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It’s a short story. As I was walking along this street on my own, in my own thoughts, a hooded male adult cyclist, (probably late 20s), sped past me yelling “cunt sucking bitch”. This shocked me and startled me a little and I looked around, assuming he must have intended this to be heard by someone he’d had an argument with. There was no-one else nearby; he had definitely yelled it at me. We must stand together as a community to show that this type of obscene behaviour will not be tolerated. We should be able to walk peacefully without living in fear of harassment of any type.
I was waiting for a bus home outside of BusÁras. The station had closed at 11pm and our bus wasn’t until 12midnight, so my friend and I sat in the better lit square in front of the police station. We were coming back from a music festival, so I was wearing a dress. As we were sitting, a man tried to get our attention from the other side of the street. When I noticed,I gave him a stern glare. He crossed the street with two of his friends and standing less than a 2 feet from me, stretched out his arm towards my legs and commented on how he had noticed them from the other side of the street. He tried to introduce himself, though I repeatedly said I was “not interested” and tried to dissuade him from any conversation. He eventually left, but he made me so self-conscious that I put on the pair of pants I had in my backpack under my dress. All I could think is that if I ever have a daughter, I hope she will never have to experience street harassment.
This is not a typical anecdote of harassment in the workplace, just plain good ole racism and sexism. I worked as an attendant in a car park in Cork City (a location that does not yet have its own Hollaback! page), two years ago. I’m still livid about the attitude towards me that day.
Two middle-aged women who were customers of the car park approached my office and asked me if, and I quote, “any of the Polish lads are working today”. I said no, just one person per shift, can I help you? They explained that their car battery had gone dead because being women, “were too distracted by our chattering and left the headlights on”, and that they “really just need a man to have a look”. My stomach fell at the stereotype they had just created. For all they knew, I could have ran my own recovery service when I wasn’t minding the car park; but no, instead a nice strapping Polish man would do the trick.
All I could do is muster a look of sheer surprised disgust, and sarcastically apologise for not being Polish or male. I shut the glass window, leaving them with stupid expressions, mouths agape at my reaction. Who knows, they may still be helplessly wandering, waiting for an Eastern European knight in shining armour to rescue them from their motor dilemma.
In the checkout queue at a busy supermarket, my three children under 6yo with me (infant valiantly trying to climb out of the trolley seat at all opportunities) when I felt two hands right on my hipbones pulling me back and then the pressure of a thrust against my rear. ‘Excuse me, sorry.’ he said and made out like he was trying to get past me while rubbing against my bottom. I was rooted to the spot in shock. He let go and walked onwards to another check out till that was opening and I stood in a daze shocked angry and wondering what to do. Trying to figure out a way to confront him without causing distress to my children. I could see no way to do so.
In the madness of the busy supermarket with my three children holding my attention, he took advantage of my situation to assault me, likely knowing he’d be gone before I could figure out what to do. Creep 1, me 0.
On my way into town on the number 4 Dublin Bus today, every so often I could feel some pressure on my waist, but when I looked down there was nothing there, so I thought it was just my jacket moving with the bus.
When we were on Nassau St, I looked down and the man sitting behind me had his hand on my waist and was squeezing me! I turned around, stared him straight in the eyes and without thinking just screamed “What the f**k are you doing!” He said he was just resting his hand there, I wanted to make a fool of him so I shouted loudly so the whole bus could hear “you were squeezing my waist, what makes you think you can do that?” He kept saying he was sorry and looked surprised.
I was shocked at what had happened and at my reaction to it, and I didn’t know what to do next, so I got off the bus at the next stop. No one on the bus said anything to support me. I started doubting myself as soon as I stepped onto the path, but I’m sure that he was groping me, subtly enough so that he thought he could get away with it. I’m still so angry.
In celebration of International Anti-Street Harassment Week (March 30 – April 5) Hollaback! Dublin are screening the première of the thought-provoking Out on the Streets a short Irish documentary about street harassment and its affects. We caught up with the director Niamh Gaskin to discuss her film and her thoughts on the issue…
What inspired you to make a documentary about street harassment?
