I’ve been catcalled to on the street during the day and at night, touched inappropriately at parties and on dates, called ‘vanilla’ because I’m sexually inexperienced and been told that I’m abnormal because I have prestigious career goals. I’m expected to keep it to myself and allow these things to happen. But it hurts when you’re viewed as a thing and not a person, placed in a box with a gender stereotype and given value based on your physicality rather than personality.
Where to begin? One year, I went on holidays with my parents, I was fifteen. Sitting by the pool my parents made friends with a couple about their age with a very young son. The husband of the couple seemed really nice, chatted away to him. The next day they joined us at the pool, the husband started to stare at me, up and down, telling my parents and his wife how lovely I was. He really just kept on staring at me in my swimming togs, and he really seemed less less jolly old man and more and more, creepy old man. He joined my parents and I for a drink after dinner and when my mother went to bed, he really over kill telling me I was beautiful and grabbed me by the waist. My Father, immediately stood up and said we were leaving in a super awkward way. I think my father wanted to believe I hadn’t noticed behavior so that’s why he didn’t give out to the man, but either way, what hell did that guy think he was doing? When I was fourteen and babysitting, the kids dad slapped me on the bum and said that my shorts looked like I was wearing underwear. When I was seventeen I worked in a bar and I was cleaning the ladies bathroom as the pub was being cleared out. A man his thirties, who was engaged, who knew my family and who’s little sister was in my year in school, followed me into the bathroom, pushed the door closed behind him and told me how pretty he thought I was and asked me whether I wanted it to get “hot” in the bathroom. He grabbed for me so I backed myself into a cubicle, complete with mop and bucket and locked myself in. A friend from school, a boy, who was also working in the bar came in when he noticed the door closed and dragged the guy away. In that same bar, a married man in his forties, groped me. In that same bar, a man in his sixties, groped me. When I was nineteen, a man in his thirties licked my face and squeezed my upper thigh in a car when I was getting a lift home with his sister. He was a really big man, I am a very small person in general. His hand completely around my thigh he rubbed up towards my crotch. He did this while continuing to speak to his sister (driving) and a neighbor in the front seat about his children. I have seen him many times since and he doesn’t look me in the eye. He acts as though he has never met before, particularly if I am with a brother or someone else he knows. When I was twenty one, and in university I brought friends back to my apartment after a night out. A guy I kind of like fell asleep on the sofa, when I went to bed he came into my room. It was college and common for friends to sleep over male or female. He started to kiss me, I kissed back. Before I knew it, he was on top of me, I kept telling him to stop when he was inside me. I kept saying no. He grunted and rolled off of me when he was done. The next morning I felt so ashamed and hungover. I told my friends but I didn’t report it. My friends, never suggested I reported it, it was a case of “bummer, that’s shit”. He would make it his business to be around me at parties, I would try and get away from him, he would follow me home from uni, he once left himself into my apartment by tailgating, he once grabbed by the belt of my shorts in a pub and shoved me against the wall. My friends would give out to him and shield me while another friend helped usher me safely away. None of us ever thought that this was an unusual situation or even illegal, just college. He told friends that he raped me, in front of me and laughed at me. When I ready about unreported sexual assaults I seem to forget to make the connection. When I was twenty five and working in my first “real” job, making “good” money, I was the only female in an all male department. We were having a Christmas jumper day and I came to work wearing jeans and a Christmas jumper, as everyone else in the office did. My male boss, who I had a lot of respect for, said “what are you wearing?!” when responded that I was wearing a Christmas jumper, he said “Really?, I thought you’d show up wearing a Santa’s little helpers outfit for me” I was just astonished, really what the actual…? When I was twenty six I was out for dinner with my friends, I was standing on the street while one of them used the atm. A drunk guy grabbed me by the wrist and tried to drag me up the dark street adjacent to the street we were on. I pulled my arm away from him, he held on so tight that his nails began