Proof that sexism still exists and feminism has a way to go

April 15, 2015
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Sexism no longer exists. Women won equality a long time ago, and now feminism only exists to tear down men who’ve done nothing wrong.

Many of you will be frustrated by what you’ve just read, but many will nod along, furrow their brows and mutter, “Hear, hear! Enough with these manic, froth-at-the-mouth feminists!”

A common complaint against feminism is that it’s too female-centric; that it’s an ideology placing women’s rights over and above men’s; and that if it’s truly a quest for equality, it would instead be called “equalism”.

To really understand the issue, we need to look at its historical context. It’s been 104 years since women have been allowed to vote in Australia. There are people who have lived to be older than women’s suffrage, and that shows how recently women’s brains were considered as qualified as men’s to help choose who runs the joint. But it’s not just a matter of saying, “There’s a good gal, here’s your vote. You’re equal now, so shut up.” That’s not how structural inequality works – entire social systems don’t change with a simple flick of the switch.

 I’ve had men masturbate at me in broad daylight.

Let’s step away from women’s rights on paper and think for a moment about their rights in public: thinking, feeling, real women moving about in the world, doing as they please without a care. This is the supposedly contemporary, enlightened western society of today, yes?

I beg to differ.

It was around 9pm when a stranger followed me on the walk home from work, grabbed me from behind in a quiet street and said, “Want a fuck?”

Well, at least he asked. That’s a demonstrated respect for boundaries right there.

What surprised me was that he eventually let me go without “a fuck”. It was as though he expected me to be a mute, compliant ragdoll, but gave up when that didn’t seem to be the case. Maybe it was my attempt at masking my terror in that moment with anger - I don’t know.

But I do know that I’m bored with the #NotAllMen defence. That sentiment is stating the obvious. What’s not so obvious to many people is how commonplace sexual harassment is for young women – my experience is just one case among many. At least four in five women aged 18 to 24 have experienced street harassment in the last 12 months.

I’ve had men masturbate at me in broad daylight, out of a car beside the footpath, and on a train. A friend who has likewise been wanked at on a train has also woken up to a man straddling, and ejaculating on, her face and in her eye. More than once, a man has put his hand up her skirt without her consent.

Another friend was grabbed from behind as she walked through Sydney’s Hyde Park. When she swerved, fell and cut her legs open, the man ran away. She also recalls the time a man sat beside her on a train and stroked her thigh, and the time a taxi driver asked about her fondness for cock.

When men whistle at and follow women in the street or circle them in a club, they’re not showing their appreciation for fellow human beings. It’s predatory, like they’re hunting animals. Sexism is a result of not seeing women as real people, but as things that exist to spark arousal. And this is preserved by a denial that  it happens on a structural basis.

While stories like these are gaining coverage in the media, some people still claim that sexism doesn’t exist. However when walking down a street or getting on an empty train is scary simply because you happen to be female, it’s clear that society has a problem.

Until women can move freely in public without fear of being grabbed or ejaculated on by a random man, we won’t have moved beyond the need for feminism.

Saimi Jeong

Saimi Jeong studies a Master of Arts in Journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney. She has written for Guardian Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald and reports for Burwood Scene. Follow Saimi on Twitter @Saimi_J.

Image: Sigfrid Lundberg, Flicker Creative Commons license