fact alone that people write about it online - maybe even with names and pictures of those doing the harassing - heightens the awareness of the public. It is a first step to make people - women and men - realize that being harassed sexually isn't just some kind of fun and a woman indicating she doesn't want that isn't just over-sensitive.

Some men are complaining about that kind of post/blog/article/report, claiming that it makes the public think every man who talks to a woman in the street is harassing her. Well, in most cases it's easy to see the difference between two people talking and one person (most of the time the woman) being sexually harassed. Body language is a good indicator.

I'm not writing about this from my own experience. I might not be attractive enough or maybe I just emit some kind of "harass me and you die"-waves, but up until now I have been spared that experience. But I can very well understand how a woman feels when she gets that much "unwanted attention" from men around her. And I can understand, too, how helpless you feel when people just don't realize how degrading, humiliating and frightening the actions of someone are.

Women are taught from quite an early age to be careful around men, to make sure they're not out alone in the dark, not to give someone an impression that might lead to a 'dangerous' (mostly sexually charged) situation. In essence that means we're taught we're natural born victims and thus have to be very careful in life. Therefore male actions that are, all by themselves and when directed at other men, no harassment or attack will be interpreted by woman like that. Cutting off escape routes (as in the 'train'-post at "don't look, don't touch"), for example. Standing straight right in front of a woman, talking to her in a loud (read: aggressive) voice.

And the crime statistics agree with our feelings there: Women are more likely to become victims of assault and other physical crimes. Women are less able to prevent something like that from happening to them. And most of the time the perpetrators are men.

That doesn't mean all men are like that. They surely aren't. But they need to be aware of the difference between their lives and those of their girlfriends, wives, sisters, female acquaintances and so on. Life can look a good deal more threatening if you are more likely to be at the receiving end of a violent action. And it's up to men to act on this and make sure to stop acting in a way that will seem threatening to women. The only other possible step would be to arm all women and allow them to use their weapons on every man that seems threatening to them. But I'm sure men wouldn't want that... I wouldn't want it, if I were a man.

Again: blog posts, articles, websites and reports about sexual harassment are not supposed to make people believe every man is doing it regularly. They are just there to make people aware the problem of sexual harassment exists. Those who have never acted like that towards a woman aren't accused.

Sexual harassment isn't something to shrug off lightly, no matter whether you're experiencing it or just watching someone else suffering through it. Fighting back and making clear that this kind of action is not wanted is the only way to act on it. We all need to be aware of it happening and we all need to be ready to stepping in when we see it happen. And to make sure to anybody doing it to us that this kind of action is not wanted and is not harmless.

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