I started University in the Netherlands at the age of 17 with a steady boyfriend in Germany. I was excited and unafraid, primarily because I had never recognized other negative encounters for the warnings that they were. I honestly thought that feminism wasn’t something we needed in the west anymore, because I had never felt hampered because of my sex. I never realized how sheltered I was. When I turned 18, I decided to throw a big party for the first time in my life. I wanted to let loose, to prove that I wasn’t “stuck up” and “prude,” that I could have fun. So when a friend asked if they could invite a classmate I didn’t know, I agreed without thinking twice. One by one, everyone left. The people I had asked to keep an eye out for me went home or passed out in their rooms. I was alone, more than a little drunk, with someone I didn’t know. I’d been friendly to him all evening, because I was in a social mood, so we’d chatted a bit. I told him my boyfriend lived in Germany, and he somehow took that as an invitation. He started kissing me, and I pushed him away. I told him I couldn’t do this. Somehow saying “stop, I don’t WANT this” was beyond my capabilites as a polite hostess. He persisted, reaching up and down and touching things he shouldn’t. I walked away and said I was going to stay in my friend’s room for the night, since the friend he had come with was passed out on my bed. He followed me, and while I rang her doorbell hoping against all hope that she would answer, he continued to touch me. She was passed out, and didn’t hear me. We went back to my hallway, and I said I would try another friends room. But he said “no don’t worry, I promise I’ll stop. I wont do anything you don’t want.” Being exhausted and drunk I wanted to believe him, because more than anything I wanted to go to sleep. He didn’t stop. The rest is too difficult for me to describe, even after two years of therapy for PTSD. Nowadays, I work on projects to raise awareness about sexual assault in the Netherlands and at universities in general. I’m trying to turn the worst thing to ever happen to me into something positive.
When I was at a party during my college years someone poured me spiked punch bowl. He carried me to his place when I couldn’t walk any more and undressed and touched me. The next morning I woke up not understanding what had happened. I was in his bed, half naked. I told him “I’m not sleeping with you” and he said “If I wanted to have slept with you I would have done it last night”. I later heard what had happened to me from one of my “friends” who then asked me if I had preferred that he would have stopped the guy (I had been complaining about during the early hours of the party) from carrying me away.
My male boss (a professor at a german university) talking about a female speaker after a lecture: “Nice to look at in that dress, but regarding content she was nothing.” Everybody, including the men in the group, was bewildered by the comment (we do research on minority groups and discrimination). When a female co-worker looked at him with her eyebrows raised, he just said “Yeah yeah I know, but come on” and made a dismissing gesture.
As a 30 year old female who has travelled a lot and and who has led a very out-going and social life, I have experienced sexism literally, a thousand times or more: – I have been drugged at a concert once by the group (Wu-Tang Killa Beez) giving the concert. Young and naive as I was, I thought being invited back-stage was super cool. Luckily, nothing happened as as soon as I realized something was up and that I felt really weird, I left and went home (acting all kinds of crazy when I got home); – I’ve been followed home in the dark twice. I live in Amsterdam, so I cycle home. Once a man came and cycled next to me, staring at me, not answering my demands of what he wanted. Just cycling next to me and staring. Very intimidating. I stopped at the first night shop that was open and called a friend. The man waited on the corner for ten minutes, looking at me. He finally left. I cycled home in terror. Another time, I was picking up a bike at a station with a friend. It was dusk. The fastest way back to town was via some Industrial areas. We were followed by a pack of howling boys, getting closer and closer. Scared the shit out of me. Luckily we were back on the main road before they caught up to us. – My latest employer said to me ‘You were wearing this coat when you walked in for your interview. I was so surprised, you look like someone who should be on the arm of a millionaire at a fair, not like an archaeologist’; – During university and fieldwork, professors have said about me (multiple times): no, she doesn”t look like the typical archaeology student, kind of smothering a smile; – Female students/professors have asked me why I put on mascara for fieldwork – since when do I have to justify myself because, as opposed to many other female archaeologists, I DO choose to shave my legs and armpits and put on mascara? I’m not judging, totally down for whatever, why are you putting me down?’; – When I was 17 and at a party (I worked in a restaurant), the elderly bosses’ son (the son was almost 40), got very drunk and incessantly followed me and kept on groping my ass and breasts. A colleague of mine, a gay man, kept on protecting me and pushing him away. I finally just decided to leave as he wouldn’t stop; – Once again at field work, the professor saw a cockroach and looked to see my reaction (I was the first to arrive). I didn’t blink an eye. His response: ‘Oh, I thought you’re the type to have made a fuss’; – My ex’s dad once told me: You’re looking worse than normal at the moment, you should wear more make-up; – In a club, my