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Colleague: La Belle Angèle was so seedy on Saturday night. I watched three different women have their asses groped by three different men in the space of an hour.
Becca: *unsurprised blinking* Yehh?
Colleague: And none of the women did anything about it!
Becca: Well, there isn’t really anything they could have done.
Colleague: They didn’t even tell them off…
Becca: That probably wouldn’t have worked. You just get told that you should expect that kind of thing on a night out, or that you’re being oversensitive. The guys might even have denied doing anything at all.
Colleague: *surprised outrage*
Becca: I’ve even been come onto, told the guy that I felt uncomfortable, and then got into a ten-minute argument about whether he was flirting or just trying to make friends with me. Standing up for myself just ended in more harassment.
Colleague: *visibly horrified*
I just wanted to publish this conversation because I found it interesting that something so commonly accepted amongst the harassed is actually little known outside our circle.
It’s pretty universally “known”, amongst all the women I’ve met anyway, that you don’t directly tackle harassment. It doesn’t work. Instead you get your gal pal to awkwardly shuffle you away in some poor imitation of dancing, or else you have your male buddy pretend to be your overbearing boyfriend staking his territory. The rare time that a girl stands up for herself (yes, I have had the occasional friend punch a groper in the face) is so unheard of that she’ll receive unending showers of admiring “I-can’t-believe-you-did-that” praise. Like seriously, how did you do that?!
Obviously Hollaback! are trying to change that by encouraging the harassed to talk back and challenge harassment, but it’s not easy. The reality remains that many women will be groped and that they will feel they can do little more than brush it off as part of the going-out experience. That is how powerless harassment can make us feel.
When I first sent in my application to Hollaback Edinburgh at the suggestion of Lena (we had met at a Feminist reading group), I had been slightly uneasy at the prospect of joining any activist circles/groups in Edinburgh, due to my experiences of the city’s overwhelming whiteness (it’s okay white people, I don’t hate you; I just don’t trust feminism that caters solely to cis, white, straight, able-bodied people).
But last weekend I had the chance to meet some of the Hollaback committee members for the first time and our conversation left me stimulated and reassured. I was relieved to find that there was an understanding of and commitment to addressing how people experience harassment in public spaces, depending not only on their gender but also their race/ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and disability. Needless to say, I’m excited to be part of this group of awesome people!
One of the things we talked about was the nature of harassment in Edinburgh, and when I was asked about my experiences, I found myself drawing a blank. The only example I could think of was an incident at a restaurant where a rather drunk white man sitting two tables away from me had started talking to me about hunting since “my people” were experts in that area. I think he thought I was Native American, and in my head, I told him off for his antiquated racist assumptions, but never said anything out loud. I was pretty rattled. That man hadn’t said a word to me while I was with my partner, but as soon as I was left alone, he thought it was appropriate to talk to me.
I later joked with my partner that this would be the last time that I go anywhere in public by myself, but now that I think about it, it totally has been. I don’t spend time in public places by myself. I don’t sit in parks by myself. I don’t go to the cinema by myself. I don’t go to bars by myself. And I’m certainly going to think twice before I next go to a cafe or restaurant by myself. I’m quite a social person, and I enjoy the company of others, but I have to wonder why I’m so uncomfortable being out in public when I’m perfectly happy being by myself when I’m at home.
When I am out in public, it tends to be walking down the street or out shopping, I find myself tuning out my surroundings and going about my tasks in a single minded way that has left many acquaintances puzzled as I stride past them, barely giving them a glance. Much like how I avoid spending time alone in public places, I realize that this is another defense mechanism of mine to avoid harassment. Even if somebody were to shout misogynist or racial slurs at me, I probably wouldn’t notice them. But I also wouldn’t notice my friends when they wave at me, or when there’s someone who looks like they may need help.
My behaviour has been so strongly shaped by my fear of harassment and need for safety, that I don’t even think about it anymore. It took joining Hollaback Edinburgh, and critically examining my own behaviour and experiences with harassment, to realize how it’s affected me. (Frankly, it’s all left me feeling a little outraged. How did this happen? How could I have let the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy control me like that?!) I don’t want to sit idle as others curtail their behaviour in the way I do and I hope that through Hollaback, I can contribute to making Edinburgh feel safe for everyone.
Many of us have been in the situation at 3am after leaving the discotheque on a Saturday night (after our rush to Pizza Paradise to have a sit down meal) when we are walking home alone and we see someone ahead who makes us feel nervous. Mostly we take out or phone and pretend to text our friend and nothing comes of it. Mostly, but not always. In fact, many of us have had our bum pinched, been heckled across the street or been made to feel uncomfortable. We have all been harassed at some point in Edinburgh.