What interests me as a topic, is the culture around sexual harassment in our society today. Over and over again, in our nightclubs, in our workplaces, in our schools, on our screens, women’s (and many minorities’) right to say ‘no’ and to be comfortable seems to be demeaned. Women are sometimes objectified to the point that it’s easy for a harasser to forget they have feelings. I could have made three feature length documentaries on sexual harassment and still have things to say on the topic, I felt I narrowed it down and focused on street harassment in particular, as an issue many women face on a daily basis, yet we seem to be conditioned to just accept it.
Have you personally experienced street harassment?
Yeah, it’s happened me a good few times, and mostly I’ve always been surprised at how much it affects me. Usually, it frustrates me, it makes me feel very self-conscious and uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s made me feel afraid, and then the worst part is, I feel stupid for having these varied emotions, like I’m not entitled to be affected by something people deem as ‘harmless fun’. And then some other times, especially when I’m not alone, I can just brush them off. It’s never a particularly fun addition to your day.
From making the documentary, did you come to any conclusion about the perpetrators of harassment?
For the most part, I believe that the perpetrators of street harassment just don’t think about the feelings of the victim. They’re just ignorant to the effect they’re having while trying to make themselves look or feel more powerful through this act. It’s not that they’re evil people, it’s not like the people who dismiss street harassment are cruel, they just need to be reminded that the victims they are harassing are people too, and not just objects. I think if they were taught to empathise with the victim at all, that street harassment wouldn’t be such an issue.
Did you find that participants were open to speaking to you about their experiences?
Yes, most of the people in the documentary were ones who felt very strongly about street harassment. It was difficult to find people who were quite indifferent on the topic to talk to us about their views or experiences. I mean, there are many people who feel that street harassment is not a big issue, but none were willing to go on camera and talk about this.
Do you think that this is an issue that people are dismissive of?
Yeah, I do in a way. I did have several people really question why I was making this documentary, and I appreciate people have different priorities, but some people seemed determined not to accept this as a problem. Other times, after talking with people, they were surprised to think about how little they’d dwelt on the idea of street harassment before or how much it had actually affected them.
Check out Niamh’s “Out on the Streets” as well as 3 other short films about street harassment at Hollaback! Dublin’s free screening in Wall & Keogh, Portobello on April 2 at 6pm.
Attention: Chris Barry, 104FM Phone Show host
Dear Mr. Barry,
We were upset to hear the recent comments on the March 5 episode of The Phone Show condoning slapping women’s behinds in the workplace. The remark that women who get upset are “just prudes” or “a bit precious” is disrespectful and serves to undermine women’s autonomy over their bodies. Further, this attitude suggests to women that, to gain acceptance from their male colleagues, they must put up with this type of behaviour and appear to be fine with it or risk being labeled a prude by their colleagues and subjected to further disrespect and ridicule.
Workplace sexual harassment, which The Employment Equality Act defines as “unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature,” is illegal in Ireland. Contributing to a culture that attacks women who speak up against this type of unsolicited contact encourages men to behave however they wish with the expectation they will get away with it.
Sexual violence is an overwhelming problem in Ireland and around the world. A recent EU Agency of Fundamental Rights study found eight percent of Irish women report having experienced sexual violence, with 28 percent admitting they’d feared an assault in the past year. Though a “harmless” slap on the bottom or comment to a passerby may seem entirely different from a rape, both lie along the spectrum of sexual violence. Of the 55 percent of Irish women who have experienced sexual harassment, 32 percent were harassed in the workplace. To a woman who has experienced sexual violence, this can be extremely traumatizing. If men can get away with “minor” types of harassment, they will be more likely to objectify women and regard their own desires as superior to the interests of the women they encounter. This is the type of environment that allows sexual assault to persist.
We hope you can appreciate the potential negative consequences of broadcasting attitudes that condone objectifying women’s bodies and trivializing their feelings in a world where sexual assault and harassment are a reality for many women. We would greatly appreciate a public apology to the women of Dublin, and would be happy to come on your show to discuss the matter further if you wish.
We’re so proud of what we’ve achieved this year, but there’s still plenty on our birthday wishlist that we want to achieve in the next year.
Let us know if you can help with any of those things! We’re going to be celebrating Hollaback! Dublin’s 1st birthday with a hangout in Accents coffee lounge at 3pm on the 30th of November. It will be chance for people who are interested in talking about street harassment to meet up and celebrate that we Hollaback!