Content/Trigger warning: Sexual harassment
I have been reflecting on incidences where I’ve gotten harassed by men, and in light of recent news, it felt important to write about — not that it already wasn’t. Harassment occurs in various forms and it has happened to me online and offline, as well as in various locations.
These first three occurrences were overseas, and my worst experiences were indeed those, but lest you think these incidents only happen overseas (as if that’s not already bad, considering that I don’t live in these places and got harassed in the short times I was there), incidents have happened in Singapore too.
- Getting molested
On the train to a different precinct, I fell asleep due to it being a 4-5 hour journey. I woke up to a hand skimming up my thigh (firmly, might I add) and jolted awake in shock. I was sat in a two-seater area, so it could only have been the man next to me, yet he refused to look me in the eye once I got up. I felt extremely frustrated and upset, but I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t slap him since his hand was already away, and it had been a while since I processed what he did, so it would have seemed out of the blue. I just sat there in silence, frozen and unable to do anything.
Luckily, my friend was sat nearby (but unable to see what had happened) and sensed my discomfort. She offered to switch sweats with me, and I was so grateful, but also felt horrible at the same time as I was basically passing on a dangerous position to her. We couldn’t move elsewhere as all seats were assigned to a ticket and checked (and fined if not in the right seat/on the right train). Looking back, I wished I reacted quicker and slapped him or made a fuss, or otherwise shamed him in public. But at the moment, I simply froze and panicked.
- Getting groped
I was in a leather shop shopping for a bag for my mother when the shopkeeper got too friendly with me. He started asking questions like when I was leaving the country and that he could bring me around, as well as complimenting me instead of focusing on the bags. He also got too close to me and cornered me in the shop space. I was extremely uncomfortable and quickly left the shop.
However, my mother wanted a bag from the store, so I had to gather my courage to enter once more. I was travelling with a friend, but she was in another area, so I just wanted to quickly grab the bag and go. Unfortunately, my mother wanted more photos of the bag and I had to stay friendly with the shopkeeper throughout my time there. He then cornered me in the shop once more and put his hands on my shoulder, which I tried to minimise in my mind despite my discomfort as the locals were always friendly. He then slid his hand down my back to my butt, and firmly groped my butt, as if he had the right to do so. I was stunned and froze, but quickly gathered my thoughts and stepped away. I hoped to simply quickly resolve the situation and leave the shop since I had to purchase the bag. I kept at least two strides away from him, and quickly bought the bag, not waiting for my mother’s response over text. He refused to give me my purchased goods unless I gave him my number, despite me rejecting him once with a simple “No,” again by saying I was leaving the country, and another time when I said I had a friend waiting so I needed to rush off with my purchase. In the end, I gave him a wrong number with one digit off, without my country code, assuming that that was the end of a horrible situation. Many have asked me why I didn’t give a fake number, but I just froze and couldn’t think straight — I just prioritised leaving and removing myself from that situation.
However, a few days later, I received a text from him. I knew it was him because of the photo, and I was horrified. I blocked his number though. I never told my mother about this incident as I somehow felt guilty, since I was the one who went back again, possibly inviting his further actions.
- Experiencing sexist slurs
While crossing a street, a car stopped, waited for me to get to the other side, and proceeded to shout. I was listening to music, but I was the only one on the street and he was staring at me, so I presumed they had something important to say and took out my earphones. And so, I heard, “Yeah, that’s right, you slut!” I was beyond shocked, because of the sheer vitriol in his tone. I froze again, not knowing what to do. He continued to hurl some more obscenities and slurs before driving off, leaving me dumbfounded, frustrated, and on the verge of tears.
In case you think I was dressed in a manner that invited these words, it was in the middle of winter. The only skin I was showing was my eyes and hands. I couldn’t be less sexy if I tried, looking like a dumpling with my thick layers of winter clothing.
