Ah, street harassment—the Richter scale of our collective progress as a society. On buses, trains, hell, even Grab cars, women everywhere are still being groped, violated, and subjected to inappropriate physical contact without their consent. It must be something in the foggy Manila air, or in the water we're drinking, because for all our innovations and improvements, there are still men who regress to this savage-like, primitive behavior. Evidently, polite glances won’t cut it; some of them just can’t keep their grubby hands to themselves.
Many an online debate has taken place regarding who should be on the receiving end of the proverbial pointed finger: Do we blame the woman for wearing cutoffs and a crop top?
Do we blame the man for, well, being a total f*cking creep? Or do we shrug our shoulders and brush it off as par for the course for the Filipina commuter?
The most important question to ask might be: Why the hell do men do it, anyway? Think about this the next time a man calls you out on the street—they don't expect you to return their, er, sweet nothings with a positive response. When a man says "Hi ganda, pa-(insert massively inappropriate sexual act here) naman," it's highly unlikely they expect you to light up and go home with them to fulfill their sicko fantasies. No. The streetside bum or the boys at the construction site aren’t looking to wine and dine you.
Men who routinely harass women aren't so dumb that they think women will actually give in to their wishes. Men who do this, do this because it is a blatant, unapologetic assertion of their fundamental power over women in society.
They may not be aware of this as they commit the act, but because this mindset is so ingrained, it is expressed in lewd and unsolicited commentary.
"Culturally, men have been indoctrinated into it, and it's been a privilege for them to walk down the street fantasising about women. The culture hasn't checked the behavior," said activist Maggie Hadleigh-West to the BBC. "Oftentimes it's not really about the women, it's just about the men performing masculine acts for each other and establishing a pecking order amongst themselves. What is really going on is the dynamic among men."
Have you ever talked with a male friend or family member about your experiences with this, only for them to tell you that they don't notice it happening when they're commuting? That's because society doesn’t force them to be hyper-aware of every woman around them. There's no imminent threat. They could fall asleep on the train not worrying that when they wake up, some girl's hand is rubbing against their crotch. Women are constantly on their guard and have a higher sensitivity about these things. Unfortunately, this sensitivity doesn't extend to the man bothering the girl whose earphones are plugged in, eyes straight ahead, and walking briskly. No amount of dismissive or intimidating body language is going to stop him from hollering something meaningless.
What really gets me is that women aren't entitled to even the slightest measure of personal space during their commute. That the burden falls on us to dress conservatively, keep a can of pepper spray in our bags, and clutch a bunch of keys between our fingers in a closed fist when we're walking down a dark alley.
Instead of teaching our boys to respect women, we're teaching girls to keep themselves unaccountable (by covering up) and, should the need arise, know how to defend themselves (the rationale being "better safe than sorry").
In the total shock of the moment, however, many of us understandably become helpless and speechless. It takes time to recover from being violated so nonchalantly—at times, even jokingly. As a result, the moment passes and the culprit walks away scot-free.
(Yeah. I know how you feel. Take a breath and let it sink in that men like them walk our streets, victimizing women everyday.)
Obviously, we can't stop street harassment in a year, or maybe even in a decade. This is a culture that needs to be combatted defensively and consistently. The reason it still persists is because while we think it’s not okay, we don't show them it isn't. That's why it's important to fight back every single time it happens. The last guy who was unfortunate enough to take a seat next to me on the bus and try something got a wake-up call I’m hoping he'll never forget:
Perhaps the incident that has gotten the most attention is that of Geo Celestino's, who was brave enough to speak up about his sister being harassed by a fellow student from the University of Santo Tomas:
Exhausting as it may sound, if we keep sending out the message that this is not okay, our efforts compound over time and create an environment wherein women can defend themselves without fear of being judged. After I slapped that guy on the bus, I sank into my seat at the office second-guessing myself. Should I have done that? Was I overreacting? Everyone turned to look—should I have just let it slide?
But if you're going to remember one thing from reading this, let it be that you should never apologize for defending your own honor.
Don't wait for a bus conductor or a police officer to give that man a piece of your mind. Fight back, my darling. Show them that you won't take this crap lying down.
Women, when your dignity is challenged, there's always that "What now?" moment. You ask yourself whether you will ignore the perpetrator, or take decisive action. And with everything that's happening in the world today, you must do your very best to always choose the latter.
Men, when you notice other men engaging in this behavior, we implore you to call them out.
Sadly, sometimes it takes someone of their own gender to show them that this type of attitude towards women cannot be condoned.
Finally, if you have your own stories about street harassment to share, use the hashtag #CatcallingPH. Let's create a platform for women and men everywhere to drive home the point that street harassment still happens. It's not a once-in-the-blue-moon occurrence. It's not an urban legend. And when women talk about it, it's because we're sick and tired, and we'll be damned if we don’t do something about it.