In light of the tragic Sarah Everard case, women across the world have begun to reflect on their experiences and what it is to be a woman in the 21st Century.
We are dwelling on what measures we take to keep ourselves safe that are ingrained in our everyday rituals. We are remembering all those times we were made to feel uncomfortable. We are made to recall all those comments we laughed off. A harrowing statistic by UN Women UK was produced that stated 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. However, as shocking as this statistic is, many women weren’t surprised.
We have heard and shared many incidents of sexual harassment among my girlfriends and sisters. We take precautions such as: calling a friend whilst we walk home, wearing flat shoes, putting our keys in our fists, covering up our hair and getting taxis (which are still deemed as a risk). This needs to be addressed in the hopes that our future generation doesn’t fall to the same fate. So this is addressed to you: the good guy- to become more aware, to be more educated and to spread this knowledge among your friends and family.
It sadly may come as a shock to Manx residents but Manx women and women living on the IOM are subject to sexual harassment and often don’t feel safe on our precious Isle. I, amongst many Manx women, have been subject to sexual harassment, misogyny and sexist comments that all fuel the rape culture that is so apparent in today’s society. Here are the brave Manx Women who have come forward and allowed me to share their testimonies.
Ruth Nathan, aged 21:
This is my personal experience. Unfortunately, I have experienced many night-outs where I have been groped. This unwanted feeling is unexplainable and strikes you like a slap in the face. There is a sense of helplessness and loss of ownership of your body when you are reduced to this degradation. To retaliate is to be seen as aggressive and there is a possibility you could be met with aggression. I have also been subject to many misogynistic, sexist comments and sexual harassment in a verbal manner. My most recent experience was when I went to the Police station to report dangerous driving on the IOM. I had an interview with a male Police Officer to write an account of what I had witnessed that day. I was suddenly made extremely uncomfortable when the Policeman made a reference about a new female colleague who had a ‘great set of breasts’. I was stunned and no words left my mouth. Why didn’t I say something? I know I didn’t say something because this man was and is in a position of power. I didn’t want to create a scene and I didn’t want to create an unruly backlash. This narrative as a woman to not speak up and not create a scene is one many of us have ingrained. We are also taught to laugh off a comment of this nature, it was harmless, it doesn’t matter. But it does matter, derogatory comments like this especially from a policeman, who clearly doesn’t value or respect his female colleague, impact women.
Female 1, aged 22:
This Manx female explained to me that her first encounter of sexual harassment was when she was 15. This wasn’t a one off for this individual as it continued to happen at her place of work each week. She explained to me that she was made to feel uncomfortable by the chef that worked there, she explicitly remembers walking into the kitchen with two jugs and the chef said: “nice jugs”. She was always asked by him to set the tables upstairs, to her disgust she soon realised that the reason he did that was to look up her skirt when she was on the way up the stairs.
Clara Nathan, aged 24:
Clara revealed some measures she takes to keep herself safe. Whenever Clara has been on a night-out (on the IOM or across) and is bought a drink by a male she never drinks the drink and even asks the male to drink it first. The responses from the males are always the same- laughing and finding it funny. Although it seems half-hearted, Clara is deadly serious, this is the reality of being a woman and this is a way she ensures that she doesn’t get ‘roofied’- which sadly happens to so many women.
Female 2, aged 21:
This female had some shocking incidences to share, which are incredibly heart-breaking.
“This time last year I met up with someone that I spoke to on Tinder. I was going around for a cuppa and he tried it on with me and despite consistently saying I don’t want it and to stop, he continued anyway. After that I blocked him on everything apart from his number because we never communicated on text. He then texted me abuse, calling me a slag and just generally being nasty after his wrongdoings. Finally, he called me up 3 months later and told me he had chlamydia, which obviously was awful as I never consented to the situation in the first place and now had to deal with getting rid of it and telling my new boyfriend that I have an STD.”
