I've never named it. Until I was about twenty years old.
We don't realise the importance of voicing things, of naming them. Somehow, it turns them visible, real.
I spent my teenage years believing that being groped in clubs, having to deal with comments on the way I dress and on my body on a regular basis was normal. I thought that was part of the deal, right?
One of the first instances was in a school bus. I was fifteen. I was laughing at a joke my friend next to me said. I wish I could recall the joke more than the situation itself, but unfortunately, I can't.
As I was laughing, I turned around and on the lane next to our bus, a truck was there, at the same level. The driver was openly touching himself. And staring at me. Embarrassment and incomprehension were the first things I felt. And this is the first example of an endless list having to deal with this.
From the schoolbus to university, from workplaces to clubs, and the worst is on the streets. Being a woman means not feeling safe anywhere. And I got it easy: I am a white able-bodied cis woman. Imagine the nightmare to have to choose between who you really are (and show it to the face of the world) and rather not because it is just safer to look "normal" and please other people's narrowed minds. Let's not disturb them with their perfectly labelled tiny boxes.
Everything is calculated: when I go out on my own, I always make sure that I don't go back too late. I never wear something too provocative (or judged to be so) because god forbid, we need men to stay under control and avoid any sexual impulse. I used to have a rape alarm with me in my bag. The triggering moment was when I lived in England. It was broad daylight and I walking down the street on my own. I was wearing leggings and a tight skirt. Not that I should mention this because - even if I had been bum naked, I shouldn't get any comments, but apparently it matters - a guy came to me and started to shout at me because my outfit was "undecent". He was so angry. I have never seen this much hate written on someone's face. Fortunately, another woman stopped and asked him to go away (that's what sisterhood looks like) even though many men before her walked pass without even turning around.
I stopped carrying the rape alarm not long after because I was scared it might get triggered in my bag and the noise is unbearable. Now I just usually avoid going somewhere on my own and when I do, I am really anxious. But, this is part of the deal, right?
From the moment my body looked mature enough to be sexualised and objectified, I witnessed those kind of occurrences often. Not only directed at myself - but also to girl friends, but most importantly, not only by total strangers, but also by my peers, my closed ones, members of the family. And I do believe that's how it becomes normalised and therefore goes unnoticed. When it sneaks into private spheres. And this is not OK. This is not acceptable. This is not just a bit of banter. I am not over-sensitive nor taking things too personally.
Challenging everyday sexism - as a woman - is exhausting. We are confronted to it everyday. We are told we have no choice but to put up with it, because it is just the way it is. We can fight back. And we do, in our little and bigger ways. By taking space in public transports and not looking down when an intimidating guy stares at us. By trying to use a less binary language, and therefore a more inclusive one. By creating safe spaces where women, people of color, queer, disabled people, trans, people of all faiths and sexualities can come together and fight in solidarity against the patriarchal chains that leaves us unfree.
However I think the real progress will begin once we see men standing up against everyday sexism. Once we have men speaking up against sexism in their daily lives, at work, with their surroundings, in their personal lives. Once we have men taking a step back and rethink their behaviours towards the opposite sex and towards marginalised communities. Once we have men listening. No no, don't speak for one minute, just listen to what Ihave to say.
We are claiming our voices back. We are claiming our bodies back. And we need you to listen and reflect. But most of all we need your support. We need you to use your privilege by reaching out and make a change for generations to come. We need to stop being othered.
You wanna go further? These books made me realise a lot of things:
Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed
Text by Salomée Béranger
Image by Giuseppe Gradella