A few weeks ago I read an article titled, “A Letter to the Guy Who Harassed Me Outside the Bar,” by Emily Heist Moss that was being circulated on Facebook by fellow volunteers in Morocco.
While I certainly haven’t been to any bars recently, my attention was caught by the word ‘harassed.’ Something I face nearly every day in some fashion, usually minor.
For volunteers in Morocco, especially but not limited to females, harassment is a very real issue. I’d wager that nearly all volunteers experience harassment in some form, whether it’s sexual comments, rocks being thrown, or more serious physical and sexual assaults.
How volunteers choose to react to these various forms of harassment is varied. But it exists in a very real form.
Harassment isn’t unique to Morocco. As the article above purports, harassment even occurs in ‘developed’ places like the United States. But that doesn’t make it any less threatening. Because it is threatening and sometimes scary.
As Moss points out, even the seemingly harmless remarks (usually things like ‘Hey Cutie (A fin a zine)’ or ‘Welcome in Morocco’ in my case) can be construed in a million different ways.
“So what? You say. So you get a lot of attention, why is that such a bad thing? Annoying, maybe, but no harm, no foul! You know you mean no harm, but how do I know that? When women get harassed on the street, or at a bar, or on their walk home from work, do you know what we think? We wonder, am I going to get out of this safely? Am I going to walk away from this? Where are my keys if I need to stab someone in the eye? Are there people on the street? Will they hear me? Which way will I run? Solar Plexus, Instep, Nose, Groin. I’m exaggerating, but only so slightly. Does it disturb you that we think like this? That we have to think like this?”
I can’t give an inch.
Recently, as I mentioned, I’ve started teaching at the high school at night. This means I leave my house in the dark and return home in the pitch black. My usual thoroughfare to the high school is not well lit, so for the first week I opted to cut up through town and make my way back down the hill to the high school.
A mistake well learned.
I was like a goldfish in a sea of sharks, literally the only woman out. All corny similes aside, it wasn’t pleasant because of the increased level of harassment I received from men. On an ordinary basis, I don’t receive much harassment where I live. I’ve only felt threatened a few times by men who have decided to follow me and make ‘come on’s’ to me while I’m walking home. For the most part however, people are either respectful of me or they just don’t care, which is fine by me.
But sometimes, especially at night now I can’t shake the feeling that I might not get out of a situation unscathed. Life as I’m sure you know can change in an instant. So when I found myself reading this portion of Moss’s letter after walking home the other night while fending off a hissing creeper (literally hissing), I could hardly believe that someone else could so adequately express my very own fear.
“Comedian Ever Mainard sums up this mindset in her excellent bit about the fact that women are constantly aware that ‘their rape’ could happen at any time. She says, ‘The problem is that every woman has that one moment when you think, here’s my rape! This is it. OK, 11:47pm, how old am I? 25? Alright, here’s my rape! It’s like we wait for it, like, what took you so long?’ I’ve had that moment. I was 20, it was about 11pm and I was on a sidewalk in Barcelona. It didn’t happen, and that’s a story for another time, but Mainard’s observations stands; I remember thinking ‘So this is how it happens.’
I think her words are piercing, and so true. Heartfelt.
So what’s one to do?
Well for starters, I started riding my bike to the high school. A faster and perhaps safer way to get from point A to point B. Second, I carry around the world’s largest bright orange whistle as a keychain. And lastly, I write about it in the hopes of bringing more awareness to this issue.