It’s on Men

I shared an article the other day on my Facebook and Twitter accounts that talks about the forms of sexual harassment and violence that women experience in their everyday lives. It focused particularly on how women navigate interruptions, intrusions, and harassment from unknown men in public and the impact that it has on them.

Women and people in general significantly underestimate the amount of work that a woman puts in to avoid intrusions by men in the street, also known as “safety work.” When we fail to notice the extra effort women have to put in every day to feel safe when they’re out in public, we fail to see the scale of the problems women face in everyday life and, in turn, prevent women from being able to have freedom of movement and security in public.

In addition to sharing the article itself, I also shared some of the daily ways in which I attempt to avoid sexual harassment. I wear headphones to and from work, avoid walking past large groups of men, and ask men I know to navigate spaces for me when I feel uncomfortable.

In less than a couple hours, men started making ignorant, insensitive comments on my posts – saying things like “I only harass the ones that look more like men because I know it boosts their self-esteem” and “Men get harassed, too.”

When I pointed out the fact that men were making these comments and thereby proving the point of the article, I was bombarded by even more comments like this and this telling me that I should stop complaining. Then comments started to be made about my appearance and the cyberbullying devolved from there.

Men (mostly) harass me online almost every time I post on social media talking about issues like sexual violence and harassment that disproportionately affect women. And it’s not just me. Many women face online abuse when talking about their experiences with everyday sexism (and rape, harassment, political representation, etc). Women are then not only living in fear while being out in public, but are now afraid to talk about their experiences online as well.

So, men, this is for you, because it’s on you.

It’s on you to stop harassing women; it shouldn’t be a woman’s responsibility to take daily precautions before leaving the house to avoid being harassed. It’s also on you to not abuse or harass women online when they try to talk about their real-life experiences with sexual harassment in order to make people aware that it happens and that it needs to stop. It’s on you to say something if you see other men doing it.

It’s on you to stop making comments like “men get harassed, too” because, while men do indeed get harassed and no one is trying to deny that, women get harassed more. A woman’s lived experience of violence is different from a man’s; it’s far more frequent and stressful. Therefore, you can’t express solidarity by saying that, as a man, you get harassed, too.

It’s on you to stop making comments like “there are more important things going on in the world.” Comments like those delegitimize and devalue a woman’s experience of harassment and are basically the same as saying, “be quiet and stop complaining, we won’t change or take responsibility for our actions.” Instead, listen and acknowledge a woman’s experience, which might mean not commenting at all and reflecting on the ways in which you might have perpetrated harassment in the past and what you can do to change your and others’ behavior.

I and most other women will continue to take daily steps to avoid public sexual harassment, but until men take responsibility for their own actions and those of other men, sexual violence will persist. I and other women will continue to talk about our experiences with sexual violence, but until men stop chastising women who try to discuss their experiences online and elsewhere, many women will be too afraid to speak out, and sexual violence will persist.

That’s not the world that any person wants to live in. So instead, let’s change our culture into one where women are comfortable in their own skin, free to move in public without a daily barrage of sexual harassment, and where women can talk about their personal experiences and be listened to and treated with empathy and respect.

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