It is no longer subtle, we see the roots of gender-based violence all around us — from the rigid gender norms we impose on young children in our communities and abroad, to the media messages that objectify women and glorify hyper masculinity, to the perceived jokes that incite abuse.
The lines have blurred, “locker-room talk”, our private conversations, are rapidly entering our politically correct (pc) spaces, the public sphere intended to avoid offensive language to a particular group in society (based on gender, race, religious affiliation, etc.). In saying this, I am not suggesting that locker-room type talk is okay, I am calling for communities to adopt one language, a language that does not promote violence, especially gender based violence. A language that is safe for all, in all spaces.
In Canada, women are 11 times more likely than men to be the target of sexual violence.
In London, a poll conducted in 2012 showed that 43% of young women said that they had experienced street harassment just during the past year alone.
In France, a study conducted in 2013 found that every fourth woman experienced fear when walking on the street, and that 1 in 5 women have suffered from verbal harassment while walking on the street in the past year.
Language & Spaces | Evening strolls in the city
In light of the 16 Days of Activism: Against Gender Based Violence Campaign — I wanted to share my story, a story that is unfortunately not unique to me, a story that most of my female and male friends can relate to.
“Twerk Team, shake it ladies!”
“Oh wow, you are so beautiful… for a black girl.”
“You, come here, I want to talk to you!”
“Damn, baby got back!”
“Hi, my name is __, give me your number!”
“Can’t I just say hi, why do you even leave your house if you don't want people to approach you and talk to you?”
The list goes on.
The first five comments, all occurred in the same night, as I took a 30 minute stroll, with my sister and female friend, from the university campus to my downtown apartment.
I did not find these comments funny or take them as a compliment. Catcalling, is a gender-based type of street harassment in which unwanted comments and actions are directed on to a stranger. Men are largely the perpetrators, who perceive catcalling as harmless because it is deeply ingrained in our culture and it is a way of exerting hyper-masculinity (the notion that masculinity is determined by strength and power). It disregards the woman’s agency and can lead to psychological effects.
A wave of exhaustion hit me as I entered my apartment, I chose to respond to some of the catcalling, primarily to reclaim my agency of the space, but also in attempts to educate the men that thought it harmless to yell such words.
I chose to respond, because I didn't want another girl to have to endure the same harassment I faced. I made time because I had hope that if these men were educated on the definition of sexual violence and the various shapes and forms in which it manifests they would think twice before speaking and acting. I listened, because I wanted to know what influenced their language. I wanted to see if they had the capacity to change and check their fathers, uncles, brothers and boys the next time they found themselves in similar situations.
From my conversations, I found that most of these men did not consider catcalling violent because it was not physical. I learned that they heard other men speak this way so it was okay, it was just a guy thing, it is also in the media.
My conversations rarely concluded amicably, however a few have, with apologizes and men pledging to do better.
As we enter the last week of this campaign I call to you— to speak up, to create spaces for dialogue and strategy-sharing, to challenge and pressure governments and leaders to do better.