Until she told me, sexual aggression was something I thought I would only see on TV. I was 16 and naïve. One day she casually mentioned that she had been groped on the train (it was in Tokyo). It was the first time someone I actually knew shared her experience of sexual harassment. I asked her if she had been groped before: she had, and she said it had happened to her friends as well.
When I was living in France, an American girl told me that she had been assaulted by a random man on the way home. I was surprised. I didn’t realise that sexual harassment could regularly happen in that nice, small city. It felt perfectly safe walking along the street at 2 am. Yet, it wasn’t only her; several other girls had similar experiences.
Eventually I realised that regardless of the country, many women experience some form of sexual assault.
If you open your eyes, you’ll see this around you. I remember going out to a club with a friend of mine. One guy approached her and started talking. It seemed harmless at first. I wasn’t sure if I should intervene. She was just a friend and I didn’t want to treat her like she couldn’t handle the situation herself. Besides, she was a kick-boxer as well as a bodybuilder. So I didn’t do anything but keep an eye on him just in case.
Then the guy attempted to kiss her, which she refused. He was persisting. He tried over and over again. ‘I should stop him,’ I thought. I was beginning to see she was just being ‘nice’ and didn’t know how to get out of the situation. There was one problem: I was afraid of him too. A macho guy might call me a coward, but I was afraid that the guy might get angry and beat me up. I was extremely uncomfortable with violence.
In the end, I stepped in and asked the guy to leave. I was very careful not to provoke him. Thankfully, he wasn’t the violent kind and I managed to chase him away. But what she said to me next left a strong impression on me: ‘I was hoping you’d save me. Why didn’t you help me sooner?’ I had failed to see her fear under her ‘nice’ mask. But she was ‘nice’ because she didn’t want to upset the guy. She was afraid of him. She might have been physically strong, but it didn’t mean she was comfortable exercising her strength with other people, just like I couldn’t get violent despite being a guy.
Whenever I see a group of drunk guys or people who I think might be violent, I quickly leave the place. If I am on the train, I will calmly move to the next car. I try not to make it obvious so as not to get their attention. People don’t always share my fear, but if you have ever experienced aggressive behaviour, it’s hard not to be alarmed.
It’s not hard to see that a lot of women experience the same (or a worse) kind of fear regularly. For many of them, it’s not just fear; they actually get assaulted.
The recent Twitter trend ‘#YesAllWomen’ is important because you can learn what many women go through daily. If you have a similar experience, you will see that you are not the only one, and it gives you a place to share your experience.
If you actually read the Twitter feed, you will see that it’s turning into a gender war: one group blames the other group, the latter gets defensive and blames the former, causing an endless loop. And this is sad. #YesAllWomen shouldn’t be about male bashing. It should be about sharing experiences so that we can learn from each other.
I can relate to #YesAllWomen because many of the women who are close to me experience sexual violence and harassment regularly. I can relate to it because women are not the only ones who suffer from violence and sexism. It is relevant to all of us, both as victims and aggressors.
I believe that raising awareness can make a difference. We can underestimate the gravity of sexual/physical harassment even though we are perfectly capable of being compassionate and helpful. It is possible to harass people without realising it. If more of us are aware of sexual violence, fewer people will suffer. We can stop doing it and stop other people from doing it. That is why it’s important to share and listen.
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