I was nine when I first realized that adult men were sexually interested in me. Yelling at me from a speeding van. Commenting on my body like they own it.
Thirty-five years later and I’m tired of the same old sex***. Another day, another stranger who thinks they’re entitled to criticize my appearance. I’m on TV for a few minutes talking about the abuse Katie Price gets and that’s it – “ping…ping…ping…ping” My mobile goes off because my inbox hates is filled with, almost always with a bad sexual edge.
It’s my t***, you see. They are too big or too small. And my face, it’s getting loose or I’ve had too much Botox, apparently. My A***, it’s too wide, or I’ve lost too much weight and lost my curves – Thin doesn’t suit me as per a message. According to another, being a “fat b****” doesn’t suit me either. Nothing, it turned out, suits me. The message, whether implicit or explicit, is “not to be seen and not to be heard”.
I would love to say thank you to the senders for making me a fighter. I am a survivor. I am strong But those messages do nothing for my strength, power or resilience. Those messages are dirty, dishonest and unwanted intrusions into my life. I can’t thank you enough for this.
Unfortunately, saying That I refuse to accept it will only incite more messages like this one. It’s not because these people don’t understand consent – it’s the lack of consent that thrills.
The other day, I was helping my mother out of the car. She is 73 years old and has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A group of three boys left. He looked to be about 20. One pushed the other and said, “Thodi si nani f****?” How did they laugh? Because it’s really not about what we’re wearing, or how we’re behaving. Those are just excuses. The real fun for these cowardly men is to say whatever you want, safe in the knowledge that the woman or child in front of you has no recourse in your attempt to usurp power.
I read about Emily Atack’s experiences of sexual assault on social media – middlemen The star is sent hundreds of explicit photos and messages every day and made a documentary about it – and it felt like she was talking about my nieces. My mother. My sister. I.
“It’s out of control, the only way the people who love you can control it is to change you,” Atack says. Her experience mirrors that of so many other women and girls. And what can we do about it? It seems that no one really knows and that is why women and children are constantly told how they should protect themselves.
We can report harassment to the police… but given the record of sexual harassment and the force’s crackdown on harassment, I don’t believe they will take it seriously. After all, he didn’t take seriously the abuse, harassment, and racism going on within his own ranks. David Carrick, a Metropolitan Police officer who admitted more than 50 criminal offenses of rape, sexual assault and coercive control, was eventually nicknamed “Bastard Dave” by his colleagues. Wayne Couzens, who killed Sarah Everard, was known by his fellow officers as a “rapist”.
So, what do women do? Do we complain loudly and hope it goes away? From my own experience on social media, complaining publicly has the opposite effect.
Let us not forget that all the while, Andrew Tate’s influence is growing in classrooms, so boys are taught that women’s voices – and personalities – count for nothing. And in full knowledge of the hate to come, I’m going to tell you what I think: I think we should stop teaching girls that we’re “looking out for them” by telling them what to wear.
Instead, when we are worrying about the sexualization of girls, we should be asking them about their lives and experiences rather than assuming we know best. When the institutions that protect us are found to be part of the problem, we stop making excuses for them and we hold them accountable.
We need to stop acting like it’s a shock when girls and young women tell us that sexual harassment and abuse is endemic in schools. of course it is. It was endemic when I went to school – what happened in the meantime? #MeToo movement? Well, we’re currently experiencing a massive backlash against it – thanks, in part, to men like Tate – so I’m not sure attitudes towards women and girls have changed much.
Much of this behavior can be addressed simply by the hearing women and girls. Just listening, without rushing to judge, without comment, without advice on how to avoid unwanted sexual attention. A lot of the harm done to women and girls can be stopped by listening and believing, not “she must have made it”. What it really says – and here’s a nod to those predictable trolls who lurk in the comments of pieces like this by women writers – is “I’m to blame for this”. It says that you don’t want to do anything to change the status quo, because humiliating and humiliating girls and women seems fine to you.
In the meantime, I’ve stopped reading unwanted messages. If someone I don’t know sends me a message without a subject line – or with an obscene subject line, they just get banned. Has my new approach lost me work? maybe. But more importantly, have I lost any sleep about it? No. It makes me feel much better to write and speak. It enables me to share my voice and demand it be heard, just like now.
We need more girls and women to speak up: openly, freely, publicly. We need the raucous tone of female voices, accents and experiences – and we have to get used to it he as the status quo.