When I was in 6th grade, I was walking home from school when a man got out of his car and told me he’d drive me home. I refused, he insisted and said we could just go for a short drive. Again, I said no. He came towards me and I ducked around him and ran. My parents called the police and I told them what had happened. From details I gave, they were able to identify him. I overheard the policeman tell my dad he was a “rock spider” who liked young girls. It was years before I knew what that actually meant. A few years later, on a main road in broad daylight, I was talking to a friend when a boy I’d known in primary school came past and grabbed me on the bottom. I made it clear he was not welcome to do so then tried to finish my conversation. He came past again and this time grabbed at my breasts. I was so angry I swung my hand out and slapped at him. He responded by hitting me in the face, which sent me flying back into a phone booth, and calling me a bitch.
During high school I would catch a bus each day. I waited at the same bus stop every morning. It was opposite a park. Each morning as I waited, the same man would drive past. He would slow down, staring, licking his lips and making lewd gestures. Every day. Some days I’d walk to the stop before or after- he’d still show up. Then one day I hid in the bushes in the park and waited for him to drive past. I did this for a week before he started stopping and waiting. A few times I missed my bus rather than walk past his car. Another time I ran past him to wave the bus down. I was so terrified of him that I would often just walk 45 minutes to school. I told no one because I couldn’t explain what he was doing- I couldn’t articulate that he wasn’t just looking at me and I was too embarrassed and ashamed to try to tell my parents.
When I was a bit older, I went to some under 18s dance parties. Walking through the crowd, boys would grab and grope at you with no warning or permission. I don’t even remember feeling upset by it- just irritated. It was just what happened, it was accepted, it was the norm. It makes me mad to think on it now.
During my teens, sexual assault and harassment were ridiculously commonplace. I was grabbed at many times. I was sworn at and verbally abused for rejecting this kind of advance. Once I was threatened with a weapon for not wanting to engage in sexual acts with someone.
Another time, I had too much to drink at a party and was sick. I was laying down when a boy came over and took the opportunity to shove his hands down my top and tried to shove them down my pants before my boyfriend came back and stopped him- I was incapable of stopping him myself.
In my early twenties, I was waiting for a bus with my daughter, who was about 3. A man stopped his car and got out. He started telling me I was beautiful and that I should let him drive me wherever I wanted to go. He made any number of remarks about my clothes, my body, my hair. He was insistent I get in the car with him and my daughter. I put myself between him and her and continually rejected him. I told him I was meeting someone on the bus, I had plans, I wasn’t interested. He persisted and started to stand closer, in my personal space. I saw the bus coming and told him my husband would be meeting me on the bus- he started to back off a little, you know, once he realised that he might be edging in on the property of another man. As the bus neared, I picked up my child and told him what I thought of him as I climbed the stairs. I was shaking with fear and rage by then.
These experience are 100% true and my own. They are also just a few of the experiences I’ve had (the ones I’m comfortable sharing, I guess) and they are not uncommon. I have written this to contribute to #yesallwomen which started on twitter in response to the UCSB shootings, perpetrated by a man filled with hatred for, and rage toward, women. It had led to women around the world sharing their experiences in an effort to break the silence and acknowledge the undercurrent of misogyny present all around the globe.
I don’t think I know any women who haven’t experienced some form of sexism, sexual harassment, sexual assault or violence at the hands of a man. We are taught to modify so much of ourselves to minimise the risk of harm from men- Don’t walk home alone at night. Don’t wear anything suggestive. Don’t give your opinion. All these strategies to stop us from being raped or assaulted, yet it is estimated that one in five women will be sexually assaulted and here in Australia, a woman is killed every week as a result of intimate partner violence.
In response to the #yesallwomen movement, there has been a #notallmen hashtag. This misses the point. Of course not all men will be violent, sexist or sexually abusive. Of course they are not. I know; I’m married to an excellent man who has never done any of these things and he is far from alone in the catalogue of excellent men that I know. The thing is- while not all men are perpetrators of these things, all women are, at some point, the victims of this behaviour, this abuse. From being cat-called in the street to being physically attacked, there is a spectrum of assaults that we are all at some point subjected to. So while I wholeheartedly acknowledge that not all men are responsible for these things, I want to reiterate what women around the world are saying- All women experience these things, and it’s got to change. Yes, all women.