Shame and Empowerment
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Our unwarranted shame will one day be replaced with empowerment

Women are becoming more and more powerful in society. We often hear about women in high society, shattering precedents and getting what they want, and we salute them. But what about the women within our own vicinity? Looking at the bigger picture of equality, it is easy to forget about what is happening to us, as students, right now.

Let’s talk about a more pervasive culture, the rape culture that is directly and indirectly affecting women everywhere. A recent group chat has been uncovered at our university in which a group of male students have been discovered talking about, on numerous occasions, raping and sexually assaulting fellow female students. Hearing this should put fear into every girl’s heart, and yet at the same time is no real surprise at all. For female students, unwanted attention, verbal assault and a feeling of insecurity is practically part of everyday life. It has been normalised.

For far too long, women have been made to feel as if such behaviour is their responsibility

As students, the lines are constantly blurred with ‘banter’ – a rape joke here, an unwarranted grab there. It’s okay though because comments such as ‘I’m sure they didn’t mean it’ and ‘you should feel flattered!’ immediately diffuse the situation, characterising the victim as dramatic if they continue to protest. These excuses are what allow this type of behaviour to drag on. But it has to stop.

For far too long, women have been made to feel as if such behaviour is their responsibility. Whether it is the last-minute decision that you’re not going to wear that new summer dress or a new pair of skinny jeans, out of the fear that this will attract an inappropriate reaction, or a deeply-rooted feeling of fear at the prospect of walking home at night, women have internalised and taken responsibility for actions out of their control. Why should we have to make sure we don’t provoke unwarranted reception?

That feeling of total defencelessness, shortly followed by a pang of shame, lasts much longer than a few seconds

Catcalling is one of the most common forms of harassment that women face on a daily basis, yet the intentions of catcallers have always confused me. If the desired outcome is a positive reaction, then the perpetrators are quite frankly delusional. The only outcome I have ever felt from such behaviour is pure embarrassment. Publicly harassing someone, often from the comfort of a car, results in a lack of accountability and little empathy. The few seconds of verbal abuse clearly seem worth it for the amusement of the cowardly people involved. But that initial feeling of total defencelessness, shortly followed by a pang of shame, lasts much longer than a few seconds. It is utterly impossible to comprehend, digest and respond within the few seconds in which the action has unfolded, before the culprit has driven down the road and out of sight.

Scenarios such as this are the building blocks of a culture in which a woman’s safety is put in jeopardy just because men think they can get away with it. Experiences like these trickle down into our everyday lives, when we cling onto our phones as we pass a large group of men, or vehemently hold onto our keys and quicken our pace when we walk home at night.

Shame must not get in the way of addressing an issue that has affected and continuously affects so much of the population

The little things that we face every day need to be talked about in order to draw attention to how inherently wrong they are. The exposure of this group chat is a start, and has allowed for men and women across the country to condemn it. Sexual harassment is an issue which of course affects men too. With even greater taboo attached to the discussion of male victims, it is paramount that we talk about harassment, no matter how small it is. Shame must not get in the way of addressing an issue that has affected and continuously affects so much of the population, and by talking about it, in time the feeling of shame will eventually be replaced by a feeling of empowerment.

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