to dig into my skin, I successfully freed my arm from his grip and my arm started to bleed. It was infected and gross afterwards and I still have a scar on the inside of my wrist from him. I wonder does he even remember it. The dozens of times a man shoved his hand up my skirt in busy pubs. That time my boyfriends friend told me he wanted to fuck me when he bumped into me alone in the hall at a house party. That time when I was working in a restaurant at twenty three when a guy I knew through friends came in drunk with a group of colleagues. I was walking down the stairs and met him on the landing, he grabbed me by both wrists and tried to kiss me. He kept leaning in and trying to reach my face with his as I tried to wriggle out of his grip. I nearly fell down the stairs trying to get away from him. He is a notoriously “nice” guy apparently. When I was in school, my science teacher used to rub his crotch against the front of our desks, so all the girls used to rub chalk on the desks before he came into class. One day, he rubbed himself against the desks like we knew he would and when he stood away from the desk of my friend and I, he noticed that the front of his trousers was covered in chalk. He glared at my friend and I, immediately he grabbed both of us by the arm and dragged us outside of the class room. He whispered in my friends ear, then mine, that he would be our year head the following year and we wouldn’t be able to get away from him. When I was twenty two and living in New York, I was viewing an apartment when the guy who was subletting it, rubbed his crotch up against my bum, really grinded. I left. I’m now twenty nine, I am an adult with a career. I was at a work lunch and at the end of it I turned around to grab my bag and a man at the next table put his hands on the back of my neck and shoulders. I turned around and asked him what he was doing, and whether he thought it was okay to touch other people, strangers, and what was it about me that he thought I would be okay with it, I told him to keep his hands off of me. His lunch mate told me it was a joke, honey. I said he needs to get a better sense of humor and left the restaurant. I was recently heading a project in work and I had to meet a rep from another company, a man, renowned professionally. His openly line was to tell me how cute I was. He also complimented my hands and asked me did I know why men love small hands on a woman. In school, we would have free classes where we would go to a classroom to study and be supervised by a teacher. For my final year in school we had our free class on Wednesdays scheduled in the TG class. The male teacher would always make me sit at the desk directly in front of him. At the beginning I thought it was because I was one of the last in, or because I had a habit of talking to my friends instead of studying. But as time went on, I realised even when I kept quiet and didn’t take my eyes away from the pages of my notebooks, that he would still make me sit there. Or when I realised that when other people were talking, he would make me sit there but not them. He would make me sit there and he would stare at me, I can still feel his eyes staring at me when I tried to keep my focus and avoid eye contact with him by staring at my books. I would always from then on be one of the first rather than one of the last to arrive to class but he would still make me sit there. Boys and girls in the class noticed it and offer to help me avoid being sat there, completely unsolicited. One day, I arrived early, sat in the middle of the class, not the back, stayed quiet, and hoped that he would see no reason to have to move me to the top of the class. But nevertheless when the bell rang for class to start he ordered the person sitting in front of him to switch seats with me. I protested that I was doing nothing wrong and that I shouldn’t have to sit up there because I was early, I wasn’t chatting and I was studying. He ordered me again and again I protested, the rest of the class started to back me up. He let out a roar that we were to switch seats and everyone was terrified, including me, so I switched seats and he stared at me again, for the entire class. That lasted for the entire school year. A colleague of mine said that I was good at the filing because I was a woman. He said that I was good at the fluffy “people management” stuff because I was a women. He said that I received special recognition award and an extra bonus at Christmas, because the company had to give it to a woman. He also says I’m cute like a puppy. There’s more I’m sure. My friends too, there must be hundreds of these stories between us. I hope my boyfriend, my father, my brothers, my uncles, my cousins or friends have ever inflicted this kind of harassment on a women, but it’s so common, it’s so normal that the odds don’t seem in favor.
