Shame

I wasn’t sure I was going to ever tell anyone this story nonetheless write it down and publish it but here I am overcoming societal driven shame! That’s right I said SHAME, shame created and enforced by society. However, I would not be writing this if it were not for the courage presented by one of my good friends and peers when she posted the following on Facebook;

“Today three men catcalled me, so I turned around and gave them the middle finger. They then proceeded to follow me yelling “slut” amongst other things for about two blocks. This was in broad daylight in quite a nice area, on a busy street. Their actions weren’t even the worse thing. The worse thing is that there were people EVERYWHERE: couples, groups of friends, and even families, all of whom saw me being followed by three quite large men who were quite clearly threatening me and NOT ONE person intervened. You want to be a good feminist? You want to be a good ally? You want to even just be a fairly decent human being? Well here’s a tip: if you see someone clearly being harassed in the street do SOMETHING, do ANYTHING. You don’t have to get into a fight, just go up and talk to the person who is being harassed and ask them if they’re ok – your presence will mean the world to them, and may also deter their harassers. You don’t even have to confront anyone, you just need to support the person being harassed. It’s a shitty feeling to look at people in the face and they see how uncomfortable and afraid you are and they just look away. I don’t know how much better it would have been in Dublin, but this is a huge problem I find in Berlin. It’s a small example, but this is exactly how horrible shit ends up happening — from the streets right up to the political arena; people being complacent and turning a blind eye to obviously fucked up behaviour. Fuck that shit #stopstreetharassment (Personal anecdote by a close friend on Facebook: Permission Granted).

The reason I have included this post is because without it I wouldn’t be writing this story. I wouldn’t be writing it because society says that what happened to me, my friend and countless others is accepted by society and the victim is expected to feel ashamed about it so, that they don’t talk about it so, it remains hidden and accepted. I felt ashamed, I don’t anymore! I feel strong and that I owe it to anyone be it woman, man or child that has been or will be harassed to say you are not alone.  Talk about it, share your stories and make people re-consider their actions in these situations.

So what happened? Last Friday I was on a flight home, an evening flight.  I was assigned the window seat of the back row and a man sat in the window seat of the row ahead of me.  This was a man whose appearance suggested business man and even a gentleman, yet his demeanour revealed him as chauvinistic and creepy. Two words I rarely use to describe someone but the best for this particular man. He was the man who emanated power and believed he could say what he wanted, deserved to be listened too and whose approach towards and interaction with women was acceptable and as I, unfortunately learned, his behaviour was acceptable by societal standards. The society of that plane accepted it and allowed it to happen to me and possibly others.

This man, old enough to my dad, took his seat after me, smelling of alcohol and as his behaviour showed throughout the flight was clearly intoxicated-this will, I am sure result in people saying his behaviour and harassment was due to the drink and doesn’t reflect his personality accurately. This is a weak excuse, alcohol only illuminates the darker thoughts and personality which one usually hides from or resists against when sober.

At the beginning of the flight, I noticed him try to peer between the seats and stare at me and even at one point looked up over the seat, and although uncomfortable with this, I didn’t think much of it and went back to listening to my music but the staring continued for the duration of the flight. It was after we landed that his behaviour reached a point where I was not only uncomfortable but made to feel ashamed and embarrassed by his speech towards me.

As we waited to exit the plane, a small group had surrounded me all waiting to get bags and exit as well. I was surrounded by primarily men and four women.  I noticed the women as I hoped they would have helped me or least tried to converse with me.  Instead, I was alone, alone but surrounded by people.

This man started shouting at me, commenting on my body (in quite a graphic manner-in a manner I am uncomfortable and ashamed to actually put in writing).  He directed questions about me enquiring into sexual things, asking for sexual actions to be completed on him by me, asking about my relationship status, job. This influx of harassment continued for what felt like an hour but was probably only 10 minutes, if at most. During this time, I looked away, ignored him completely and prayed for them to hurry up and open the door, surrounded by people who observed his behaviour and my discomfort and yet, no one tried to help-not one person!

I want to echo this quote from my friend because I can’t say it any better-

“You don’t even have to confront anyone, you just need to support the person being harassed. It’s a shitty feeling to look at people in the face and they see how uncomfortable and afraid you are and they just look away”

As a society we allow this type of misogynistic behaviour to be felt by women daily and by ignoring it, by not simply speaking with the victim, it makes this behaviour acceptable. It means the people in the vicinity of that attack are condoning this behaviour and promoting and enforcing a patriarchal society where women are seen as sexual objects for the entertainment of men and a surrounding group.  This was true in my case as instead of talking with me or asking him to stop, they laughed partly in discomfort and partly because they actually thought the situation was funny.

When the door opened I pushed past the people who had surrounded me, I no longer cared about manners, I just needed to get off the plane before this so-called gentleman.  I grabbed my suitcase with the help of another man; someone who had witnessed everything and from the look on his face knew why I was rushing, he lifted my suitcase down (gentleman actions), after ignoring the situation that had unravelled (not so gentleman like). I grabbed my bag and rushed through the airport and until I reached my mum in arrivals I was constantly looking over my shoulder anxious that he would be there and no one would help because no one would.

So, finally to once again echo my friend “Fuck that shit #stopstreetharassmentbut I want to extend that to “Fuck that shit stop harassment ALTOGETHER! Don’t stand back and allow a woman, man or child, regardless of sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, race, age etc to be publically harassed. Stop and talk with the victim. It is really that simple in any case of harassment.

Aoife.

 

 

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