On a recent night out, I was the victim of street, sexual and institutional harassment. I had my ass slapped, I was filmed dancing, I was shouted at out the window of a passing car, I was told off by security for wearing shorts where I “shouldn’t have” and I got shouted at across the street.
But also last night, without consent, I kissed someone on the lips. My friends were around and laughed and within a few days it will be forgotten about. I surprised myself with my actions because I am involved in a campaign to end harassment in nightclubs in Edinburgh, and as a result I tend to notice when it takes place and try to say something to stop it. Last night, however, I was a perpetrator of the very things I am fighting against.
I now realise just how endemic harassment is within Edinburgh and beyond. It has become normalised for a girl to have her bum grabbed on a night out, or for a gay person to be hurled homophobic abuse, and that if we look to the white, straight, able-bodied, cis male we may be stared at. Society has normalised sexual, racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist and xenophobic harassment to the extent we have stopped realising that we could all be potential perpetrators and victims.
Even when we identify as “Accepting” or “Feminist” or “Liberal”, we could still be failing in seemingly innocuous ways. Sometimes, without wanting to or realising, we may stare at those with differences to our own. When we stare we ostracise, unsettle and refuse them a place in our public spaces; we oppress women, ethnicities, non-hegemonic males, disabled and LGBT+ people. As Lara Logan puts it, “When women are harassed … they’re denied an equal place in that society. Public spaces don’t belong to them. Men control it. It reaffirms the oppressive role of men in the society.”
I leave you with one of the definitions of public – “Open to or shared by all the people of an area or country.” It is not until we root out these internalised prejudices that we can move beyond the most superficial aspects of change. As I have come to realise equal rights for everyone in society is not the same as equality; our public spaces simply are not shared .
By Nicklas Brown
I like to dance. I like to dance a lot. I like to dance a lot in a weird and freaky way, and every Good Night Out of mine involves dancing in some format. But every so often on my night out I feel threatened by people shouting homophobic slurs at me or whipping out phones and filming me throwing my shapes about the club.
I have no real problem with someone taking a cheeky video of me; dancing should be shared with everyone. But I am not sure people realise that filming someone without permission can be intimidating or unsettling.
It was after a night out in Edinburgh where I had someone shine their camera light on me and push their phone into within ½ a meter of my face that I realised that this was harassment. I felt vulnerable and intimidated and powerless. Who could I tell and who would listen and who would believe a teenager in shorts dancing alone in a club without anyone to back up my story?
Good Night Out is all about making sure a venue listens to what has happened and that they will take you seriously. I joined the campaign so that others might not be made to feel uncomfortable because of their sexuality on their night out.
I want everybody to have a harassment-free Good Night Out, irrespective of how crazy the shapes you cut are.
CONTENT NOTE: Sexual Assault
My version of a Good Night Out is a good old-fashioned music festival. That might seem like cheating since that’s technically several good nights out but, seriously, I love weekends like Boomtown Fair and Secret Garden Party more than is sensible.
This story is about the worst harassment that I ever experienced on a Good Night Out, which this time was at Reading Festival in 2009.
That fine Saturday afternoon I was standing in one of the front rows at the main stage waiting for Placebo to play. The crowd was rammed with people packed so tight that during the last band I had been picked up and thrown off my feet by the entire crowd. My hands were bent and wedged against my friend’s back with no possibility of changing my position.
It was at this point that I felt a hand snake up my skirt and into my pants where it proceeded to have a root around.
I’ll repeat that.
Someone grabbed my vagina without my invitation or even my seeing said someone’s face.
I couldn’t move away and there was no way of figuring out whose hand it was. The best I could do was say “I don’t know who’s doing that but whoever it is stop it now”. Luckily for me the hand retreated. What’s horrifying is that someone thought that it was okay or, arguably worse, funny to violate my body in the lull between bands.
I’m joining Good Night Out Edinburgh because I want people to know that that’s not okay and to make sure that anyone who experiences anything similar can have it dealt with. You can follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter where we’ll be talking about our progress and our Good Night Out venues.
Strange as it might seem to introduce myself to a feminist blog with a sympathetic discussion of anti-feminism, that is exactly what I intend to do. You see, I too was once party to the “I’m not a feminist, but-” brigade.
