Trigger warning: sexual harassment.
One month ago, Sarah Everard was murdered by police officer Wayne Couzins while she was walking home from a friend’s house. Despite this happening in the United Kingdom, it sparked outrage worldwide, calling attention to the everyday dangers a woman has to face in this world. Women have to take precautions out of fear of being murdered, sexually assaulted and kidnapped.
A YouGov survey given to over 1,000 women found that “[a]mong women aged 18-24, 86% said they had been sexually harassed in public spaces, while just 3% did not recall ever having experienced sexually harassing behavior. The remaining 11% chose not to answer the question.” Also, according to the survey, “71% of women of any age said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces.”
The data was collected in January 2021 by United Nations entity U.N. Women UK, dedicated to gender equality. The research also “showed a lack of faith in authorities, with just 4% of women telling YouGov they’d reported incidents of harassment to an official organization, and 45% of women stating they didn’t believe reporting it would change anything.”
While that number may seem high to some people, I barely know of any women in my life that have not experienced sexual harassment, including myself.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment can be defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” Catcalling fits under that description, and it is probably one of the most abundant forms of sexual harassment I have seen or experienced. And while some people, mainly men, argue that catcalling should be taken as a compliment, it is not a compliment in any way.
I should be able to feel safe walking down a street by myself in broad daylight, wearing whatever I please, without having to fear someone sexualizing and objectifying my body. Nor should I have to fear that the person catcalling will approach me and possibly harm me. On the other hand, men barely, if at all, have to worry about someone harassing them in public.
In a conversation with a male friend, I told him how I felt unsafe getting out of my car to fill up the gas tank, despite it being nine in the morning. There were no other vehicles at the station, and there were a couple of men on the sidewalk beside it. I had parked my car and was about to get out; however, I decided that I would rather be safe than sorry and drove away. After I told him this, he said he would have never thought about the empty station or the men nearby if he had been in that situation.
Beyond just this instance, I call my mother when I walk from my car to my apartment building at night. I lock my car doors right away and don’t linger in the parking lot. I never hold my phone up to my ear when walking in public, so I don’t look distracted. I text my friends my whereabouts just in case. I do all these things, and so much more, for my safety, and several other women do so too.
Women can’t just not think about these things.
However, while this seems to be the unfortunate reality for women, we shouldn’t just accept it as such. Men should believe us when we speak out about sexual harassment and assault, and should take some responsibility to make us feel safer.
We are too often told that catcalling, staring and other forms of sexual harassment are not a big deal. But for women, these actions make us fear for our safety. Men should speak out about these things because they likely know someone who engages in this behavior. Either that or they themself engage in this behavior and should make an effort to be a better person.
When we share an experience that made us uncomfortable, men should adjust their behavior accordingly. Our experiences need to be believed and supported, instead of dismissed. Men might not need to engage in daily tasks to make themselves feel safer; however, they can engage in everyday tasks that make women feel safer.