Rebecca Nathan, aged 24:
Rebecca had countless experiences, with new suppressed memories springing up every 5 mins during our interview. For Rebecca, the most impactful incident was when she was only 12 years of age. On her way to catch a bus to Paparazzi in Douglas, she got to the bus stop and there were already three men in their late 20s. The men began to shout abuse at Rebecca, she specifically remembers one man shouting: “I’m going to smash your back doors in.” For a 12-year-old child this was terrifying, she says she didn’t even know what the phrase meant but she knew it was aggressive and violent. She ran home and changed out of her denim shorts, which she felt was the reason she received this abuse. How can a child of this age be sexualised for wearing shorts? However, females all across the world are sexualised and are reduced to their body, seen as an object solely there for a man’s entertainment. This was a pivotal moment for her and consequently she has always been conscious about her choice of outfit in order to not draw unwanted attention like this ever again.
She also had many stories regarding nights-out and unwanted touching from men. One shocking incident occurred in the Courthouse. A group of young men were behind Rebecca. Suddenly, she was smacked on the bum by one of the males behind her. When she turned around she didn’t know which one it was, he slipped back into the group and she couldn’t confront the coward. She turned back again and was once again painfully physically assaulted- she said the slaps were hard and were intended to hurt her. Rebecca said she was evidently distressed, she felt helpless and was reduced to tears.
Rebecca also revealed that it didn’t matter whether she was on her own or with her partner, she would still experience sexual harassment. Last summer, she walked hand in hand with her partner into the Haven, in Port Erin, and Rebecca was squeezed hard on the bum. If you think this issue doesn’t impact or affect you, this could be your partner who is physically assaulted, it doesn’t matter if you accompany her, she is still at risk of harassment.
“I’m now 22 and I’ve had two experiences that stick with me regarding sexual harassment that I’d like to share to make it known that it does happen in the Isle of Man despite people thinking of it as a ‘safe place’. My first experience was when I was 18. I trusted a guy that I called a close friend to give me a lift home from a party. However, this changed suddenly when he tried to kiss me and force himself on me and even locked the doors so I couldn’t get out. This was so frightening as it was only me and him in the car and I didn’t know how I could get out of the situation. It made me feel stupid for even trusting him in the first place and allowing myself to be in that situation, now I make sure I get lifts home with people in my close circle and have company with me.
My second experience was when I was 20. My colleagues and I were on a night-out, sitting at a bar next to the most senior person in the company (the boss). He began to run his hands up and down my thigh multiple times. I froze, I didn’t know what to do or to say. I thought how can he be behaving this way in such a public place. I told my friends about what had happened and that’s when I really came to realise that he took advantage of the fact he was my boss, my employer and a trusted person in his company. I never reported this as I thought nobody would believe me, or even question what I ‘must’ have been doing in order for him to act this way. Now, I wish I had done something about it, as I later learnt he had been inappropriate to another colleague too. I feel like the way society is today, when something like this happens it even makes you second guess yourself about what you have done to make these men behave in the way that they do, when in actual fact it’s down to them and them only. The victim has no role to play that makes these men act inappropriately, it’s just that victim blaming is so prominent.”
This female’s devastating story showed how females are often put in compromising positions, are trapped in their careers and experience inappropriate behaviour in the workplace by male colleagues. The ‘Me Too Movement’ kick-started the exposing of sexual harassment by male colleagues. However, females are still put in degrading positions, their careers are made to feel jeopardised and they don’t feel safe enough to come forward and report this. There is something seriously wrong with this!
“On a night-out, a guy that I vaguely knew kept squeezing my arse. I’d ask him to stop, shouted and swore at him to stop touching me but he didn’t and kept doing it again and again. So, I told my boyfriend and asked him to tell him to stop it, thinking: “if he won’t respect my words, maybe he’ll respect my boyfriends.” But the reaction I got from my boyfriend was a laugh and he said: “what’s he going to do, he’s shorter than you.” I felt so stupid for getting upset about it when he said that and I just had to laugh it all off. But then I also accepted that response from him, I didn’t even question him when he said that and that’s a massive problem in itself looking back on it now.”
