Note**** this article was published in The Weekend Herald 6/1/18 – 7/1/18
I was living in Melbourne and about 23. Then boyfriend and I moved into a flat with two other people. One was a good friend of mine from NZ and the other was his friend who I didn’t know. My friend warned me this guy was a bit hard to get along with but we moved in any way because the rent was cheap. Weeks went on, and this guy – who was big – about 6’’3, and had a robust, overweight build; decided that he hated me. Just me. No one else in the house, just me. One day we got into an argument and I stormed off. I went out with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I visited my boyfriend at work and asked if he could get off early and escort me home, I had an awful feeling. He said he couldn’t and not to worry, I was exaggerating the situation. I rang my friend and asked if he could meet me at the flat and he agreed. When I got home, no one was there. I decided to sneak into my bedroom, pack and leave. The feeling of dread in my stomach intensified and I knew despite what my boyfriend had said we needed to leave urgently. As I walked across the living room floor towards my room- the awful flatmate flung open his door and demanded that I pay him next month’s rent. It wasn’t due, but he obviously knew I was going to leave. We got into a heated argument and next thing I know he dove at me. This huge guy, coming right at me – I thought I was going to die. Luckily – SO luckily, my friend walked in, dove in-between us. We ran into my room locked the door and pile furniture against it. Outside, the flatmate was throwing himself at the door demanding that we open it. I shakily called the police and we were escorted off the premises. I grabbed everything I can carry and never set foot in that house again.
That event in itself wasn’t so bad. A lucky escape, but an escape non-the-less. The worst part was that this horrible man started stalking me. For the next few months I was scared to sleep, be alone and was paranoid that he would find me and kill me. I changed my number several times, blocked him on every social media account – everywhere I could think of. He would get my number and ring and ring and ring and leave messages threatening me. He would message my boyfriend on social media – again threatening me. It was truly one of the scariest times of my life.
One of the hardest parts was that my friend, the one who had witnessed the attack let it go almost instantly. He stayed living there and continued a friendship with this person who was simultaneously stalking me. He didn’t get it. He didn’t get how terrible it was. All my power was taken from me and I was left cowering in a bedroom in a house, praying this man would never find. I felt helpless, isolated and small. I still do when I think about it.
At 5 year’s old, I had a bully. It was a boy in my class who would physically pick on me. He would push me and chase me and I would come home from school with bruises. I was terrified of him. I didn’t know why he hated me so much until the day his mother walked into my parent’s shop and declared, “My son is in love with your daughter”. This was the first I had ever experienced someone having a crush on me and I guess you could say it also taught me that male sexual aggression existed. By just being me I learned that it meant boys at school might hit me.
At 9, I was trick or treating with another little girl. We were walking down the street, still light out and three older guys (late teens) were playing with a rugby ball on the street. They saw us and invited us to come inside so they could give us some candy. I could feel something sinister about them so I ran. As fast as I could until I reached home.
At 11, my Dad sat me down and told me that I needed to be careful around boys because they were only after one thing. And the absolute worst thing that could happen to me is to become pregnant. I grew up with the idea that every time a guy spoke to me he wanted something from me, and I needed to resist that. I hate to say it, but I think this saved me from a lot of bad situations.
At 18, my friend and I were on our way into the city at night to go clubbing and sitting at a bus stop. Must have been about 10 pm. A young police officer drove by, and stopped. He told us he would drive us to town because otherwise he would only be called back to rescue us. Half of me thought it was very nice and half of me felt very small and silly. Especially in my clubbing clothes. This is a common feeling women speak about. Feeling fierce, that you look beyond awesome in what you’re wearing only to leave the house and have the male gaze settle on you and you feel naked. Like every curve that is being hugged, every bit of skin that is exposed – is too revealing and you look like a fool. A slutty fool.
What do all these instances have in common apart from me?
Well, two things really. Firstly they could happen to any woman throughout her life. A one-off occurrence at 10 or a once off at a club at 18 is no big deal. A brush off really. However, when they are combined and built on, and repeated in different forms but with the same underlying message each time – you’re just a girl. You’re there for men to lust over or hate or harass as they see fit – but you’re not there for yourself. Secondly, sexual harassment doesn’t have to be a big scandal to exist and be spoken about openly. I’m lucky, and nothing truly horrible has happened to me. That’s why campaigns like #MeToo and #MeAt14 are so important. These events that I’ve written about – none of them rate very high on the scale of assault, sexual harassment or general bad things that could happen. But they still rate. They might be micro aggressions but they add up. They seep under your skin and change how you see the world.
These are the very reasons that things like “Not All Men” are irrelevant. Correct, not all men sexually harass or beat women, some are wonderful, supportive humans. That’s not the point though, the point is “All Women”. In some way shape or form, every woman has been discriminated against, felt uncomfortable or worse – scared for her life because she is a woman. If a woman goes on a blind date with a man, and is uncomfortable with going back to his place; it’s nothing against the individual guy – it’s that if she makes a wrong decision it could literally cost her life.
Among the countless harrowing assaults by Harvey Weinstein, Gwyneth Paltrow stood out to me. The incident was minute compared to what else he has been accused of – he propositioned her. She said no, and Brad Pitt, her partner at the time told Weinstein to stay away from her. This stood out to me as a shocking example of the society we live in. During the mid to late 90s Paltrow was one of the biggest names in Hollywood. She won an Oscar for Shakespeare In Love and she and Brad Pitt were one of the first Hollywood power couples I can remember. Yet this woman, rich beautiful, famous and successful was too scared to go public about Weinstein. And worse, Weinstein still felt like he had so much more power than her, he could openly disrespect and force her to have sex with him. This illustrates the rape culture we live in. If one of the most successful woman in the world didn’t feel like she could come out about being sexually harassed, then what chance would the average, everyday woman have? It really is just easier to say nothing. And because we say nothing, ESPECIALLY when smaller things happen – often because women don’t want to be perceived as ‘that’ type of women – it helps this rape culture thrive, like a parasite feeding of feminine vulnerability. To me movements like #MeToo and #MeAt14 are so important because they are rallying around women who have been raped, or abused or killed. It is all women (and hopefully some wonderful men and everyone in between) coming together and saying “this kind of stuff happens all the time, it’s happened to me, it’s happened to people I know and I’m here to support anyone who has been victimized.”