By Simone Delochan
Every woman has been sexually harassed.
Take a poll of the women in your workplace or among your friends, and I am sure every one of them has been told something sexually inappropriate at least twice. And we are not just speaking about the young sexy things in their twenties. In a heated argument with a friend, he seemed to doubt that.
Toward the end of 2016, #LifeinLeggings swept across social media (Facebook). It began in Barbados with two women speaking out on their stories of sexual harassment, and soon it trended across the Caribbean, as women came out with their own daily humiliation. There were stories of women who experienced harassment – and rape– before they were teenagers and some by men in their neighbourhood who were familiar with the victim’s parents and had known the victim from infancy.
#LifeinLeggings may imply sexual harassment while the women were in tight clothes. This was not the case. Many were in work clothes and school uniforms. A few men responded to the Caribbean-wide flood of emerging stories in shock – they couldn’t fathom that this was so virulent. Some men reacted defensively: a kind of “dem look for it” or “woman dem does do dis kinda ting too”. For these men, the stories were invalid, because “woman does do wuss”.
I was told in the same argument that females have to learn to deal with it. And it struck me forcibly: men don’t understand the constant threat that women have to ‘deal’ with, to the extent that we practise safety without even being conscious of it.
In public places and events, you never go to the ladies’ room by yourself. Ever. Why is this? Why do women move in groups? Because a woman by herself is a target. It matters not what you look like; you will be told something.
I got into a taxi at the start of the school term, and the taxi driver was describing other drivers who prey on schoolgirls. Should a little girl, just starting Form One have to learn to ‘deal’ with this because this is the ‘reality’? Should a little girl be robbed of her innocence like this? Should the parent then take responsibility for not teaching her child how to ‘deal with it’? Because remember, “after 12 is lunch”, so really, by 12 or 13, a girl should know how to deal with sexual harassment. See how sick and absurd this is?
I am not a feminist and neither do I believe that all men are monsters or pedophiles. I do believe though, that if a normal, decent man could say that a young female teenager has to “learn to deal with sexual harassment” then we need to really watch our society and see how deeply embedded the rot is.
And further, how are females supposed to ‘deal with it’? Ignore? Pretend you didn’t hear? Allow the verbal assault and say nothing? Keep walking? If this strikes you as right and normal, then as a society we are far gone.
Fathers, your little girls in primary school now, will be sexually harassed sooner rather than later. That teenaged girl on your street has most likely been propositioned already.
On Facebook, I asked my friends how old they were when they began to be sexually harassed. It started for me when I was 14 and apparently, I started late. The average age was 11; the youngest was 8. The responses are revelatory and with permission, here are a few:
“12. I had boobs. Grown men, older teenage boys, young adult males. In some ways, I am still living it.”
“9. Got tall too fast…”
“9 or 10. I was still in St. Gabriel’s.”
A friend who is Grenadian and has visited Trinidad had this to say: “…firstly, let’s be frank, Grenada is different to Trinidad. It’s a smaller island and people tend to know (or know of) each other. Some of the street harassment I hear out of T&T, if that was here, some people getting beat [not her word] every day. Girl, random passers-by will share licks on that person…By and large we trust our policemen here and they WILL help…eh, I not walking randomly in Trinidad.” She is, by the way, 45 years old.
We have normalised sexual harassment. Why did we bother to be outraged at some religions allowing their underaged girls to be married, when we are passive to harassment of females? It’s not just ‘big women’ being ‘tackled’. Let’s not be hypocrites.
How are we, as Catholics, as teachers, parents, principals, priests, neighbours, friends, going to ‘deal with it’? It’s not just about protecting your child.