I work in higher ed with lots of men and women in positions of authority and attend a lot of meetings. The men will often walk past me (and other women) to shake hands and greet the other men in the room. I’ve only gotten a handshake when I demand it and put my hand out to the men in the room deliberately. This has been going on for more than 15 years, I am a Manager, and am well-respected in my field.
One of my first experiences with sexism came while attending a prestigious, Catholic university. On a first date, a fellow student, angry with me that I would not go any further than kissing, told me he should rape me and I would probably enjoy it. After insisting he take me home immediately, he still did not understand what he had done wrong and continued to try to phone me for a couple of weeks. My next real challenge with sexism came at my first job out of college. I worked for a small investment firm at the Board of Trade. The firm was dominated by young men, including very intelligent men from top math universities. I was the only woman in a year long internship program with 5 men. The harassment started on day 1. Perhaps seeing my isolation and vulnerability, they were like a gang, taking turns making disgusting statements to me, joking about me, making fake come ons for laughs, grabbing or touching me and calling me a vulgar nickname. It was constant and observed by the bosses at the company. It even occurred in public in front of other people, in the elevator and on the floor of the exchange. No one stopped it or even acknowledged that it was out of line. Everyone thought the harrassment was funny. I stuck it out to finish my internship, but left as soon as it was over to get a different job. I realized that the culture at the firm would never change, and I refused to work there any longer. The sexism I encountered at a later job as a flight attendant was different, but began on day 1 as well. In training we were given makeovers and subjected to weigh ins. People who went over their weight limit were asked to leave the program. On the job, we were hit on by male passengers and sometimes pilots, as if the fact that we were in a flight attendant uniform meant that we were available for dates, etc instead of doing our job. Since then, I have seen and dealt with every day sexism all around me in different ways. I have had men follow me on the El, catcall at me on the street and even expose themselves to me in a public place. But the saddest part is that my daughters are still dealing with it, too.
I attended a prominent film school that was open about trying to admit an equal number of men and women into the program, hoping to promote women in a heavily male-dominated field. About halfway through my first year at the school I was having beers with some of the people – men and women – I’d gotten to know and work with over the last six months. One of the guys insisted that because less women apply, but that the school still admits 50% women, this means that the women at the school are objectively less talented and less qualified applicants than the men. His argument was that many men more deserving were overlooked in favor of women to satisfy the 50-50 representation at the school. This was someone who I thought was a decent person, who had gotten to know and work with women who were his peers in the program, casually stating that he believed the women were less talented and deserving, like he was remarking that the sky was blue.
I also noticed the tendency of female students to be quiet in group discussions, despite being very able individuals who have a lot to contribute (see post below by Summer, April 15.) Even at University many of them seem afraid to speak up or answer questions in class despite knowing the answer. I believe that the fear of being seen as overly pushy or a know-all is stopping them from speaking up, or perhaps they are more afraid of getting the answer wrong than the young men in the class? I recently read an article about the phenomenon of girls losing their “voice” at around age 12-13 and becoming less likely to speak up in class, less confident and more afraid of being judged, compared to their male peers who don’t experience so much of a loss of voice but can be affected in other ways. I do think the expectation by some adults and peers for girls to be quiet, modest about their ability and to put other people first affects girls from a young age, and the fear of being seen as overly pushy or a know-all can stop girls from being noticed in class at all. I wonder just how much young women take this into adulthood with them.
Another person in my physics class posted a response in our class’s online forum, for our weekly brain teaser assignment that was suspiciously like mine. This is no big deal — the point of these discussions is to learn from our classmates, and since mine was different from everyone else’s (in that it was correct), he obviously accomplished the goal of the assignment. My physics instructor gave him full credit for his work, complimented him for thinking to use a particular chart of information in the back of the book (which I’m guessing he found because I had referenced it and given the page number). The instructor then sent an email to the whole class telling everyone to check his work for clues about how to do the problem correctly. He then made a public reply on the discussion board demanding that I redo my work because forming and testing a hypothesis is not a scientific method of solving the problem, and we’re not allowed to use the chart in the back of the book (yes, the same chart that he complimented my classmate for using). I can file a grading discrimination complaint, but I don’t feel safe doing so because I’m only halfway through the school term. This class is hard for me, and the only reason I’m getting an A is because I typically receive full credit on the write-in quiz questions, which can be graded more subjectively than those whose answers are numeric or multiple choice. I can’t afford the damage it could do to my GPA, if I were to point out that I’m losing points for correct answers, while my classmates are earning full credit for following my example.