This female highlighted how normalised it is to be sexually harassed, even by the person you love- your boyfriend- they might not even understand the detrimental impact it can have on you. If someone asks for help, HELP THEM.
Olivia Savage, aged 24:
Olivia had plenty of stories, like most women, of unwanted touching in the workplace by male colleagues. She was subject to, as she said, the classic “squeeze of waist” when a male colleague passes you by. She also explained her concerns of walking home from work. “I worked in a pub in Uni in Leeds and would call my mum or boyfriend for every night walk home. The single only time I didn’t do this, I was stopped by a man trying to ask me out on a date. I said no and he kept asking, trying to get my number and stepping closer to me, even after I’d begun stepping back. Nothing happened so maybe it’s not a big deal, but I felt scared and he knew that and even acknowledged it but kept stepping towards me anyway.”
Olivia demonstrated how there is a lack of understanding by males of how they can intimidate a female, make us feel uncomfortable and frightened. This is a natural reaction for a female to be scared when male approaches her late at night and that is because of the build-up (experiencing sexual harassment) that has got us to that point. General rule: don’t approach females late at night.
This female had numerous stories and these are but a few incidents that I have included.
“When I was around 11/12 a boy slapped my ass on the playground as hard as he could. People laughed and said I should be flattered.
Men would ‘flirt’ with me whilst I was trying to do my job behind the bar and ignore my discomfort and dismissals because I had to be polite to them. Often middle-aged men who weren’t phases by the fact I was 16-18 years old (glassie before 18).
I was on a night-out in Peggy’s, stood at the bar and a boy started to literally stroke/caress my ass. It took me a second to figure out who it was because the bar was so packed. When I noticed who I shoved him away from me and he acted like I was the out of order one.
At a NYE party when I was 17/18 a guy I knew and was friendly with at school took my too-drunk-self-outside to the garden. I had denied his advances before sober. He was persistent in his advances and tried to get me to do sexual acts with him, even though, I was clearly uncomfortable and not interested. The encounter went further than I wanted. The next day in school he acted like we’d both had fun and like he’d done nothing wrong.
When I was in the UK walking home, me and a friend were standing waiting for the green man and a guy pulled out his penis and started wanking in the middle of the street. I didn’t realise at first but my friend did, grabbed me and we ran across the main road to get away from him. It was broad daylight.”
It is shocking to see that there is such a ridiculous attitude towards catcalling, creepy comments and unwanted touching- this is not a form of flattery, it is sexual harassment. This female was also met with surprise and aggression when she had to push a man to get off her. Education and attitudes need to change and males must get better at dealing with rejection. In turn, this will make it feel safer for females to reject a male when she doesn’t want his attention.
How Can We Stop This?
In order for this to be minimised this topic needs to be addressed urgently by males and females, for there to be a spread of education on the topic. I remember when I was at high school a male teacher there continuously made sexist remarks in front of the whole class. The female students always felt uncomfortable, that we were degraded and made to feel less valued compared to our male peers. As for the young male students, most of them laughed. This teachers job was to be a role model, to set an example for these young males and the message we heard was misogyny is okay. I do not remember ever having the conversation of consent, of sexual harassment, sexism or anything of that nature. It is necessary for males and females to be given the education of what is wrong and right, what males can do to make females feel more comfortable and for females to eventually feel safe enough to walk home alone. For some people, they may see these stupid sexist comments as harmless but they are not harmless. They fuel the rape culture, the misogyny and the male violence towards women that is seen today.
If you are a male reading this, STOP. Put your ego to one side. This is not a piece to attack males or to start a gender war. This is a piece for you, the good guy (hopefully) to:
Educate your friends and family
Help that girl who looks uncomfortable
Become comfortable with rejection from a female
Call your mate out if he is making a derogatory comment about a female
Listen and support your female friends who are subject to harassment
Not be a bystander
Taking ownership and not turning a blind eye will impact your mothers, your sisters, your female friends, your partner and your daughters. Take an active role now.