People are often quick to blame the feminist backlash on the bra-burning-moustachioed-man-hating-lesbians depicted by the mainstream media, but I think there must be plenty of anti-feminists well aware that this caricature is just made-up drivel. No, what turned me into an anti-feminist was an unfortunate mix of feminism and the patriarchy. I will begin with the patriarchy since that is all of our favourite thing to complain about. A combination of Bliss magazine articles, photo-shopped supermodels, and a seeming inability to fit into an all-girls’ school all led me to the conclusion that I was a poor excuse for a girl. Reams of pages in my diary at 13 are devoted to plots and schemes to make myself “cool”, “pretty”, and “girly”, but I always felt that I fell short. My failed efforts to be a girl whom boys would fancy and other girls would look up to was ruining my self-esteem, and so I eventually felt safer not trying at all. I identified instead as a ladette – loud, crass, and “one of the boys”.
My upbringing was nothing if not feminist: my staunchly feminist mother taught me that the end-goal was not to find a person to fall in love and settle down with but rather to be happy alone and to need nobody but myself; the school that I went to was not aiming to produce couth young ladies but rather the female figureheads of tomorrow; and I inhabited public spaces with confidence, never experiencing enough fear of street harassment to make me alter my routes home in the dark.
Unfortunately both experiences had the adverse effect of leading me away from feminism. I had had so much trouble identifying with my “sisters” in the first place and now here was feminism reminding me of my gender and my inability to crowbar myself into its ideal. I knew that feminism is still needed by many groups of women, but I personally very rarely felt inhibited by my sex, and was mostly only reminded that I was part of an oppressed group when feminism told me so. I came to resent the movement that repeatedly dictated to me how powerless I am, when I rather saw myself as genderless and powerful. In short, feminism reminded me that I was a woman, and I didn’t like it.
I later moved to an area that was densely populated by men who saw fit to stand in packs and stare, shout, and touch without permission. There were stories of men masturbating outside friends’ houses and rapes in the nearby area. I felt unsafe to the point that I could not leave the house, and was often tearfully angry that society’s fixation on my gender was leaving me fearful of something as simple as walking outside in broad daylight. I would like to say that I changed my tune at this point, but unfortunately that took moving away from the city where friends repeatedly stated, “You believe in equal rights for both sexes? But then you are a feminist!” to study a postgraduate module at Edinburgh in feminist theories. I began to realise that, while feminism felt like a smug companion who kept elbowing me in the ribs and stage whispering “You’re a GIRL, and you’re POWERLESS”, men on the street were reducing me to a pair of legs and tits in a much more terrifying way. I decided that if the whole world, feminist and anti-feminist alike, was going to keep reminding me that I am a woman and that I am oppressed, then I at least wanted to be on the side that is fighting for an alternative. If I can’t view gender as insignificant to how I live my life, then I want to join the increasing volume of angry voices that are provoking the courage to Hollaback!
Lovely Hollaback! activists and supporters! After a fantastic year of meetings, new friends, events, and both difficult and very good times, the Edinburgh team are now taking a wee break over the holidays, to come back in January with renewed feminist excitement and strength.
As Audre Lorde advises, we all need to take care of ourselves – you too!
Thank you all for a wonderful year! Happy HOLLAdays and may you have a great New Year!
As part of the 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, you are very warmly invited to the Write to End Violence Against Women Feminist Writing Day School. Download the flyer here: FeministWritingDaySchool_1
To register please visit the EventBrite page where you can sign up for two of the following sessions:
Morning Session 1. What’s her story?
Hannah Lavery, Appletree Writers
Hannah Lavery from Appletree Writers will offer a busy morning of writing. Looking at women’s lives as inspiration for our writing the session will be a practical workshop which will offer ways and techniques to get you started and keep you going.
Morning Session 2. Online Storytelling and Creative Activism
Hollaback! will explore the importance of storytelling in the feminist movement, and look at ways we can be creative in our activism.
Afternoon Session 1. Writing for Empowerment
Magi Gibson, Writer in Residence Glasgow Women’s Library
Do you ever feel that no-one listens to you? That there are things you’d like to get out of your system and down on paper – but you don’t know how? In this two hour workshop, poet and writer Magi Gibson will help you turn your thoughts into powerful pieces of writing.
Afternoon Session 2. Your Feminist Voice
Talat Yaqoob, YWCA Scotland
Talat Yaqoob from YWCA Scotland will be leading a workshop reflecting on her lessons as a public speaker and blogger on feminist issues. The workshop will explore the public sphere of your feminist voice. You’ll have a chance to write your own short articles about tough topics and stand on your soapbox to speak about your feminism as well as learning from examples of feminists on YouTube.
If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].
Come prepared for a fab day of feminist writing and be sure to bring your pen and paper!
Text credit: Zero Tolerance