It is a story of my female friends being sexually harassed constantly on a daily basis in a hospital in Karachi. This one day my friend was really upset with something after ward rotation. Upon insisting to much asking what happened, she opened up a bit revealing that someone in ward just passed sexist remarks on her. She never told me what they were. Upon my asking what she said or did in response, her reply was what can you do. And my advice ranged from angry stare to slaps on his face. But not complete silence because in my opinion being a male it is your silence that encourages us to pass more remarks thinking that you some how liked it and now i am cool in your mind. Whatever situation you are in from a drunk male sitting besides you in a public bus passing remarks to a salesman ignoring you and attentive to your male partner, speak-up. Silence in these situations is tentamount to a pigeon closing her eyes upon seeing cat on her head thinking they it will go away. It won’t but you will into his stomach.
I don’t really have a story that highlights sexism. I mean, I’m sure I’ve witnessed it or even unwittingly been guilty of it. Probably many, many times. I just don’t remember it being a factor in my life. I admit that as I’m an educated thirty-something white male with a well paid job, in an affluent country, I’m very lucky to be able to attach that description to myself. Really what I’m trying to say is sorry. Sorry that prejudices which blatantly DO exist aren’t noticed by a regular guy like myself (and I’m not just applying this to sexism but in this context I guess it’s the one that matters). It’s insidious and horrible that anyone might have been conditioned to the point that any inequality is simply unnoticed. But what I’m mostly sorry for is the reaction of males who fear relinquishing their traditional position of privilege. For all of the snarky, snide, condescending comments and the outright hatred and impotent rage that some of them display. For the cowardly threats hidden behind online personas. For the devaluing of a woman’s opinion just because some tool thinks he’s allowed to because he HAS a tool. For every time a guy thought he could just reach out and touch something or someone he wanted without that feeling being reciprocated, and what’s more, those actions invited. You don’t need my words to validate what you’re doing here, but please allow me to be proud of what you’re doing as a fellow human being, because you got me to think a little bit more today than I usually do. Today I noticed something I had not. Today, your actions changed who I am. Maybe just a little, but they changed me nonetheless. Thank you.
My life and career are plagued by people that simply cannot see past the female stereotype that society perpetuates. It is apparently a shock that as a woman I own power tools and can complete my own DIY projects without the help of a man. When using power tools around men it is beyond obvious that they are watching and judging, waiting for me to mess it up somehow so they can say “you should have left it to the men”. It’s also a shock to men that as a women I am equally as competent as a man with technology. In fact my husband will gladly tell anyone that I’m a million times more competent than he is. But others talk to me like I am a complete idiot and then become angry when I tell them that I’m perfectly capable of managing the task they think is beyond me. As an administrator I found myself regularly put down by male members of staff. It was assumed that I would either do all of their dirty work that they couldn’t be bothered to, or that I was lazy and stupid. I was regularly told o was wrong and rarely celebrated for the things I did well. I am at the tail end of a degree in graphic design, an arena that I know is very typically male dominated. Thankfully I am old enough and wise enough now to fight back against sexism and to prove that I am an equal. But we shouldn’t have to fight to be seen as equals, we are equals! I am raising my son to know that women are just as strong and powerful as men, but even he has fallen into the traps of societal expectations of women at times and I’ve had to reprimand him for it and talk to him about why he was wrong to say those things. It feels like an endless fight to get the recognition we deserve, but I won’t stop fighting for equality.