Well, what DO you expect?
I saw a tweet earlier today that I felt compelled to reply to. It’s not something I do often – most of my time on Twitter is spent reading other people’s posts, and I rarely post myself. But I needed to reply to this one.
Now, there were lots of replies, all supportive (at least the ones I read, I didn’t read them all), and several from men who couldn’t understand the thought process going on with this man. I replied with my experience – by the time I was 19, I was already so sick of men making comments, shouting at me in the street, trying to touch my breasts, that I was considering having a surgical reduction. I was a size 14, and my breasts were 34FF. Clearly, this made me a slag – at least that’s what I learned from the comments that were made. When I was 21, I had that reduction. I went down to a 34D – still not small by any means, but the comments reduced. It was bliss.
But that’s not where it started. By the time I started thinking about surgery, aged 19, I’d already had my fill of comments, and more. I was first sexually assaulted by a friend’s father, in my living room, in full view of his family and mine. He ran his hand up my leg and under my skirt to see what I was wearing underneath. I think I was 9, but I may have been a little older. It was never mentioned by anyone.
At 15, I worked on a bakery stall in our local market. I wore, over my clothes, a long, buttoned-up overall, and a tabard over that. The son of the owner, who was probably at least 15 years older than me, regularly made comments about my body. If I had to take or fetch anything from the van with him, he’d take every opportunity to touch me, telling me not to tell his girlfriend. I mentioned to my boss, the son-in-law of the owner, that I didn’t like going with the son, he made me uncomfortable and tried to touch me. I was told to ignore him, it was just fun.
“Well, what do you expect with those?”, he said, pointing to my chest. “You can’t blame a guy for trying.”
At 18, I got my first – and only – bar job. When I stood up, after the interview, the manager pointed at my chest and said “oh, I hadn’t noticed those. The men will love them. Don’t cover them up like that when you’re at work”. It was a bar that was well known for fights, and when a particularly vicious one broke out near the end of my shift one night, a regular, who I’d chat to in the quiet moments, told me he was taking me to a taxi and let my boss know. On the way to the rank, he assaulted me – tried to rape me – down a back alley that was used as a short cut between streets. The people passing by took no notice. I ran away, and ran to a bar where a friend was a bouncer. It was closed by the time I got there, but I was let in. I told them what happened. They got me a drink and called me a cab. It never occurred to any of us to call the police. The next night I was back at work and I told my boss that if the guy came in that night, I wouldn’t serve him. He replied that it was my job to serve him, so I told him what happened. “Well, what do you expect with those?”, he said, pointing to my chest. “You can’t blame a guy for trying. But OK, I’ll serve him.” And that was the end of it, apart from the manager and the customer in question having a good laugh about it later.
Also at 18, I went to my GP to ask to go on the pill. I was in a new relationship. I couldn’t see my usual doctor, and was seen by a young male doctor. When I explained why I was there, he asked me to get up on the couch and take my top off. I’d had the pill before and the (female) doctor had given me a breast examination, so I didn’t think much of it. Then he told me to take my bra off. I thought it was strange, especially as there was no chaperone, but didn’t dare say anything for fear of being marked hysterical. His “examination” would not have told him anything medical and I realised that he had, in fact, assaulted me. But so familiar was I by then with the idea that girls with big tits were asking for it and were slags, that I was too ashamed to tell anyone what had happened – clearly it was my fault for allowing him to touch me. I took my bra off, after all. I buried it for decades, and when I remembered it, five or six years ago, my husband told me to forget about it, it wasn’t that big a deal.
So why am I writing this? Well, because it IS a big deal. These episodes, though I have dealt with them, scarred me, changed me. These episodes led me to have major surgery to avoid such incidents in the future. Because these things STILL happen, if not to me, then to countless other women and girls. And it is ENOUGH. And let’s not pretend it only happens to women and girls with large breasts. Because we know it doesn’t. It happens to women because they’re attractive, or because what they wear is attractive to men (note to anyone who doesn’t get this – women can dress attractively and STILL NOT DESERVE to be assaulted or have lewd comments made to them), because they are breathing air – women and girls get harassed and assaulted for having the gaul to exist at all.
The men on that thread were supportive – but utterly shocked at what they were reading. The women, also supportive, were at once shocked that men think that way and unsurprised that it happens, able to recall countless similar events from their own lives.
And it dawned on me that men are willing to call this bullshit out and support women, but how can they be the allies we need if they still don’t know what’s going on? We’ve been complicit because we’ve kept quiet – often for very good reason – but we need to stop that. We need to find the courage to speak out every time this happens, every time a man tells us we’re asking for it by simply having breasts – or in the case above, red hair! We need to say every time inappropriate comments, advances or anything else are made. Men can only be our allies if they know what we’re up against. And if they were shocked by what they read in the thread today, they’d be floored to know the real extent of the problem.
Let’s speak up, so we can all stand against it.