Fighting the many forms of sexual harassment

By Jena Cole
Cole Harbour Regional High School
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Sexual harassment violates you and it violates the law. You didn't cause it. But you can get it stopped.

"Your legs must be tired ‘cause you've been runnin' through my mind all day."

"If I could rewrite the alphabet I'd put "U" and "I" together."

Ever heard these? They are popular lines used on commercials on TV by men to pick up women. They seem harmless and funny on TV but in reality how do they make women feel?

Sexual harassment comes in many forms. It happens to all kinds of women, in all types of jobs, in every level of the world. Studies show that as many as one-half to two-thirds of all working women and some working men have experienced sexual harassment. It is a serious problem in Canada and many other countries.

Although there are many types of harassment, some are very obvious and others are not. The kind that bothers me the most (well, maybe it bothers me the most because it's the only kind that I've experienced) is the obvious kind. It makes me feel dirty to be ogled by gross men who don't have anything better to do than harass innocent women.

Some men consider it flattering and I guess that some women do too. But I know that when faced with a carload of drooling hooting men staring at them, most women cringe. This kind of "flattery" has lead to all kinds of new fears amongst women. They fear walking alone, won't park in underground parking lots, and worry that what they wear may provoke harassment from males. I never get into my car without checking the backseat for an intruder first. If I'm going out alone, I'm very conscious of what I wear so that I don't draw undue attention to myself. Still when I'm at the mall walking to my car, I can feel someone staring. I turn to see a middle-aged man. He winks at me, or maybe blows a kiss and I feel scared and violated.

I'll never understand why men do this. I would rather have someone come up to me and say "you look nice." Who wouldn't? If you're a male who contributed to this form of harassment to women, stop and think how you would feel if someone did this to your mother or your little sister or any special female in your life.

What We Must Do:

  • Respect NO when you hear it. A woman is more likely to be raped by someone she knows than by a stranger.
  • Believe women when they tell you it happened to them.
  • Improve the legal system so that women who are raped are not victimized a second time when they appear in court.
  • Give personal contributions and support increased funding for the Rape Crisis Center of Planned Parenthood, Alternatives for Battered Women, the YWCA and organizations providing services needed to deal with the painful, long-lasting consequences of rape and battering.
  • Teach your daughters to identify incidents of violence in their lives. Girls shouldn't have to experience sexual harassment at school, accept date rape as expected normal male behavior, or be victimized by sexual abuse from family members, friends, religious leaders, teachers and others they trust.
  • Lobby for tougher legislation concerning violence against women: stricter stalking laws, harsher penalties for rapists, removal of the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases. Insist that our legal system and law enforcement agencies protect women from abusive partners.
  • Support pay equity for women and support removing present barriers that create a gender-segregated work force. On the average, women earn 75 cents for every $1 men earn. This economic inequity helps to keep women in abusive relationships with partners, bosses, and coworkers.
  • Provide widely available, accessible and affordable self-defense courses for women and girls in our community.
  • Let radio, television and night club owners know that you object to singers, talk show hosts and comics who use anti-woman materials. Organize to remove topless bars and adult movie theaters and bookstores from your neighborhood.
  • Remember women who have lost their lives because of violence against women.
  • Challenge men to recognize that violence against women is a men's problem. Men must assume responsibility for this violence and organize to stop it.
  • Insist that any task force or group working in our community to end violence include violence against women as a priority.
  • Let your neighborhood video store know that you will only rent films from a store that does not have a little back room with films depicting the brutalization of women.
  • Tell your convenience store owner that you will shop elsewhere if they carry pornographic magazines.
  • Refuse to buy books from booksellers who include a shelf of male "entertainment" and buy instead from responsible independent bookstores.