At the age of 13, I dreaded one class like no other. Why? Because every time I walked in, boys asked if I’d have sex with my siblings, just so they could watch. They’d tell me about the sexual acts they’d do if they were alone with me, and tell me to wait up at night for them to come to my house. Those boys still walk by me in the hallway. Untouched. Unaffected by their comments, which even now, make me feel violated and dirty.
This is not an isolated incident. Women being harassed, assaulted and targeted at school, at home, and anywhere we dare take up space, is commonplace. In 2017 it was found that 87% of women aged 18-25 were sexually harassed at least once. We are not allowed to live freely in a space cultivated by and for male satisfaction.
But I know that alone I am not enough. I know you can easily dismiss one story to have little significance. So, if you still choose to live in ignorance, still wish to turn from truth and exclaim “not me!”, let me share with you the experiences of your female peers. Here are some of the stories they’ve shared with me:
I have to watch as they discuss which girls have the biggest asses and which are the easiest. Boys purposefully look under my skirt when I walk up stairs.
A boy bragged about our personal relationship to make himself seem cooler. It shattered me. My body was no longer my choice.
Boys told me they only took a class because the teacher was hot. “I’d do her”, they said, “but she has no personality”. I was overwhelmed, disgusted. They’d reduced her to a piece of meat.
Violence against women is not just a headline. It is a reality. For me, for your friends, family, colleagues. It would be so nice to have the privilege to stand back and say that this is overreaction, that it’s not serious, or exaggerated.
But school is a place where you should feel safe. And it seems, even safety is a privilege not afforded to us. So let me break it down for you. Loud and clear. My existence, and the existence of other women, should not be a pawn in the chess game of life. We should not have to live in fear.
You may ask why these incidents go unreported. But how can women feel safe reporting these incidents, knowing that they’d just be told they can’t take a joke? Why is the burden of responsibility rested on the shoulders of the victims? Why aren’t we instead questioning abusers? Too often in society we encourage the hounding of victims, neglecting to tackle the real problem, those who commit the deeds.
These boys still walk in the hallway. Unaffected. You may know them. You may raise them. You may teach them, and you may protect them. When we, as a school, and men, as a group, remain silent in the face of sexual harassment, a culture is produced that ignores the oppressed and celebrates the oppressor. A culture is produced wherein boys send videos of women being raped to group chats, and then get upset when they are held accountable. Why do we allow this culture to continue, festering in our hallways?
So I must call for action. Within yourself, school, and the community at large to protect the lives of our girls. Just for a moment, reflect upon and address your behaviour and those around you. How are you contributing to the condescension that greets our outrage? How are you creating a school environment where girls can feel safe?
I want to believe that you will listen, and care. I want to believe that the safety of women not only matters to you, but you’ll do something about it.
But currently? #Timesup, and I see only attempts to turn back the clock.
(This piece was originally written and performed as an oral presentation for a public speaking competition at a Melbourne Jewish Day School.)