- Stalking me online
People always tell you to put yourself out there, and so I got on Tinder. I matched with this guy who had a great opening line, but I was too busy to reply that day. The next day, I woke up to a message wishing me good morning on Telegram from someone not on my contact list. I immediately blocked that user, because why would I entertain a stranger like that? I then got on Instagram and then realised someone who had followed me the day before was the same guy — the guy from Tinder had texted me and followed me. I was horrified! I didn’t share my username anywhere on the dating app. Sure, my name is unique and I’m probably the first few users you’d find from searching my first name, but so what? When did I give permission to be stalked and have my privacy breached like that? If I had shared my Instagram handle, it would be a different story. But I didn’t.
Not only were all these occurrences against him, but he also had the audacity to whine on Tinder about how he got blocked on Telegram just for wishing me a good morning. I immediately unmatched him and removed him from following me on Instagram. One week later, he followed me on Instagram again.
The thing is, I had actually been planning to reply to him, but I’m thankful he showed his true colours and avoided what could have been a messier situation. Now, he’s blocked on all platforms and Tinder has been deleted, in part due to him.
- Badgering for my number
At least four times, men have approached me in public spaces to get my number. While I appreciate their sentiment and their courage to do so, I wish they would have some awareness of space and understand how to take no for an answer. One boxed me in in the MRT corner, leaving me no way to escape unless I acquiesced. Another waited for the MRT doors to close in a crowded train, asked me where I was going (my dumb ass said somewhere a few stops away), said he was going nearby, and asked me for my number. I couldn’t walk away, and I felt like I couldn’t get off at the next stop to get away from him. Which, why do I have to inconvenience myself by waiting another 5 minutes to get home?
Another stopped me while I was clearly in the middle of a rush, and then explained away my three no’s: a simple no, then a “No, I’m not interested,” and then a “No, I have a boyfriend.”
The most memorable: he asked for some travel recommendations, which I happily gave, and then proceeded to text me at midnight with sexual fantasies involving me.
Other incidents have occurred, like unnecessary and over-sexualised comments about my boobs by coworkers, random men holding my waist in pubs/bars/clubs like I’m a convenient object, unsolicited dick pics, as well as other everyday occurrences: men coming into my personal space needlessly, or staring at my chest. For the sake of keeping this article succinct, I will not be going over those incidents.
So, what have these incidents done to my psyche?
Sure, I haven’t experienced anything extremely serious, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak up about this issue and it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t affected me.
Now, I am extremely alert when in male-dominated or male-majority spaces, and I’m very conscious of any hints of men trying to get closer, physically or approaching me individually when I’m not familiar with them. I have few male friends, and the ones I actually keep close, I make 200% sure that they actually respect me as a person instead of something to touch or harass; the statistic that most sexual assault perpetrators are friends of their victims horrifies me deeply. I don’t want to allow the slightest possibility of that happening to me. I don’t want to allow close people who see me as simply an object.
Obviously, this affects the way I “put myself out there.” I am extremely cautious of men who are interested in me, which is clearly a catch-22. But it confounds me too, that men act this way and still complain about how flirting is difficult, or that consent complicates matters. Do they not see that it is precisely because their community acts this way that women cannot trust them?
In times where we as a society discuss these matters, the response always seems to be the hashtag “#notallmen.” We know not all men, but that is beside the point when men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of such acts. Where are these male voices when discourses on how to improve gender equality and protect all genders (including themselves!) are occurring? This hashtag serves no purpose other than to demean and reduce women’s experiences, as well as distracting from actual activism when we challenge the notion of “not all men.” It is clear that harassment is real and experienced in so many ways by so many women.
And sure, there are women who are enactors of such harassment as well. But when we reduce women’s experiences with harassment, it reduces men’s experiences as well, due to the lack of societal support and institutions to address this issue adequately.
For men out there reading this article, here’s what you can do. When you see women being uncomfortable due to other men, help them. If they ask for you to accompany them on errands, especially if they feel unsafe, please don’t tell them to raincheck their errands, that they’re being dramatic, or belittle their concerns. Text to check if they’ve reached home after a late-night outing together. Without any untoward intentions or expectations of a reward. A small inconvenience on your part can go miles in helping to make sure women stay safe and alive.