Inspired by the women who speak about this openly, I will try to speak about this plainly and openly too.
Whenever I have received sexual harassment, I have always managed it alone, usually too ashamed to share it with anyone except closest friends, if they were around, hiding it from my partners and children. Because, like many, many other women, as I now know, deep down there is that feeling: it must be my fault.
I once asked a random German acquaintance in Salamanca, Spain: “Why? Why do so many men think it is OK to fantasise about me, to make a pass at me, and just openly come up to me and tell me, and insist even when told it is not reciprocal, and expect me to go along with it?”
His answer: “I don’t know, but you do seem to walk around with a F/(ck me sign on your forehead.”
I was left a little speechless, a little heartbroken as you can imagine, but I appreciated his honesty. It still leaves me with nothing to do about it.
The only reason my first response to such overtures is not “eugh just leave me alone you slimy git how dare you” is because I was taught to be polite. So it always, always slams me against a wall and kicks the breath out of me in surprise. And I never have the right comeback.
In my later years, as a deliberate attempt to erase that sign, I put on weight, as countless abused people do, stayed indoors more and more, avoided work that might involve men, never wore makeup, and as that fm sign seemed to anger some women, I avoided women too. I, a person who always cherished and loved being around people, began avoiding people.
Throughout the years, it turned out even men I thought were on a level with me, with whom I believed we shared a friendship, a connection that was not sexual, but loving, friendly, even ancient boyfriends I had idealised in my head as loving me for the lovely sweet creature I was, at one point confessed (with no shame or regret, so not really a confession) that I was actually their dirty little secret they’d keep in a box under their bed (in one case, quite literally, a man kept my – I thought – innocent and sweet love letters and photos of me as a 13 year old to look at when he wanted to… you know, get aroused by, even with his girlfriend, now wife, in bed with him).
I could go on. I will go on, in a book written with a pseudonym, and get it all out.
I got to the point where I would wonder whether my angels, old boyfriends from when I was very, very young, who loved me deeply and died, comforting male presences I often speak to in my frustration with living men I encounter, whether they too – had they been alive – would confess that I was nothing to them except a thing to fantasise about or feel sexually entitled to.
So where am I going with this.
Well. First, I do agree that we have to stop hiding that this sort of behaviour happens in men. I had the beginnings of an argument, not long ago, with my husband, because he was asserting that all Muslim women were forced to take the veil and so should be forced not to wear it, even when they themselves said they would feel naked and terribly exposed and uncomfortable if they didn’t. I told him how I so often wish I could wear a coverall, and hope that someone would hear me and appreciate me for my thoughts and words, instead of openly lusting after my boobs (sorry people who like me put on weight to cover your bodies, it doesn’t work. It seems men actually appreciate abundant flesh).
Men are very often completely unabashed and unashamed and unrestrained when it comes to showing their appreciation for the lustful thoughts you cause in them. I have only seen that kind of behaviour in women in very private surroundings, maybe commenting amongst friends “oooh, he’s hot, he’s yummy” or during parties such as a hen night, where everything is set up precisely for that, and they get rowdy and touchy and shouty, but it is ok (though admittedly a little scary!), that’s what that environment allows you to do, the situation is set up for that. I have only witnessed women prey lustfully on a man abusing their position of power to do so even though he was clearly uncomfortable for it to the extent it made me uncomfortable for him once. It doesn’t mean that when women do it it’s OK. It’s never OK, especially because there is a power play involved. But let’s not fool ourselves, it is far, far less common.
Second: I am taking a huge leap. I am moving away from translations and finally moving towards my lifelong dream of helping “aliens”, foreigners, migrants, what have you, or in any case people at a disadvantage compared to others, to make a better living for themselves. I am following a specific course that will qualify me for it professionally and I love it.
I was, however, terrified at the prospect of having to face many people, many times a week, after so long at being happily isolated in my gorgeous seaside bubble with just my pups and my cats and closest family and visiting friends.
As we start looking towards where we could do our work placement with a view to future work, I will have a meeting this week with the course director to tell her about how I want to help other people, but I will most likely have to avoid helping men.
Isn’t that sad? Not really, other people can help the men I guess. But it’s sad because to me, people are people. Wonderful, sexy, funny, lighthearted, clever, snappy, intelligent, fascinating: women, men, any gender or sexuality, makes no difference to me. People are people but at the basis of my interaction towards everyone is respect. If you’re a beautiful and/or sexy woman, I might tell you if we’re close enough to do so, in the same way I might tell you you’re funny, or smart, or fascinating. That doesn’t mean that because you are or come across as this or that, I expect you to be that for my own entertainment.
I was prepared for this conversation with the course director, and I was prepared to say “though now that I am older it might not even be a problem anymore”. Wrong.
People, especially men, will expect you to be who they want you to be for their entertainment no matter what you look like, what you’re wearing, how you behave, as long as you have that f/(ck me sign on your forehead. I have seen other women, shy, fearful, introverted women wear that sign and suffer the consequences, and I have had no idea how to advise them to take it off. So I guess it stands to reason there is no way I can take it off.
The only, possible solution, has to be to hope that some day men will evolve into really considering us equals and worthy of respect, or acknowledge we are far, far from that moment in western, historically male-led civilisation, and we all have to be taught exactly what to do and say to stop someone who unashamedly messages you “I look at you in class and I fancy you and I adore women like you and I know you’re married, just erase these messages afterwards” and let him know that it is not ok.
And yes, that happened to me last night and is the fundamental reason I was up at dawn, not being able to sleep and deciding to write, and probably not post, this post.
I will try to post it because as much as I adore and prefer being in the company of my beautiful friends, it is time I get back to the world of humans.
But human males often suck and it is right for us to say so, acknowledge it, no matter how evolved we think our dear Western society is. And it’s not just up to us women, I’m afraid: we must have the help of those human males who do not suck, who should be unashamed and unrestrained and unabashed in shaming into silence those males who openly still speak and act like that, and think it’s ok. It is not ok.