Wednesday 28 September 2016

Some men seem to think they're entitled to harass women - it's time to scream 'Stop!'

Lorraine Courtney

Published 20/10/2015 | 02:30

Jenny Stanley wrote about her harassment in Dublin city
Jenny Stanley wrote about her harassment in Dublin city

I'm walking back to work after my lunch break. A man in his late twenties leans out of a passing car window to shout: "Sexy c**t." The car drives off, the man still laughing. I feel deflated and powerless and angry.

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Last week, in a letter to the Irish Independent, Jenny Stanley raised the issue of sexist abuse on Dublin's streets and how it left her in tears.

"As I reached my bus stop, I realised I would have a long wait and so zipped up my long, padded jacket and braced myself against the cold October night," she wrote. "It was not long before it became clear that the cold would be the least of my worries that evening."

If you're female, the chances are that somebody (and by somebody I mean a male stranger) has whistled at you, or slurred "Hello, sexy" or pressed against you on the bus, or followed you home - often this is accompanied by abuse when the stranger's demands for your attention aren't entertained.

Most of the time you ignore it. Sometimes you flip out. Sometimes you tell somebody else about what happened and they tell you that you're making a big deal out of nothing and that it was probably meant to be a compliment.

"It's commonplace but last Saturday, I noticed, was a particularly busy night in town. It's just that unnerving feeling. It's maybe not to that extremity all the time but even the comments, throwaway comments that people feel entitled to share with you. It's things like 'oh you're looking well,' or 'all right, love, what's the story?'" Jenny said.

But this kind of street harassment is culturally accepted. Far too many of us feel that it's a part of being a woman and incidents of abuse are very rarely reported.

However, it isn't benign and can leave women feeling everything from uneasy to deeply threatened.

A 2007 study conducted by the George Washington University found that 99pc of women had experienced street harassment at least once in their lives, and 67pc said they experienced it at least once a month.

UCD is the first Irish university to take part in a larger international study on sexual harassment and 64pc of female students reported that they have been harassed on the street.

In 2007, the Garda Public Attitudes Survey investigated fear of crime in Ireland and its impact on quality of life.

Examining these fears by gender revealed some very noticeable differences. Some 19pc of female respondents reported that they felt "very worried" about being pestered in a public place.

Street harassment upsets me like few other things. It's a disgusting expression of the ingrained sexism in our society. It disturbs women. It creates a world where women are reduced to objects to fuel male fantasies.

It makes women less then human. It disrespects us. There is now some recognition, both on the part of women and a larger societal awareness, that there is something wrong about that; that this is not right. We no longer accept the notion that our bodies and our lives are free for comment and judgment in the home, or in the workplace, or on the street.

Hollaback! was established in New York as an online forum where women could exchange tales of the harassment they'd suffered, often by uploading pictures of the offender. The Dublin chapter has closed down but a branch remains up and running in Belfast.

Everyday Sexism is another important project that lets women tweet their experiences. Some of the latest tweets on the feed read: "Shop manager to his young assistant 'Smile, love, you'll never get a boyfriend with a face like that'"; "Had my ass grabbed by a 10-year-old yesterday as I ran down the Mersey, I've had this since 14, am now 36"; and "Just experienced #everydaysexism walking with two girls on 5th street & having guys cat-call from their car."

It's so important that we have outlets like this to vent our problems and that women like Jenny speak out about their experiences.

I've lived in Dublin for around 14 years, 14 years where my movement is limited by a city that makes me afraid to walk around after dark, a city that stops me going to parks alone and a city so full of street harassment that my morning walk to pick up the paper can upset me for the whole day.

An informal survey among my friends confirms that I'm not the only one.

Invasions into a woman's personal space are rampant and you never know how to react. Do you ignore it? Do you reply? Because so often refusing to get into a conversation is routinely punished by insults like "bitch" or "slut".

Men move in a little too close on the bus. Submissive behaviour becomes your only defence: avoiding eye contact on the street, keeping your head down on the Luas, never wearing a miniskirt and never, ever smiling.

The wolf-whistlers, bum-patters and stalkers must realise, on some level, that what they're doing is wrong.

But, even now, men seem to think that they are perfectly entitled to behave like this and too many women are putting up with it. This abuse will stop only when we shout louder than the abuser.

Irish Independent

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