Marie Claire (South Africa) - - FILTER -

A FRIEND FOUND her­self in an el­e­va­tor with four men when one asked if she thinks she could ‘take them all at once’. Stunned by the com­ment and ter­ri­fied by the cir­cum­stances she found her­self in,she did what many women might do in sit­u­a­tions like that – she gig­gled ner­vously. Later, she ran the sce­nario over in her head, mad at her­self for not cas­ti­gat­ing the lewd man for mak­ing her the sub­ject of his rape joke.

Just a week prior to that in­ci­dent, Mary Spears, 27, was shot dead in Detroit for denying a man’s ad­vances. He had asked for her num­ber at a night­club, she de­clined to give it to him – stat­ing she was en­gaged – and he shot her. In the weeks that fol­lowed, a video went vi­ral of a woman wear­ing a se­cret cam­era while walk­ing through New York for 10 hours. What it showed were the 100 in­stances of street ha­rass­ment she en­dured on that sin­gle day. No sur­prise, then, that a survey con­ducted by US NGO Stop Street Ha­rass­ment found that 65% of US women have ex­pe­ri­enced street ha­rass­ment.

In June 2014,so­cial worker,ac­tivist and writer Fem­i­nista Jones tweeted about her ex­pe­ri­ence of in­ter­ven­ing in an in­ci­dent of street ha­rass­ment in the Big Ap­ple. She’d ap­proached the sit­u­a­tion and asked the woman,‘You OK, sis?’The phrase has be­come a hash­tag cam­paign aimed at rais­ing aware­ness and en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to in­ter­vene when they wit­ness street ha­rass­ment. Like my friend in the el­e­va­tor, women of­ten fall silent in th­ese in­stances – too scared that they may be­come another statis­tic.

Street ha­rass­ment per­pet­u­ates the stereo­type that women are prey for men to ap­proach and, says Fem­i­nista,‘even if you don’t like it, you’re sup­posed to ap­pear that you do’. Just last week, walk­ing to my car after pop­ping into the shops, I vo­calised that I didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate the sleazy ‘hey, sexy!’ that was shouted at me from across the street, and was met with a slew of pro­fan­ity-laden in­sults. As if I was the one that had vi­o­lated his space with my ad­vances! It feels as if street ha­rass­ment is see­ing a steady in­crease in pop­u­lar­ity all over Cape Town and I am strug­gling to feel safe in the city I’ve called home my en­tire life. Fem­i­nista’s #YouOkSis hash­tag re­minds the vic­tims of all forms of ha­rass­ment that some­one sees them and ac­knowl­edges their dis­com­fort and po­ten­tial dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion. Be­cause, no, sis, I’m not OK – but it means the world that you no­ticed.


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