“This happens everywhere, each and every day:” A testimonial on harassment

Written by Nicola MacLeod on September 11, 2016

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“Walk” by Transformer18 (Creative Commons).

This piece was originally posted on Facebook by Fredericton resident, Nicola MacLeod, on two subsequent days (Sept. 10 and 11, 2016), following multiple incidents of harassment. It is reprinted with her permission.

“Slut”

“Whore”

“Bitch”

“Where are your shorts?”

“Nice ass”

“Where’s your hole? Is it big enough for the three of us?”

A sample of the comments made to me on a 20 minute walk home in Fredericton last night… And those were just the things I could make out. I also had 2 cars yell at me and one man physically grab me while his friend said “don’t bother man, that’s the one who ignored me earlier.”

My message to you gentlemen: If you think a woman is opening herself up to these comments because she’s alone, wearing shorts or walking… she’s not, and if you think you’re entitled to make these comments because you’re with friends, it’s Friday and you’re drunk… you’re not.

I want to be clear: in my mind, Fredericton is as safe a city as any. For the most part, I’ve felt very safe here. The streets are well lit, the police presence is high when it needs to be and people are usually kind to each other, but what happened to me last night is also not a rare occurrence in any city.

No matter where you live and how safe it seems, there’s nothing much that can be done when a group of men target a woman whom they outnumber and decide to embarrass, demean and intimidate for their amusement. If women walk faster, they laugh. If you get aggressive, they talk back and if you just keep walking, they continue to try and get a reaction out of you.

It’s easy to teach women that we shouldn’t walk alone at night, but let’s not sweep the reasons why under the rug. We teach women they need to protect themselves in a world where Brock Turner spends 3 months in jail, where female victims of rape are asked what they were wearing and women and girls of all ages are told they need to cover themselves so as not to distract men with their exposed flesh.

The patriarchy is alive and well folks, and to see that we only need to look at all of the situations where women are taught to protect themselves from men, instead of putting the onus on men not to harass women and commit crimes. ‘Boys will be boys’ also hurts men through the constant reinforcement of ideal male masculinity. Be tough, never cry and assert your dominance… Especially in front of your friends when a woman walks by, minding her business on a Friday night.

Funny how things come full circle.

(next day’s FB post)

This weekend has been overwhelmingly positive.

The story of my experience with street harassment Friday night in Fredericton has been shared hundreds of times through Twitter and Facebook with extremely encouraging messages, by women and men alike. I’ve also had tons of friends reach out to make sure I’m OK, share their own experiences and tell me how my story sparked a conversation with their friends, partners or other men in their life. This is AWESOME, and I hope it continues. It’s great to hear men acknowledge and address gender based violence with a desire to be part of the solution.

I was also incredibly touched by the strangers who reached out, both publicly sharing support on platforms like Twitter and also privately messaging me. I actually had several men whom I did not know message me to apologize for what happen and tell me about their own sons and daughters, how they want to raise them and their hopes for their future… because this is an issue that affects us all. We’ve all experienced it, whether as victims, perpetrators, friends of perpetrators, bystanders. This happens everywhere, each and every day. Some people were surprised to hear this happened to me, in general or in a city like Fredericton. I wasn’t, and I’m still not.

Something I didn’t mention was that these were not the ‘stereotypical’ street harassers many think of (i.e older men, construction workers, etc.). These were young men, all under 30, likely university students back for the fall. These aren’t intangible, faceless, evil men you can’t envision. One group of three men who I encountered at the Beaverbrook/York intersection (more specifically, those who enquired about the size and spatial limits of my vagina in relation to their combined penises) were walking up the hill with their Jack’s pizza slices after the bar. These are men you’ve sat next to in class or are your friends or your teammates or men your friends have dated.

Part of the problem is that we normalize their behaviour. My sister started at UNB Fredericton last week and she told me she’s already experienced harassment of this nature. In one of the instances, someone said “oh, don’t worry, guys do that all the time”…

All the time.

Even 18-year-old women living away from home for the first time are being told to learn to accommodate their emotional responses and sense of security for men’s unacceptable behaviour.

This afternoon, a friend and I stumbled across the “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” event where men walk a mile around downtown Fredericton in (terribly uncomfortable looking) high heels in support of ending violence against women. It’s such an important thing for men to acknowledge because though it’s often stamped as women’s issues, the way men allow other men to treat women in their presence is very much a men’s issue. Most men have likely been in a situation where they felt a friend, coworker or family member had said something of a degradingly sexual or violent nature about or to a woman. Words aren’t inherently violent, but they become scary, violent and threatening when they’re hurled at a woman walking alone.

It’s wonderful to see our male MPs and provincial Ministers dance around in high heel and have a Prime Minister who brings awareness to gender based violence, but Justin Trudeau isn’t going to be there to intervene next time you see someone yell at a woman walking in the street.

So, men: call out your friends, call out the strangers and let them know that their mistreatment of women isn’t OK. Tell them why. Educate them with good videos or articles. Use your privilege or positions of influence. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Remember you are definitely doing the right thing.

We can all play our part to make women feel safer. If you see someone being harassed, go up and walk and talk with them. Distract them until you’re both in a safe place. Let them know they’re not alone.

The only thing that surprised me about what happened to me Friday night was that there were tons of people around and nobody said or did anything.

Thank you all and keep starting uncomfortable conversations.

Fredericton’s Annual Take Back the Night event is taking place on Sept. 23rd at 8pm at Fredericton City Hall. Women and children will march to protest sexual violence. Facebook event.

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