friend and I were dancing next to what was apparently the VIP area. A guy leaned out of the area towards us and said: My friend here is an investment banker’. Thanks man, cool, I totally want to fuck you now, we women can’t earn our own money of course; – My ex boyfriend blamed me for being groped in the ass. The tram was very full, some guy kept pushing his dick against my butt. I kept on moving place, but as the tram was very busy there wasn’t much room to move. He kept on moving also, so that he could keep pressing up against me. Later that day, I told my boyfriend this, fuming. He said yeah, but you can see the outline of your butt through that sweater so it’s provocative. I was wearing flowery leggings, flats and a baggy sweater that reached to my knees, how provocative. And even if I had been wearing hotpants and a tank top, that guy wouldnt have the right to touch me; – this same ex also told me that I walked like a hooker when I wore heals, so that the catcalling was my own fault; – yet another ex told me that I was attention-horny, that it was my fault when men looked at me. A friend of his once tried to rub his dick (recurring theme, ladies?) against me and this was also my fault as I had been egging him on? Until it had happened, I handn’t the slightest clue there was anything going on as we were standing in a jostling, busy queue. – Luckily my boyfriend now is incredibly supportive and notices that I frequently look down to avoid eye contact. He notices that as soon as I walk down another aisle in a supermarket (without him), men will give me dirty looks. He noticed the guy that,last week at a bar, had his hand on his girlfriends’ back, but turned around and practically undressed me with his eyes. My first reaction was to immediatly put my arm around my boyfriends’ shoulders and give him a kiss, also because I was scared that my boyfriend would blame me. He doesn’t. He notices the sexism and objectivication that I’m subjected to on nearly a daily basis and he thinks it’s terrible. Unlike my previous two boyrfriends who somehow couldn’t deal with the totally unwanted objectivication and who would then proceeded to blame me, also sexist; – A guy I once slept with (I so wish I hadn’t as the memory horrifies me, I was 18, he was 33), told me 7 years down the line, looking me up and down very appreciatively: ‘Wow, you dried up well.’ Which means that at the time it happened, he knew damned well that I was still a little girl in his eyes; – My brother once told me, after not having seen him for a while: ‘Shit, I forgot how big your biceps are for a girl’. – I have felt like a piece of meat so, so, so, so often. I’m blond and blue-eyed and have been to Italy, Greece and Turkey alone several times and just felt like I constantly had to look down at the ground. I have mutilated male genitals in my head hundreds of, fuming, feeling so unfairly treated, yet being forced to go inside because the grossly overtly sexual looks just make you feel so cheap; _ -I have had numerous facebook messages that were completely sketchy, disgusting and gross and very inappropriate from men I didn’t know; – I have been approached by some old seedy guy at the beach, asking what kind of cream I rub on my body’; I could continue. I’m getting worked up writing this, especially as, prior to reading an article on the gaurdian that discussed this platform, I read the many comments saying that a) Women should stop complaining about trivia and focus on helping women out in other countries, like Saodi Arabia, as they have it way worse; b) women should stop complaining, it’s so much better thatn 30 years ago c) The hundreds of thousands of experiences on this site are just that, experiences, which don’t say anything about the actual frequency that women are subject to sexism as the data is not controlled; d) that men, too, are subject to abuse, and so feminism is unfair. All these responses only serve to paint women as hysterious toddlers fighting for a cause that is already won. The cause is not won. We need to fight for women’s rights all over the world. We also need to make sure that we do not accept any form of feminism, how slight it might seem. Because that only works to embellish and strengthen the still unequal role of women, everywhere. It doesn’t mean that men have no right to address issues in which they feel discriminated, only that their discrimination doesn’t make femism unvalid.
I’m an academic in a male-dominated field. I count myself lucky to be in one of the most friendly fields in STEM and my colleagues are for the most part welcoming and respectful. Many of my coworkers tell me sexism doesn’t exist and I’m actually lucky because it’s easier for women to get hired since there are so few of us (I get this one a lot). Just in the past year, a very senior professor in my field made a comment about my ass. A very senior professor in my field kissed me on the neck. These are people I’ll have to meet at conferences for the rest of my career and I don’t feel comfortable telling them off, as I would with some random guy on the street. I don’t mention any of this to the professor I am currently working with, because I am afraid he’d minimize it and tell me it’s not a big deal. I got an offer for a permanent job recently, and the salary offer was substantially lower than that of a male colleague who got hired a few years ago in the same university with fewer qualifications and no grant money. After some aggressive negotiating on my part, I managed to bring the offer *almost* up to my male colleague’s initial pay – which he had barely negotiated. It might be that the hiring policies changed in the meantime or it might be that this is sexism, I’ll never know.
