It’s a Thursday night and she’s in Havanas. Surrounded by friends, she’s having the time of her life. Kygo is blaring from the speakers, she’s dancing, the floor is packed with students just like me, enjoying their college days. She’s made an effort to dress up, not for anyone but herself. Wearing a bodysuit (backless) with jeans, some may say it’s a ‘sexy’ choice of outfit, but that’s a matter of opinion. She’s watching her drink, just as we’ve all been instructed to by our mothers. “You don’t know who’s around” my own mam would say, and by God is she right.
She’s dancing, personal space is non-existent but as I said, the dancefloor is packed. Then he starts. She’s felt his presence on a few occasions previously, caught a glimpse of his stare through the corner of her eye. Is he watching me? Or am I just paranoid from the vodka? He edges closer and she can feel him breathing just inches away. She tenses up. There’s nowhere to move to, surrounded, her friends are dancing and unaware of what’s happening, others around may notice but regardless of whether they do or not, it’s considered the norm. Sure, he’s just one of the “lads”.
He puts his hand on her waist. She freezes. Within seconds, it’s traveling towards the lining of her bodysuit, which is exposing her back. Still frozen, by a mix of fear and shock, he begins to slide his hand down the gap between her top and the end of her back and she suddenly snaps out of her frozen state. She turns around to the sight of his smug face, his beady eyes glaring into hers. He looks both surprised and amused, surprised because she’s confronted him, amused as his friends jeer from the side. Edging away from them into the crowd, all she can think is “thank god I wasn’t wearing a skirt”.
But we shouldn’t have to think that. We shouldn’t have to dress in a certain way in order to prevent a man from touching me without my consent. We shouldn’t have to feel paranoid when out with friends, wondering whether the guys we’re dancing near are decent or dodgy. Of course, it’s common sense to watch your drink when out but being so terrified that one of us will be spiked if we look sideways for even a minute? We shouldn’t have to live in that fear. But we do.
It’s 2.06am. I’ve had enough of the nightclub and decide to call it a night. My friends ask if I’ll be alright. “I’ll be grand” I tell them, “I’ll get a taxi”. I’m on Washington St., it’s about 5 degrees and the streets are packed. I’ve been trying to get a taxi for 10 minutes but with no luck and the cold getting too much, I decide to walk home. It’s a 15 minute walk, I’ll warm up on my way, I know the route like the back of my hand and I’ve had nowhere near enough drink to make that journey dangerous for me. But it is.
In my head, I’m fine. I’m concentrating on the walk home and my warm bed when I get there, but in my heart, I’m completely on edge. Every few minutes I look over my shoulder, making sure I’m not being followed. I make it to Donovan’s Rd. unscathed but that’s when the trouble starts. Young men, my age and a bit older are scattered around the street, most likely heading to a house party. Some pass comments as I walk by, my head down, trying to get as little attention as possible. One makes a sexual comment about what he’d do to me “without those jeans” and when I ignore his remark, continuing to walk past, his friend jeers “f**cking whore”.
At this stage, I’m at the top of College Rd., minutes from home and that short walk seems like it will never end. My brisk walk has turned into a jog and I have my keys clenched in one fist, phone in the other. I make it to my front door in just over 2 minutes and the relief I feel as I shut the door behind me can’t be described with words alone. As I go to sleep that night, I realise that weirdly, I was lucky.
Unlucky enough to come across these rude, chauvinistic pigs on my way home, but lucky in the sense that their assault on me was not physical, just verbal. That doesn’t condone verbal assault and people need to realise how serious it actually is, but I was lucky. It could have been much worse, and for some other girl, that same night, in that same city, I guarantee it was.
When I tell the girls about it tomorrow, they’ll give out to me for walking home alone. The lads, some of the good guys, will warn me not to do it again, “it’s just not safe for a woman”. But why should I, a perfectly fit and reasonably sober girl, not be able to make a short, 15 minute walk home, on a fully lit route? Why should I live in terror of who might emerge from the shadows and assault me in my own city?
In Ireland, we accept the fear of walking home alone at night, it’s like we’re just accepting that these sadistic individuals exist and that it’s our job, if we take on the ‘challenge’, to dodge them like mushrooms in a game of Mario Kart, instead of trying to eliminate them from society. It’s wrong, so wrong, but it won’t change, not unless the attitudes of the men of Ireland do. Which brings me onto my next point..
I’m on a train to Cork, having spent the weekend at home from college. I’ve just boarded the train and as I walk through the carriage to find my seat, I spot a group of four men and they spot me. They appear to be in their late 40s/early 50s, old enough to have daughters and sons my age. I walk past them as I continue to find my seat, and as I do so, I’m greeted with some of the sickest remarks ever directed at me. “Get your tits out for us, love!” jeers one, his friends finding it all too hilarious. In shock and disgust, I ignore the comment, which just encourages them more. “She’s sour because she needs a good d**king” one of the others remarks. In a moment of rage, I spun around and said “if you have daughters, I hope no man ever speaks to them in the perverted way you just spoke to me”. At this stage, I’m shaking from confronting them and I take an empty seat as far away as possible.
If that is the way in which the grown men of our society act towards women, both young and mature, then I’m incredibly worried for the future of Ireland. If those four men have daughters, they’re making them believe that they should just accept that sort of behaviour. And if they have sons? Well, then they’re just going to teach them that that’s how a ‘real man’ behaves. ‘Lad culture’ as it’s called these days, should not be used in the same sentence as a ‘real man’. A real man has respect for both women and his fellow men, he doesn’t belittle women in front of his friends to be a ‘lad’ or to boost his ego.
Children are sponges. From a very early age, they absorb the behaviours of those around them. If boys, and later young men, are brought up in an environment where it’s okay to belittle a woman, pass sexual remarks about her or objectify her, do you really expect them to behave any different years later?
Before I’m crucified, I’d like to point out that I KNOW not all men are like this. But some are, and that minority are enough to give the rest a bad name. Fair? No, but understandable. If a woman is assaulted by a man, she knows not every other man she meets for the duration of her life is going to do the same, but that won’t make her any less fearful. I also know that there can be a reverse of roles. Women can sexually assault men, they can objectify them and that is equally as wrong. But as a woman, I can only speak from my own experience so if there are men reading this who have been victimised by a woman, please let me know, it is honestly something I want to learn about.
To the decent men reading this, try to educate even one of your less-respectful friends on how wrong their behaviour is. Do it for the mothers, sisters, girlfriends, friends in your life and the daughters you will raise, because without a change in attitude, every generation to come is just as much at risk as the present one are. To the men just like the ones I’ve referred to in this article, it’s time to grow up. Be a man, not an immature, lust-driven animal. Don’t engage in any behaviour you wouldn’t want your daughters to endure or sons to mimic. And to the women, stay safe, but know, that you should never, ever be to blame for the wrongful, undesired actions of a man – you aren’t ‘asking for it’.