Confession: I love airports. The noise, the excitement, people flying off to distant lands, people being reunited with loved ones. It’s got it all. And there’s something amazing about watching a plane coasting down a runway, accelerating and speeding up, and finally launching itself up into the sky. Plus duty free shops, so I could happily live there.
So one day, at Auckland’s domestic airport, I wondered off to watch the planes do their thing. This was back in the 80’s when there was the old school fugly pattened carpet to hide the stains, and giant windows down below where you had front row seats to all the action. Next to it was a bar made up of tables flung out higgidly piggidly and you had to walk through to get there. Half-way through I was brought up short – a gentleman, and I use that term so loosely that it if spoken aloud it would be an incomprehensible string of noise, had decided to reach out and grab my arse.
He made some comment, but I was too in shock to make out what was grunted at me. I whirled back around and went back to where my mother was standing. I was ten. I probably brought it on myself from the slutty Paddington bear t-shirt I was wearing and from being metres away from my parents. A minor incident, but the first time I can remember being sexually harassed. Awww, there should be an annual cake to celebrate. Baby's first groping.
The other times? Honestly, I don't think I could even remember them all. Apparently wearing a school girl uniform is pretty much harassment bait (maybe my skirt was too short, if only a talkback host could weigh in!) and it was years of fun dealing with teenagers and adult males making advances and throwing out comments. I would love to say that it was because of my spectacular beauty, but sadly that’s not the case, and in fact my experiences was pretty typical from others girls accounts. In my twenties, staggering to the diary after a night out for an emergency life saving mince and cheese pie and coke, still wearing the same clothes, and what I suspect was vomit clinging to my hair, I also managed to elicit a few show us your tits for good measure. Kind of bought a clue at that point that it wasn’t what I looked like that they were responding to, but that I was female, so a perpetual walking target.
There was the job I had to leave because the boss was a little bit too free and easy with the touching and the comments. Everyone was aware of it, but as it was sheepishly admitted to me it was cheaper to replace me than to replace him. Their strategy was to hire a woman in their fifties. There was the men in the street that told me that I should smile more, or the man who decided to reach out a grab a boob in the middle of the street in broad daylight. Me and those t-shirts, you’d think I’d learn!
There was telling men through body language “No”. There was telling them verbally “No”. There was pushing them away because “No” seemed to be heard as “keep trying”. There was leaving early because I didn’t feel safe. There was hearing about a friend passed out in a nightclub bathroom after one (spiked) drink, there was hearing about friends having been raped. There was being grateful and so thankful and so lucky that it hadn’t happened to me. There was rearranging my schedule to avoid late classes, rearranging my life because not me, not me, not me, but knowing that I’m not immune to something that’s happened to so many.
My life is not your life. My life as a female is different to your life as a male. That should be stunningly obvious, but apparently it's not. My experiences are different because our socialisation has been different, and because of this, my voice, her voice, a female voice, should, and needs to be heard, especially when it comes to issues pertaining to women. History was written by men, pop culture is still largely written by men writing dialogue for female characters, commentators are still largely men, but now that we’ve squeezed a tiny (tiny) space for ourselves, now that we can speak for ourselves, stop trying to speak for us and getting it so horribly, horribly wrong, and stop trying to silence us. Just stop. No.