In my teenage years it was a common bonding experience to get together with girlfriends to compare the ways we had been harassed and even assaulted by strange men. We would laugh at tales of men twice our age following us on multiple trains in a foreign country, of men grabbing our vulvas in clubs, of male “friends” “jokingly” grabbing our tits*.
And I remember saying, time and again, “well, that’s just part of being female in this culture.” Not with anger, not with sadness, not even with resignation. Simply a statement of fact. The sky is blue. To be woman is to be routinely harassed and assaulted.
Told, as a teenager, the statistic that one in three women experience sexualized violence I scoffed: “Well, sure. I mean, if you’re going to count being groped or harassed, then yeah. But come on!” I, future anti-violence worker, champion of consent, dismissed the statistic because it was so normalized to me that the reality of being woman involves being groped and harassed. This violence was so routine it simply didn’t register on the scale for me.
And now, when I have these conversations with others, when I present the statistic that one in three women experience sexualized violence I hear, “Well, sure, but it depends how you’re counting it. I mean, if you count groping and harassment…”
Think about how tragic that statement is. We have agreed culturally that women must bear a certain amount of harassment and assault before it’s actually counted as violence. And the casual, daily violence we women face on the streets, in the clubs, on the bus, that is not part of that 1 in 3 statistic.
But my feeling is that if we were to truly count harassment and groping as sexualized violence we would find 99.95% of women have experienced sexualized violence.
*A small survey of experiences I had had by the time I turned 18.
(photo in public domain via Wikipedia Project)