If you stay silent, our girls will think sexual violence is their fault / Stuff
OPINION: There's a general cry that goes up when men are caught publicly subjecting girls and women to vile sexual violence.
"Not all men!" the others say. Not all men are sexist. Not all men harass. Not all men rape.
But how many men stand aside and say nothing when a 13-year-old girl is asked: "How much for a handjob?" on an Auckland street? How many men laugh when they hear a man yell "I'd like to get in your box!" to a pre-pubescent child?
Would most men do nothing?
In two high-profile incidents this week, that's exactly what happened.
In a story by The Spinoff that was difficult to read, Carlene Newall de Jesus told how the 13-16 year-old-girls in her HighJinx aerial circus troupe were sexually harassed while trying to perform on a Kingsland street ahead of the Lions test - ostensibly a family-friendly event.
The girls in the youth company had been prepped to troubleshoot all performance hiccups - but not how to deal with the torrents of lewd comments, Newall de Jesus wrote.
"Or for the question about whether they give lap dances, or the request for them to lift their legs a little higher, spread their knees a little wider. Or the comments about that nice-looking camel toe, that their ass looks great, or whether someone could sit on the chair and have the girls dance on top of him."
Disgusting, right? Gross and inappropriate? Surely, someone stood up to these thugs?
Nope. Just like in the case of three Brisbane women who were subjected to a tirade of sexualised abuse this week at a boxing match across the ditch, no-one did a thing.
And who is left feeling sad, uncomfortable, and guilty? The girls. Always the girls.
Just listen to Connie, 14. "Sexual comments like those made me more self-conscious when performing, because I didn't want to be seen in that sort of way and, although I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong, it is hard to ignore comments like those without feeling dirty or guilty about what you are doing."
I know this feeling. When I was 14, a man - the husband of one of the women on my club soccer team - made constant sexualised comments about my appearance. I learned to make sure I was nowhere near him if there was ever a team hug. One day, he rang me at my parents' house to see if I'd like to "go out for coffee sometime".
I said no. "Think about it. I'll see you and that hot arse at practice," he said.
At practice, I felt sick. I felt like I'd done something wrong, like, were my shorts were too short? Had I smiled at him too much? Did I lead him on somehow?
Too short, too much; too suggestive for men to resist.
The sad truth is this. We are living in a society where young women are treated as sexual objects, where it's considered their responsibility to keep themselves safe and not the men, and where victims are blamed for their actions. When girls and women do speak up, we are told things didn't happen, or not the way we say they did.
In this rape culture, questions like: "What were they wearing?" "Why didn't they have security?" and "What did they expect would happen?" - all of which I've read in the aftermath of this story - make complete sense. It's never, ever the men's fault.
The Kingsland Business Association have cancelled High Jinx performance this Saturday, citing "health and safety" regulations.
The undertone: it's safer for the girls just to stay home, and stay quiet. It's better if we just let the boys be boys. The girls were probably just overreacting, anyway; let's all just get on with the fun, lads!
This reaction - minimising the shitty behaviour, brushing the young women aside and hoping it all just blows over - is as good an example as any that this toxic culture is real.
I understand sexual harassment isn't always easy to call out. If you're a woman it's doubly hard, because we have been taught to doubt ourselves and stay quiet.
But if we knew people had our back, that would be a start.
Rugby players in this country appear in advertisements talking up banks, clothing brands, underwear, Fonterra, garage doors, multivitamins, and kid's charities.
Who's calling out the sexual violence?
The women. Always the women.
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