Summer 2021 - Issue 164
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It was only a joke

An investigation by the UN (2021) found that 97% of women and girls in the UK have experienced sexual harassment. 96% of those women did not report the event because of the belief that it would not change anything. That is something that potentially involves a lot of women … and some men … in Barrow. The government announced it is to undertake an immediate review of schools’ safeguarding policies, so I decided to talk with some young Barrow women (from a range of different schools in the area) to ask if they had experienced sexist behaviour or unsolicited comments. I also asked some of our young men what they thought about all this.

Happily, no one I spoke with had experienced any really aggressive or threatening behaviour that they could not deal with, but they all spoke of continual unsolicited verbal and physical behaviour they had learned to put up with.


An unrelenting drip, drip, drip of unwanted sexual and sexist comments that over time build up to make women feel unsafe in both public and private spaces.

This ranged from silly comments from boys at school that “women belong in the kitchen” to sexually explicit comments shouted at them when engaged in the perfectly normal activity of jogging.

There was the summer evening when one young woman was walking with a friend from the cinema to the car park when a drunk man put his face right in front of hers and asked “are you from Ireland … because my penis is doublin’ when I look at you”; or the time in a night club when (again a drunk) man invaded a woman’s space when she was dancing with friends. He ignored increasingly direct instructions to go away until she felt she needed to draw on her karate training and was able to give him one strong push which landed him on the floor.


One teenager commented that such behaviour has “become normalised because girls have been told it’s best to ignore it”. She felt sure that teachers at school “must have heard things, but they just pushed it aside and had not done anything about it”. Men and boys have traditionally not been challenged and so have not understood how a tirade of so-called jokes and sexist comments can seriously affect a girl or woman’s feeling of confidence.

It saddened me to learn how little has changed since I was young – when women continually changed their behaviour and curtailed their activity in response to the rare but threatening predatory man; even a man who never seriously considers rape or serious assault, may still unthinkingly feel he has the right to “grab your bum” or “get up close in your space”. It’s still happening. As one young woman said, “they don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word consent”. “It’s easy,” she said, “if you wouldn’t say or do anything to another man, don’t do it to a woman.”

Another told me that “every straight
man understands consent if he’s in a
gay club – why don’t they get it with
women?”

Young women still think twice about where they walk and how well the area is lit; they still feel the need to think through different scenarios to safeguard themselves.
They still pay for taxis home even when it is a short walk. In reality, the chances of an attack are incredibly low, but it’s the constant small-scale comments that build to making women feel unsafe.

Young women still think twice about where they walk and how well the area is lit; they still feel the need to think through different scenarios to safeguard themselves.
They still pay for taxis home even when it is a short walk. In reality, the chances of an attack are incredibly low, but it’s the constant small-scale comments that build to making women feel unsafe.

Young boys and men can also experience sexually threatening behaviour – but
this is the behaviour of other men – so I wanted to know what they thought about
male attitudes to all this. Only one young man I spoke to was really
aware of the impact of male comments and behaviour because he has sisters and he’s
learned from them but, without sisters or mothers talking about this, others have
never really thought about it. One man told me that he would never consider
doing anything like up-skirting, but he hadn’t thought about how the things he
may say as a joke could upset women. He said that boys were only just becoming
aware of the impact of these jokes.

Here lies the challenge for schools. All the local schools have policies about unacceptable behaviour. De Lisle College lists behaviours like up-skirting, sexting and abuse in peer-to-peer relationships that are not tolerated. An explicit policy about behaviour is a good start, but it is only a start.

Here are some of things that the young women themselves suggested:


Interestingly, the young women who felt the most confident to directly address sexist comments from men were those who had some experience of martial arts. “If someone wants to seriously attack you, then there’s not a whole lot you can do, but it’s mostly blokes who are a bit drunk and I know that I can so easily floor them if necessary … it makes me not so scared”. Whilst girls and women shouldn’t have to take it on themselves - it’s the few boys and men who need to change their behaviour – the reality remains that it is safer to have confidence in your own self-defence. LLS Karate club trains in Barrow. One of the teachers at the club is a young woman who, once Covid restrictions are over, will be offering a self-defence class for girls and women. Look out for the LLS Karate advert in the Barrow Voice and contact them if you want to know more.

Karisa Krcmar

Videos

Look at Youtube: Consent, it’s a simple as tea.
You could try the TEDtalk why we need to change the way young men think.
 

 

 

Barrow Voice is published by Barrow upon Soar Community Association.(BUSCA) Opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed by the editorial committee or the Community Association.

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