I have shared my life with an amazing man for 30 years. I love him deeply and he loves me deeply. I’m not saying he’s perfect. No one is including me. But he does treat me with great respect as a person, as a woman, as a friend, as a lover, as the mother of our son. Here’s the sexism. I feel so lucky to share my life with him. Sure, he feels lucky to be with me too because I’m an amazing woman – but I’m extra lucky because he’s so rare in being a man who can cope with an unusually strong, highly intelligent woman. I don’t think I should have to feel so incredibly lucky I actually feel guilty about how few decent men there are to go round and I’ve got one of them! It’s a joke between us that sometimes I ask him to make a phone call, speak to a company, explain something to someone we both know. We have both learned that a male voice will be taken seriously. That a male voice will actually get heard. So sometimes it’s the practical thing to do. It makes us both angry that it’s like that. As a speaker I once gave a particularly memorable talk about masculinity to a discussion society. At the start I explained my husband was sitting beside me as I gave the talk, to show that we had worked out together what I would say, because it was about men. Also I was so heavily pregnant I could not stand up for long by myself, so I leaned on him, and put my hand on his shoulder as I stood beside him, which I explained. At the end of my talk someone in the audience asked why my husband did not share giving the talk. My husband answered that he wasn’t the person the club had invited to do it, as I was known for my work in the area, not him. The other person said it was obvious I was a dominating woman because I was holding my husband down as he sat beside me. A journalist asked my husband what it was like living with such a dominating woman as me? He laughed and said it was fun. The journalist said but what about being masculine? what about adventures? being a hero? He grinned, and said ‘I’ve done all that, you see.’ I remember the constant assaults on me in word and action whenever I went outside the house. All the men who made stupid or nasty remarks about my body, or groped me, or tried to talk to me, who frightened me. How that meant I had far less time to study a book or report than a male student or colleague did, because my time in public was constantly interrupted and spoiled. How I became reluctant to leave the house. How it got better when I learned to drive because I was cut off, armoured in a metal box, against all the attacks and intrusions. How that gradually made me less angry, less hostile to men, which meant a more peaceful head space for me. But it also meant I gave up walking about so I put on a lot of weight! Yuk. I am now old and one of the best things about being an old woman is how men leave me alone. I’m not prime meat any more. I know I still live with the threat of assault, rape, that all women do. But I don’t have the constant reminders of it when I’m out in the world. That’s nice. Nice but wrong.
I have experienced sexism so many times that I have stopped counting, but there have been a few incidents that have stuck with me over the years. The first time I can remember actually realising that sexism existed, was when I was walking home from practice after school on a hot summer day. I was wearing a pair of sport shorts and a tank top and a group of guys who must have been at least three or four years older than me, slowed down their car and started to whistle and shout inappropriate comments at me. I was only fourteen and didn’t have a clue how to react to this situation, so I kept my head down and continued walking as if nothing had happened. Another incident I can clearly remember is when a drunk man who was at least in his late fifties (I was around the age of 18 or 19) sat down next to me on a full bus and started to verbally harass me and didn’t stop until I called my best friend in a desperate attempt to get rid of him. I looked at other people on the bus for help, but everyone looked away and no one helped me or said something, I was too uncomfortable to stay any longer on the bus with the man getting closer to me with every second, so I got off the bus two stops earlier and walked home with my best friend supporting me on the phone. Throughout school, but even more at university, I noticed how difficult it can be to voice your opinion in a group discussion. Women are brought up to believe that we must never make any mistakes and to be ‘perfect’ all the time, which keeps us from speaking up during class and discussions. I don’t know how many times I have held back a correct answer, simply because I was too afraid to make a mistake and I have noticed that a lot of my female classmates have done the same thing over the years. However, I have hardly ever been in a class or group discussion where the majority of the men kept their mouths shut (yet there is the prevailing stereotype that women talk more than men). And even if I want to voice my opinion, I often have to interrupt or speak over a man to get a chance to say something at all. I can’t remember how many times I have gotten interrupted during discussion and then decided to give up, but the number will be very high. Every day sexism exists. It exists in the beauty industry which is mainly aimed at the female part of the population and the in the media who make us believe that women have to look flawless and young all the time. It exists in the fear that I have to walk around alone after dawn and the thoughts I put into my choice of outfit when I go out, to stop men from seeing me as a potential victim for sexual assault. It exists in the low number of women in leadership positions and the prejudices that keep them from attaining one. It exists in the fact that many men’s main argument to change their disrespectful behaviour towards women lies in the words “I don’t do that anymore because I have a little sister or because I have a daughter”. It exists in the way that society still teaches women that they are worth more when they are in a relationship with a man or that they should have the natural desire to want children. It exists in the fact that most still frown upon little boys playing with barbie dolls and little girls getting themselves dirty outside in the mud. It exists in our society and it exists in our heads. But if we decide to speak up, if we decide to make a change and stop accepting it, we may be be able to stop everyday sexism one day.
