The following was originally written as a ‘Note’ on Facebook by a woman named Rachel who lives in southern Ontario. It clearly struck a cord with many and went viral. With her permission, we’ve crossposted it here.
Thank you, Rachel for your courage in telling your story.
There is an instinctual uneasy feeling that women sometimes get when walking past a certain group of men. A feeling that makes us hold our breath and look forward, avoiding any action that could be interpreted as an invitation. But our intuition is often sadly correct: conversation will stop, eyes will follow us and a comment will be made.
Those who know me know that I have never been shy about how this makes me feel. I’ve had friends laugh that one day I’ll get myself in a scuffle for calling out a stranger’s behaviour, that I consider it a personal crusade to educate the masses. In other words, I am far from docile and have a difficult time allowing myself and others to be victimized.
On Sunday afternoon I was walking home and about to pass a local sports pub, one that I’ve passed hundreds of times. Sometimes there are comments from patio patrons, sometimes there are not. As I approached and saw a group of men, I felt that gut feeling. The male patrons fell silent, watched me, and once I had made it steps past the patio, I heard:
‘Forget Women’s Liberation, I’m going to kick her in the cunt.’
I turned around, obviously startled and surprised. The man who said it wasn’t looking at me directly, but stood rocking back and forth, wringing his hands as if he was about to hit someone. He continued by saying that he ‘didn’t fucking care’, mumbled something about me on my knees and that he would ‘slap me in the face with his dick.’
This was not banter or drunken teasing. This was violent, angry and sexist. This was absolute hate.
All of the men who surrounded him were looking at me. They knew exactly what had just happened. And as I stood there, questioning the individual and the entire group about what was just said, looking at them all with absolute bewilderment, the witnesses each gestured for me to let it go.
None of them said anything to the individual.
One put his fingers to his lips and said ‘Shh’ to me.
One gestured that the guy was drunk.
One gestured that he was crazy.
They all shook their head at me, communicating that I should let it go.
They silenced me.
Four men who passed on the street watched and said nothing.
Two of the witnesses were leaving the patio and passed me on the way to the streetcar. They told me I should let it go, that he has problems with women after a bad divorce. I was angry. I raised my voice to all of the them and asked them why they wouldn’t say anything to him. I told them they were equally to blame for sitting back and letting it happen. I told them that if anyone should be silenced, it should be the man who just threatened to kick me ‘in the cunt.’
To be honest, he was so angry and so violently threatening, and considering that none of the witnesses were willing to interject, I felt that approaching him and the establishment was dangerous. I foolishly thought to myself that he might even grab my laptop or bag and damage my belongings. Also, I was shaking with so much anger I was worried I’d scream or cry and therefore not be taken seriously. Sad, but true.
Instead I made my way home and called my father. And that’s when I screamed and cried. I admit, I was almost hysteric in my anger.
This is obviously the kind of situation my family takes seriously. I recognize that I’m fortunate to have family members that want to help, to put a stop to this behaviour. I’ve grown up with a confident woman who raised two respectful men and a father who taught us that grace and patience is more important than strength and power. I have a family who will defend me, even if I tell them to let it go. I have a family member who has the presence and authority to calmly approach an establishment and discuss the situation with the owner and witnesses, to educate them about the safety and well-being of women in the area, to warn them about the repercussions of letting it repeat. And sadly, I know the establishment took it seriously mostly due to who my father is. Not every woman has someone like that in their corner.
My reason for sharing this is not because I want sympathy. I’m sharing it because every man who has ever witnessed a situation like this and said or done nothing deserves just as much shame as the man who threatened to kick me ‘in the cunt’ and slap me ‘in the face with [his] dick’. When the exact witnesses who silenced me were approached later by a police officer asking about a ‘female community member’ rather than, truthfully, his daughter- they all said they saw nothing. They lied. They further exemplified themselves as cowards. And while I’ve always been taught that cowards usually know they’re cowards, it’s still hard to dismiss a group of grown men who didn’t even have the courage to admit they witnessed something…when they in fact passively participated in it.
Men: Say something. Perhaps you’re worried you’ll be made fun of, perhaps you’re worried that it will come back on you, that you’ll be ostracized. But I assure you, no one can be put at fault for speaking out. If you tell someone to stop and they try to emasculate you, take a moment to reflect on the actual identity of masculinity. What kind of man do you want to be? If you socialize with men who harass women, ask yourself what this says about you. Every time a woman walks past you and your male friends, take a moment to think of the awful gut feeling I talked about. Take a moment to recognize that she’s most likely wondering if one of you are going to say something to her or about her.
Perhaps it doesn’t seem significant enough to worry about, that there are bigger ‘women’s issues’ to fry. But at it’s most simple, at it’s core, we still live in a world where women feel anxious walking past a group of men on the street.
Walking. On a street. In the middle of the afternoon.
It might seem minor, but we all know that the culture of harassment and inequality can escalate in very scary ways.
Women can’t fix this alone. We can get angry, we can defend ourselves. But if the problem is a category of men who at their core believe that we are not equal- to the point where they freely victimize us on the street- how can we expect to reason with them? How can we expect them to take us seriously? Believe me, it’s slightly difficult for me to concede to this as a liberal, feminist woman, but we aren’t going to accomplish anything without men on our side helping us. You don’t even have to campaign or crusade with us. You just have to stop being passive.
Sexual harassment against women is a man’s issue, much more than it’s a woman’s. A woman didn’t harass me. A man did. And other men watched.
So please, men. Good, secure men. Help us with this. Because it’s 2012 and this is getting exhausting