Following the Harvey Weinstein case women all over the world are stepping forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault under the hashtag “me too”; an idea originally voiced on twitter by actress Alyssa Milano to give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Now women are opening up in Iceland and these queer women have given GayIceland permission to publish their stories.
They were just having fun
In the last few hours my Facebook news feed has been overflown with the hashtag #metoo. At first I wasn’t going to take part. I’ve often found that what has happened to me is so little, nothing to complain about compared to what others have endured.
Then I realized – it all roots in the same! And those “small things” that have happened to me are part of the same problem others are describing.
Like when I was twelve and the boys in my class would do their best to rip off my bikini top during swimming lessons. The teacher couldn’t have cared less – they were just having fun.
Or the guy I had been clicking with at the bar, who followed me to the bus, on to the bus, all the way to my bus stop, even though I repeatedly told him he wasn’t coming home with me.
Or the time my pantyhose was ripped by someone twice my age trying to finger me.
And all the times I was followed home when I lived downtown, all the grabbing and kisses no one asked for.
And that I myself find it insignificant and am ashamed of it, thinking I called for it in some way or another, – that IS the problem! All the small things add up and paint the picture of a societal trend we have to be aware off. So, #metoo. Helga Vollertsen, museologist.
“… those “small things” that have happened to me are part of the same problem others are describing … All the small things add up and paint the picture of a societal trend we have to be aware off.”
No one was helping us
I, along with many other girls from my hometown, was subjected to sexual harassment. This was around the time we were going through puberty and some of the boys in our class often tried to barge into our dressing room at the gymnasium or at the swimming pool to get a peek. That was stressful, and we had to be quick to cover ourselves, but they were usually stopped before they got through the door. Their behavior was considered unacceptable. It was, however, considered perfectly okay for a middle-aged man to stroll through our dressing room every single time we were showering or getting dressed.
This man was an employee at the old swimming pool that has now been torn down. Us girls were usually made to use the small dressing room. It was a dark cottage with one narrow walkway that passed the showers and he claimed that he had to walk through it to get to his workstation. It was a lie, because he could just as easily have walked behind the counter and gone outside by the pool to get to said station. And he didn’t just walk through, looking straight ahead. He looked at us. I scrambled to cover myself every time a girl screeched. It was always a matter of hurrying to get showered and dressed before he entered. I remember one time where I had just enough time to scrunch up my underwear to cover my crotch, but didn’t have enough time to cover my chest. I felt utterly humiliated and helpless.
This didn’t just happen to girls in my class, this also happened to girls in older classes and younger. I remember some brave girls who complained to the school principal, but I always heard back that this was not considered an issue. That the man meant nothing by it, he was just trying to get to his workstation. The message was clear: No one was helping us. This was an okay thing to do even if it scared and humiliated us. I believe that the principal truly didn’t think anything sinister was taking place; there wasn’t much talk about sexual harassment of children back then. But he did fail us repeatedly, for years. I didn’t even tell my parents, because the message from the school was that this was acceptable and who was I – a very naive and vulnerable child – to say otherwise.
I don’t remember this man walking into our dressing room after puberty, so I assume his interest was only in girls in their puberty. I had a best friend back then, a guy. He asked me after I posted this status on Facebook who this man was. After I told him he said he couldn’t remember the guy. I’m glad the man didn’t behave the same way toward the boys in my class. However, I can describe the guy’s facial features, I remember him so clearly. And the glint in his eyes.
So, how has this affected me? Firstly, I’m terrified for my sons. I’m so scared that someone older will try to harm them sexually. I watch everyone and every situation they’re in to make sure they don’t have to feel as helpless as I did. I know most parents fear this, but this actually causes me crippling anxiety. I’m never at ease when they’re out by themselves or at a friend’s house. I’m always wondering if they’re safe. When they get home I ask if everything was okay. And I watch them, to see if they’re behaving normally.
