I’ve read pieces written by brave women who have chosen to share uncomfortable truths of their past, and I’ve thought about doing so myself. Yet, I hesitate. I’ve thought to myself, am I over-dramatising what happened? Are the things that happened to me even considered as sexual harassment?
But in questioning the qualifiers, am I not trivialising and denying myself the reality of feelings I had, and refusing to acknowledge those incidents? Trauma and degree of harm may be relative, and what I felt and experienced ought to be, and is relevant. In keeping silent, I may also become part of the problem, an indirect enabler of situations.
Growing up, I’ve been told as a little girl all the things I shouldn’t let people do to me, and they were focussed on inappropriate touches. Little did I know that sexual harassment was more than just the physical. Most of my uncomfortable experiences were verbal, and disturbing.
- Standing by the crossing, waiting for lights to change. A lorry pauses and a man whistles while another asks me to join them. They continued their antics but I refused to react, and drove off laughing to themselves.
- On my way to work in the morning, a man in his fifties on his bicycle almost knocked me over, didn’t apologise and proceeded to say I was very pretty and wanted to be friends with me. I declined and walked away, he was still asking for my number.
- Six years back, a colleague I was never close to nor flirted with, once remarked, “Dressed so sexy today?” I ignored him from then on.
- Five years ago, I was heading home when a man walked past me and I clearly heard him say, “Can I lick your pussy?” I was stunned and hurried back home.
- Four years ago, I was on OkCupid and conversing with a few men to give online dating a go. After exchanging numbers and texting a guy about interests and all, suddenly a couple of erect penises showed up in the text conversation. He thought that they would make me interested in him romantically. I told him otherwise.
- I received invitations to have a sexual affair with someone whom I had deemed as respectable. He is a doctor, who carries himself well and shares his life online, many of his photos featured his loving relationship with his girlfriend. None of the minor exchanges online prepared me for his overtures which I declined repeatedly and he eased off.
- I went on a lunch date with a man who confessed that he was not single after the lunch. I was upset and cut communication with him after several phone calls. I deleted and blocked his number. A year after, he changed numbers and tried to make contact again. I deleted and blocked again.
- Last year, on my way home, a car pulls up parallel and follows me as I walked. The window rolls down and some guy said something. I had my headphones on and didn’t react to it. The person continued to talk to me for some time, eventually the car of men drove off when I refused to react.
- I changed my route home since that night, choosing to walk by the lit paths of neighbourhood shophouses. There is a group of older men who gather outside one of the shops to drink after closing hours. Every time I walk past them, they stop talking and I can feel their gaze following me until I was out of earshot. It’s been over a year, still happening, almost every evening.
There probably are more experiences which I’ve forgotten, thankfully so. My skin crawls every time I remember or recount these experiences. I feel unclean and struggle with the urge to scrub my skin. I remember them all too clear, and that is the degree to which they’ve left a mark. At times, I feel unsafe, even in my own neighbourhood. It’s a place I’ve called home for all my life. I’ve never done anything that asked for, and very much less, to provoke attention in these ways.
Do note. These were all verbal, textual forms of sexual harassment. If you were disturbed by them, just think of the degree of harm that physical sexual assaults can be. Sexual assaults that range from groping, molestation to rape. To some, this may be something never experienced; to others, it’s a daily reality that happens anywhere, anytime. It can and may have already happened to anyone around you. Women, men, your friends, family, colleagues. Everyday people. It can happen to anyone.
It’s easy to just tolerate everything that has happened, sweeping them aside as “normal, unthreatening, minor”. Be silent, stay silent. But the fact is, when we stay silent, the situation stays as is.
Nothing will change.
But this doesn’t and shouldn’t be the “norm”.
So stand up and call out on unacceptable behaviour. Educate and perpetuate acceptable forms of contact, touch and emphasise consent, comfort and communication. Listen to someone when they have something to tell you, an uncomfortable truth they’ve been keeping inside. Keep people around you safe, your loved ones and even strangers you come across in your everyday life. Honour and respect everyone. We all need that.