Mandy J talks about the 'typical' harassment she receives DAILY along with the attire she was in when receiving.
I have decided to document what I wear, and the responses I receive on the street.
Because somehow, my word that I have received as much harassment wearing a baggy jeans and t shirt as I have, say, a short dress, is usually received with an secretive eye roll and a “yeah right.”
Because we women get leered at, and groped, joked about, and marginalised regardless of what we wear.
This is heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking because as the world is today, women don't stand a chance in living a life that they choose. And that is horribly unfair. I as a male never have to worry about public transport, walking home from the bus halt past 8 in the night. I don't have to worry about going on a run or cycling to work. This may not seem like much to be considered as 'horribly unfair' but let's put it in context. Let's look at the truly unfair advantages I've had in my life as a result of being a male. This is only taking into consideration the advantages I have received by not having to be afraid of harassment.
At one point in my life, I wanted to take a shot at being a professional gamer. This meant sneaking in the odd gaming session instead of going to classes and heading home at about the right time to make it look like I was at class the whole time. Most of the time it meant getting a quick hour of gaming before grabbing a bus and rushing to class half an hour late. Once school ended I continued trying to live the dream for a short while before realising this wasn't what I wanted to do. During that short while however, I would cycle over to a gaming parlour randomly, plop myself in front of a pc, and then cycle back home in the night. Saying that gaming is a 'male' only domain is bullshit. It's that way simply because not a single one of these things that I mentioned above would be granted to a female (talking from a Sri Lankan perspective). And even if they were, if I was a female, I wouldn't feel safe in an environment as described by Mandy. I've seen thieves in buses. I've come close to fights with a few of them. That alone makes me wary whenever I step into a bus. I can't imagine what it must be like for the average female. I'd dread every single day of travel if I was them. And given a chance, I'd give up a dream instead of having to face that crap each day.
Sometime later in my life, I wanted to be a journalist. I started writing for Ada Derana. I conducted a web show where I interviewed budding entrepreneurs, and CEO's of emerging startups of Sri Lanka. It was great. I was traveling places around Colombo, meeting random people at various random locations ranging from coffee shops to their sometimes seedy office spaces. Was I afraid of being raped? Harassed? Bullied? Nope, nope, nope. I had it easy. Picture a female in a world of harassment attempting something like this. It's easy to think "Oh Adnan, you were meeting business owners. Any female can do that". I'm sorry. They can't. First of all, they'd have to travel around. And as we've established, traveling alone is possibly the biggest worry here. And second, once you've had your trust in good things shaken, I'm guessing that it's not easy to let down your guard again. Once again, for me as a guy, I just had to go out and do what I wanted. I never had to spare a single thought for anything such as what my travel medium would be.
I've wanted to be many things. I even wanted to be a cyclist filming Sri Lanka and my adventures as I cycled around this beautiful island. I've done a ride just for kicks on Avurudu day from Colombo to Hikkaduwa and back in one day. Instead of catcalls I was cheered and handed water by random people. My bicycle chain slipped on my return trip and the way it had slipped required me to make a 20 minute stop. Alone. In one of those areas that was the middle of nowhere. I had a chance meeting with a random person who lived in a tiny hut besides the road and ended up having quite a fun conversation while repairing my bicycle. I cry at the unfairness that girls and women don't have access to such crazy wonderful carefree adventures. How can they? When they can't even get to work in a tshirt and jeans without being catcalled, groped, and asked for sex, how could they possibly get on a bicycle in a well fitting sports tshirt, a pair of shorts, and cycle off on a random adventure?
I look back at the recent event that was UX Colombo Conference. A panel of exclusively male speakers except for the keynote speaker. A common theme I noticed there was how many of the male speakers would throw in lines of "hot girls in the audience". Or metaphors involving "your girlfriend.. hur hur". I'm ashamed I didn't call people out when it was my turn to speak. I regret it up to today. I should have opened up saying that all the females in the audience deserved an apology for being made to feel like their sole purpose was to be eye candy.
My passion right now has driven me a full circle to being a programmer. I love it. Everything to do with programming is a work of love for me. I love it so much that I use my two hours of daily commute for programming. On the bus. I'm blessed that I'll never have to program on the bus or read on the bus while watching a horny individual pleasure themselves over the sight of me. (Frankly speaking, even if that happened to guys I still doubt that would ever happen to me. Moving swiftly on). And once again, I'm outraged at the indignity that women must face.
And despite my outrage, despite the cries. I ask myself:
"Well... How do I help correct it?"
The answer is, I don't know. I wish I did. But I don't. And that sucks. I could make guesses. But as a guy, I'd see solutions only from the perspective of a male. All I can do is make a conscious effort to talk to more women about this issue and understand their perspective on this.
In the mean time, my humble two cents that might not be worth that much. I've tried not to give in to peer pressure even during school times. I'm talking about the stuff where guys go hooting at women and say "ahh nangiii" at them. I've tried to respect women and girls. I've had the good fortune of having a sister whom I have laughed with, fought with, and have ended up respecting very very much. I grew up learning to respect differences and accept when and where gender ceases to matter. My only hope to change the future is to change ourselves. And then help guide the youth. For the youth don't need changing. They need guidance so that there's never a need to change in the first place.
Start with ourselves where we say "stop being a girl" as an insult. Even in jest. Casual sexism is the first snowflake of the mighty avalanche. Start with ourselves where we look at girls as just "hot stuff" and not just another human with as much potential as us. Start with ourselves where we look at girls doing well at work and think "it's because the guys are all after her". Yes. That last part is real. I've never been guilty of it but I've heard plenty of it in both in serious conversations and conversations of jest.
Stop telling the toddlers "stop crying like a girl". Stop our friends from making the same mistakes. Stop your little cousin when he cracks the joke "throws like a girl".
Teach them that it isn't enough to think that girls and women should be treated as equals. That makes it seem like us males are the standard for what humanity should be.
Instead, teach yourself, and those around you it's not about treating women like equals. It's about realising that they are just as human as you. And that they deserve all the respect you'd expect for yourself.