“… he didn’t just walk through, looking straight ahead. He looked at us. I scrambled to cover myself every time a girl screeched. It was always a matter of hurrying to get showered and dressed before he entered …”
Secondly, I hate dressing rooms. I feel so uncomfortable, even if it’s not the same dressing room. It can be a brand new, state of the art dressing room and I still feel like it’s dark and dreadful and that people are watching me. This has robbed me of the joy of going swimming with my sons – who love swimming. I didn’t make the connection of my hatred of dressing rooms with this man until a cousin of mine, who didn’t grow up in the same hometown, said that there were oddly many women our age, in our hometown, who hated to go swimming. That’s when it clicked and I’m glad I know the reason why. Now I can try to overcome it.
Thirdly, this man has robbed me of my trust in men. I was taught at an early age that men did what they wanted to and it was considered appropriate, even if it was at my discomfort. When I walk outside by myself, I walk with my fists balled up, or keys sticking out between, ready to defend myself. I take precautions so that I won’t be sexually harassed when I go out clubbing. I have never tasted alcohol, or even been tempted to, because I don’t want to be helpless against rapists. I can’t understand this new, brave movement that says women shouldn’t take precautions, because I learned that I had to in order to not get sexually harassed. My state of thought through everything is: If I don’t protect myself, then who will?
Sigríður J. Valdimarsdóttir a.k.a. Erica Pike, author.
I’m going to split your cunt!
Every woman has many stories of varying depth, knock on effect and horror: I can’t list every incident as nor can every woman. But for two which happened before I hit 18.
I camped in my parents garden once at around 13 and two boys who I knew from the neighborhood came in and at some point they tried to force themselves on me. I was able to be vicious enough to prevent anything invasive but by the time I got to school the next day they had PROUDLY told classmates they had. I was group shamed by them and I knew I couldn’t even explain what had actually happened.
When I was 16 a man jumped out at me when I was walking home from school. He chased me screaming: I’M GOING TO SPLIT YOUR CUNT!
These are just two examples.
“… from 12 it was confirmed what I already knew. That my body was bait. And I had no choice but to know that.”
At my girls school we had a police officer come to school when I was 12 to teach us ways to escape any man following us. So from 12 it was confirmed what I already knew. That my body was bait. And I had no choice but to know that.
The hideous thing is, I am not shocked by this. But having a daughter, I AM horrified. I am going to have to watch her deal with this shit too. Unless the conversation changes.
And I want to add: This is NOT a female only problem. But its been bred through the abuse of women.
Kitty Von-Sometime, artist.
No more silence, no more victim blaming
When I was 12 years old I was sexually assaulted for the first time. I was held while my genitals were touched forcefully by someone a few years older than me. I never did anything, because frankly I had no idea what to do.
This didn’t happen because I was seen as a girl, but I believe it happened because of my femininity and gender non conformity as a kid. It was because I was seen as a target, because I was different.
Since then there have been countless of instances where I have been harassed, including being stalked by several men after I came out publicly as a trans person in Iceland.
I have also been touched without consent too many times to count and I was sexually harassed by a fellow activist within the LGBTQIA community.
Sexual harassment and sexual violence happens for many reasons and to all sorts of people. What combines these people is often that they are in some way marginalised, whether that is for their femininity, identity or social status.
In order to truly combat sexual harassment and sexual violence, we need to look at the issue from an intersectional perspective and from the perspective of power dynamics. This does not mean that people who are in a position of power or privilege are never sexually assaulted or suffer sexual violence – it means that those who are more marginalised are often more vulnerable to it.
“… there have been countless of instances where I have been harassed, including being stalked by several men after I came out publicly as a trans person in Iceland.”
It’s a worldwide epidemic and we need to be loud about it and demand that sexual harassment and sexual violence are tackled by authorities and institutions with measures and protocols that truly combat it. No more silence, no more victim blaming, no more bullshit. Demand real change. Demand responsibility. Demand justice.
Ugla Stefanía, activist.