Walking down the street and feeling like you’re being stared at; having a car drive slowly next to you, or even have the driver stop next to you to make inappropriate comments, and being uncomfortably stared at, from head to toe, by men on the street. These are all situations that all women I’ve ever met, with absolutely no exception, have experienced – and I can guarantee that all women that I haven’t met have experienced them as well. Those may sound like small inconveniences, but to us, they might mean we’re two seconds away from a traumatic experience, or from a life or death situation.
In the past month, as the weather has been getting hotter, I’ve been wearing clothes that show a bit more of my body than before. At the same time that this change happened, I’ve been getting unwanted stares by men on the streets in a frequency that I’ve never experienced; I was used to the occasional creepy stare of some men when walking alone, as all women are, but it got to the point where in a 10 minute walk, it would happen at least twice. It was not only a matter of feeling uncomfortable, but of actually being frightened of what those men were capable of doing to me if I ever found myself alone. This is not an isolated experience; I talked to my female friends, and they all have been going through the same thing as well.
The way that uncomfortably long stare makes you feel is indescribable unless you live it: think of someone fixing their eyes at you, looking at you from head to toe with a gaze that tells you they see you like a piece of meat and nothing more than that. It started to make me feel more angry and powerless than I had ever felt; I wanted to scream back at them, but I’m always scared that they’ll have a violent reaction. This sense of powerlessness is also so strong yet so hard to describe; we get absolutely enraged at what’s happening, we want to scream back at them and say how disrespectful it is, but we know that even if we do that, it’s not gonna change much; in the next 5 minutes, some other men is gonna walk past someone else and do the exact same thing. There’s nothing you, as the victim in that moment, can do to stop it from happening again to yourself, or to someone else.
All of this got me thinking about how these incidents, which might seem small or irrelevant from an outside perspective, are a catalyst for much more serious situations of sexual harassment. On that note, the amount of comments, actions, and even thoughts that we all have which contribute to a society that condones or minimizes sexual harassment is much more frequent than most of us expect. If we all reflect upon those things – women included- we’ll find attitudes we’ve taken which at least contributed to a situation where a woman was made to feel uncomfortable. A combination of people in society who overlook sexist comments or condone predator behavior also leads to a society plagued with incredibly high numbers of sexual assault victims. That means that each and every one of us has the power in our hands to decrease this chain of harassment by reflecting on how we contribute to such a chain, and thus how we can stop doing so.
A study that came out in March 2021 showed that 97% of women from the ages of 18 to 24 have been sexually harassed, and 70% of all women have suffered from that as well. It is true that generalizing must be done very carefully, but if the percentage of women that have been harassed is so high -so close to 100%-, then feeling scared of all men is all the protective mechanism that we as women can have. An interesting analogy that became popular on social media illustrates this very well: not all bees will sting you, but you still run away from them all in order to protect yourself.
It is not possible to say that there is equality in a world where so many of us are still being physically and mentally abused simply because of our gender. This can only be better once we all realize the power we have in our hands to change it.