I made a fairly flippant series on comments on Twitter today, after reading Jessica Rowe’s article about racism in Australia, about the comparative frequency of racist vs. sexist comments experienced by people. Racist comments are, of course, completely appalling. I can’t emphasize that enough. But I find it astonishing to hear so much conversation about experiences of racism from strangers, but very little outrage about sexist comments.
I mentioned that it’s a fairly common occurrence for me to have strange men make comments at me while I’m walking down the street. Here’s a couple of recent examples:
- Jogging round the park at lunch. A guy says to me: “Great rack!”
- Walking down the street at work, in work gear, a guy comes up to me and says “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you have the most incredible legs I have ever seen.”
- Walking home down the street in Newtown at about ten at night. A group of guys is holding a cab. One of their friends is running to catch them, and on his way past me, slaps me on the butt.
- On Tuesday, walking to trivia in broad daylight in Surry Hills, some guys says “You have great breasts. Come home with me.”
Seriously, it happens all the time. And I know of plenty of my friends who experience it all the time too. After I tweeted these, other women replied with similar experiences, some of them horrific, all of which involved men either making comments (positive AND negative) about women’s bodies, or making sexually gratuitous remarks.
I couldn’t believe the response. Heaps of people replied to my tweets were totally incredulous that I could have experienced it, and experienced it so often. Which made me realise two things:
- It only ever happens when I’m alone. My male friends would rarely, if ever, actually witness it.
- I am so used to it, I would rarely mention it after it happened
It’s easy to understand why many, men in particular, were astonished to find out this stuff happens all the time. But it does. Sexual harassment isn’t something that happens to some people some times at work. For many of us, it’s something we encounter all the time. What’s more, we’re told if we’re offended by it, that we should either take it as a compliment or alter our own behaviour to stop it happening. Classic victim blaming.
I think it’s great that Australians are having a conversation about the racism people experience in everyday life. But I think we should broaden the conversation and talk about other forms of discrimination and harassment that are part of life in Australia, and to say that none of them are ok.
On twitter, I’ve tweeted a couple of my experiences at the hashtag #sexisminthestreet. I’m ambitiously hoping that others will join me, and maybe we can demonstrate just how common this experience is.