I was sexually harassed more when pregnant and with my kids

(Originally Published at Feminist Times)

Street harassment: a concept that was once reserved for dirty old men in trench coats and construction workers, has finally been recognised as a significant part of the spectrum of male violence against women and girls through the activism of groups like Hollaback and Everyday Sexism.

The recognition of how unsafe public spaces can be for all women, regardless of things like body type and age, is becoming more commonplace, as is the understanding of how street harassment disproportionately affects women of colour due to the intersections of racism and misogyny. However, there is one area of street harassment that remains unspoken: the harassment of women who are pregnant or with small children.

The fact that it remains, for the most part, unspoken, makes it difficult to assess how common street harassment is for pregnant women and mothers. We tend to think of women with children as safe from street harassment, yet it is the very vulnerability of being pregnant or with a child that makes it easier for men to harass without consequence. A woman with a child is less likely to confront a street harasser because of the fear of the possible harm to their child.

My first pregnancy was aged 18, when I looked no more than 15. I was the skinny kid with bad glasses and frizzy hair but I experienced a tremendous amount of street harassment before getting pregnant. Growing up in a transient mining community with a high rate of alcoholism in Northern Canada isn’t a safe space for women at the best of times. It was worse for Indigenous women.

The harassment got worse after I gave birth. I assumed, wrongly, that this increase was due to my age: that it was only because I looked young that I was being harassed. Then I experienced a similar increase in street harassment after the birth of my second child when I was 29, when I most definitely did not look 15. I have had comments about my breasts, my ass, and a number of dubious propositions all in front of my child.

Was I surprised that men were sexually harassing me in front of my child? Absolutely. I had naively thought men would not target a pregnant women or mother, not if she was outside the age range of the “teen Mum” who was in their mind, by default, a slut and therefore deserving of all harassment and abuse.

I wasn’t alone. It turns out that street harassment whilst pregnant or with a young child isn’t that uncommon. I’ve heard countless complaints from other women at toddler and baby groups. Parenting website Mumsnet has had thread after thread where women discuss their experiences of street harassment whilst pregnant or with small children. GirlwiththeMouseyHair wrote of her experiences of street harassment, which included a sexual assault, whilst 6 months pregnant and with her toddler.

Another Mumsnetter, D, shared this story with me. I am reproducing it with permission:

When F was little, we were on a quite empty bus and a guy came and sat adjacent and started rubbing himself in a quite blatant fashion whilst staring right at us. My thought at the time was that he might think I was less likely to kick off as I had a toddler with me. Or it could have been something worse that got his jollies. I was frozen to the spot. Then luckily he got off. I really didn’t know what to do.

Whatever the reason for this sexual assault D felt more vulnerable because she was with her child. This is a reality of street harassment, up to and including sexual assault, and it needs more research.

Without the research available I can’t statistically prove for you here that street harassment and sexual harassment increases when women are pregnant or with young children. So much of the evidence is anecdotal and remains in the domain of the message board, but I certainly remember more experiences whilst pregnant or with a toddler.

It’s possible this reflects feelings of greater vulnerability rather than a greater experience of harassment, or that I remember these incidents more vividly because my children experienced the harassment too – having someone confirm your experience can make it feel more real. It is heart-breaking when that validation comes from your 3 year old asking why the man was rude to you, or when your 2 year old asks the definition of a sex term that no small child should be familiar with.

The reality of street harassment is that no woman is safe in public spaces. That street harassment is a constant feature of women’s lives and that, unfortunately, this includes when women are pregnant or with their children.

– See more at: http://www.feministtimes.com/i-was-sexually-harassed-more-when-pregnant-and-with-my-kids/#sthash.b6HiSDMX.dpuf

Pembroke College’s [Oxford] Rugby are still confused about sexual harassment.

Pembroke College’s rugby team made news last week with their “free pussy” social inviting players to bring two bottles of alcohol to be given to an “unsuspecting” woman. The team has now been banned from playing “first round of the season, and relegated them to the third division of the competition”. I suppose we should be excited that the Oxford rugby union has decided that threatening to spike the drinks of women is wrong, I’m just not entirely sure that members of the team understand the exact nature of the criminal acts they were advocating.

Granted, the team’s captain has stepped down and Woo Kim, the “social secretary” who sent the “free pussy” email has apologised. The problem is that Kim doesn’t seem to understand that the email itself was sexual harassment.  The Independent quotes this statement from Kim:

I want to clarify that the club had no intentions of sexual harassment,” he added. “We were not planning on spiking drinks.

Spiking women’s drinks is NOT sexual harassment. It’s assault. If they then touch the women, it is sexual assault or rape. But, the act of deliberately giving a woman a substance without her consent is assault. It is a violent crime in and of itself. 

The email constituted sexual harassment. 

Threatening to spike women’s drinks, even in ‘jest’, is sexual harassment.

Spiking women’s drinks is assault.

It’s unfortunate that Oxford Rugby Union doesn’t seem to understand this.

This isn’t “sexual harassment”: it’s a real threat of rape.

Aberystwyth University’s cricket team has had its funding withdrawn by the student union and has been banned from competing because of this photograph. A disciplinary panel ruled that the team had brought the university into disrepute by breaking the code of conduct.

I want to celebrate this as a moment when a university finally takes a clear stand on rape culture but I have too many little niggles. Firstly, the team has only been banned from taking part in one indoor competition. Withdrawing of funding will hamper their ability to play this year but not as much as banning the club from competing for twelve months would have. Secondly, there are references to other inappropriate slogans on t-shirts but media coverage  doesn’t state what these messages are. I want to know if the other t-shirts involved sexually explicit or abusive language. If more than one player was wearing a t-shirt making “jokes” about sexual violence, then I don’t see how banning for one match will change things. 

And, thirdly, this isn’t an example of “sexual harassment” as stated by activities officer Liv Prewett. It’s a real threat. Women and children live with the threat of rape everyday: in our homes, schools, churches, playgrounds and at work. Being in a bar with a man wearing a t-shirt minimising rape just feeds into our worries about sexual violence. This type of t-shirt is what makes it difficult for women to participate in public. It’s a direct threat of violence: maybe this man won’t rape you but one in five women over the age of 16 will be raped. This is our reality. 

Young men running about in t-shirts minimising rape are precisely the young men we need to be afraid of; these are the men who don’t believe rape culture exists. These are the men who ignore the reality of violence against women and children and make excuses for rapists. A spokesman for the cricket club may have said: ‘We understand the severity of the situation and steps are being undertaken to ensure no further offence is caused.” but we know they don’t. Wearing this t-shirt isn’t just about one man in a t-shirt, it’s about a whole culture which blames women for being raped.

If Aberystwyth University wants us to believe they are taking rape culture seriously, this young man should be prohibited from playing any sports for the university. The entire team should have been banned for playing for at least one year and this should go on their permanent records.

This is “boys just being boys” because we raising another generation of men to believe they have every right to sexually violate women. 

If we want to end rape culture, we need to start taking this type of violence seriously.