While at College, I practiced a presentation using the audiovisual equipment while the room was free. We were told by a member of staff (not the class professor) that we were permitted to do this. I practiced for three days in row during free periods, making sure that I knew exactly how to use the microphone and equipment. When the day of the presentation came and I was called by the professor, I plugged my laptop into the system. I was reaching to switch on the microphone when he stopped me half way and told me how to switch on the microphone. I tried to explain to him that I knew how to switch it on because I had practiced using that microphone before. He talked right over me, didn’t listen, then switched on the microphone for me and said: “This is how you switch on the microphone.” As though I was stupid and as though had never practiced using the system before. I was a female student and he talked to me in a very condescending way. I noticed that he let the boys fiddle about with their equipment, but he assumed that the girls didn’t know what to do. He was a disagreeable person who talked to everyone in sarcastic way, but he was especially patronising towards the females in the class and would often sneer at them nastily or completely talk over them. He was an older professor and I could tell that he really hated his job and he hated teaching women whom he thought were all lazy and technologically illiterate by default. This was a great shame because he taught a science subject that I was passionate about. He singlehandedly managed to suck all of the interest out of it. He made it boring dry torture. When he interviewed me for a place on the course, he was adversarial. He said that it was inevitable that I would hate going to university and I shouldn’t do a four year course. He seemed baffled that my grades were so good and said that it was guaranteed that I would hate studying at university. He was a very miserable and bitter man. I ended up dropping out of the course after 3 years and attempted suicide. I really regret even trying to study there because he was in control of a major section of the department that I wanted to study in. I know people patronisingly say that life is short and to live it, but I found that my life was torn from my hands by some men who either harassed me or doubted my ability at College. I felt very unsafe and undervalued, that’s why I left. I am sorry to everyone I let down, but I couldn’t carry on living and working in such a socially toxic environment where people doubted my place of birth and made fun of my accent also. To them, I was the weird dumb woman that no one even tried to listen to or give sober constructive criticism or advice to. If you get depressed like this please don’t go to the doctor and don’t take anti depressants: they made me feel suicidal. Find supportive friends and colleagues who aren’t psychiatrists. Get physically active, get out in nature and find a new hobby, don’t take anti depressant pills. Pills can ruin your passion for life, fry your brain, slow down your body and make it impossible for you to interact socially with other people. I felt a lot better when I left that College environment, took up hobbies that I enjoyed, did volunteer work, stopped labelling myself as “disordered” or “mentally ill”, got some exercise, played Kendama, played devil sticks, stopped taking anti depressants and stopped being lazy. Please don’t give young women “mental health advice”, counselling by therapists that shame/bully and drug them up, instead ensure that the social environments they live and work in are healthy.
Forced to do netball at school which I was awful at and had no experience in but not allowed to play football which I’d been practising several hours a day for years, yeah that makes sense, then had to put up with mansplaining about how girls just aren’t good at football and don’t like or understand it. Years later I discover female football was so popular they banned it for decades, as the women were outclassing the men and making them look bad. If I’d have only known that at 15… football is a great way to get fit but apparently poncing around in dance class and standing cluelessly under a netball hoop is more important.
I was a graduate student at University in the computer science department, one of very few women. I began avoiding my campus to avoid the everyday harassment I experienced there from students and faculty alike. I worked remotely on my computer instead. My supervisor didn’t like me exercising autonomy, so he made my address public information. Now everyone who was harassing me knows where I live. *Everybody* knows where I live. When I sought help through the University’s recommended channels, I was sent in circles around the University bureaucracy for almost 2 years to no avail, and lost time to work on my thesis. My supervisor then cut my funding (after my own scholarship money ran out, conveniently) on the basis that I didn’t get enough work done, which has forced me to leave school. There is a lot of fear in my every day life now and I don’t dare to go anywhere without a weapon on me. The police don’t help in these kinds of situations- they wait until after you’re assaulted, and oftentimes even then….. Meanwhile my supervisor never got in trouble and continues to be the poster-child of the University. And they wonder why there aren’t more women in tech! You need military training to avoid some of the s**t they throw at you.