by Matilda Branson
Trigger Warning: discussion of sexual harassment and assault
Groping. Definition: When used in a sexual context, groping is touching or fondling another person in a sexual way using the hands; it generally has a negative connotation, and is considered molestation in most societies.
I’m really sick of being groped. I started to think about times I’ve been the target of a groper, frotteur (someone who masturbates by rubbing against another person, often in a crowd) or flasher, or experienced sexual harassment in public places. I was both shocked and enraged at how many seemingly small incidents have occurred throughout my lifetime.
The supervising barman who whipped me on the ass with a tea towel when I bent over to pick up a tray of glasses, or insisted unnecessarily on squeezing past me in tight spaces of the bar when as I carried boxes of beer – something he would never do with male colleagues. The elderly priest at a funeral who repetitively squeezed my bottom as I passed around a bowl of chips at the wake. The boss in his fifties who made constant sexual innuendo and tried to kiss me on a work trip.
Backpacking: on an overnight ferry in the Greek Islands, where a man walked up to my friend and I, staring at us intently and grinning manically – with his hand moving furiously near his fly, as he watched us and masturbated publicly – and to see that man walk off the ferry the next morning with a family in tow. The Costa Rican bus conductor who cornered me – the last passenger – in my seat on the second story of a double decker bus and refused to let me off unless I kissed him.
Working overseas: using my handbag as a barrier between myself and a man on a tightly packed train carriage in Southeast Asia, and arriving at work with a handbag covered in semen. The group of teen boys I walked past on an evening walk, where one boy pushed another so he “fell” into my breasts, and as I walked away, called out, “I wanna f#%k you baby.” The man who gropes my ass as I’m out shopping with my boyfriend for a soup ladle and spices at a local market in Kathmandu. The taxi driver who insists on “taking a short cut” at 8.30pm at night, then stops in an alley, cuts the engine and lights, then says, “Give me all your money, or I’m going to hurt you.” The man in the alley who flashes his penis at my housemates and I as we leave our house.
And what have I done in response to these situations? I’ve pretended it didn’t happen. I’ve frozen and not moved until the moment passed. I’ve convinced myself it was an accident and ignored the cold twist of gut instinct telling me otherwise. I’ve laughed it off and turned it into a funny anecdote to recount at a later date to friends, or I haven’t told anyone.
I’ve felt ashamed and confused. I’ve felt angry and thought about what I should have said. I would have said something, but it was dark / he was a big guy / there weren’t many people around so it would’ve been dangerous to say anything / if I say something it might ruin my career / it just wasn’t worth my time pursuing it. I didn’t want to make a scene. If I’d said something, it would destroy my friendship with his wife/sister/my friend. Alternatively: I’ve reported it. I’ve yelled at the guy. I’ve called the police. I’ve kneed him in the balls and slapped him. I’ve publicly shamed him and asked him if he would treat his mother, sister or friend in this way.
But why grope? Maybe it’s for the sexual thrill, touching a woman without her consent. Maybe it’s the thrill in seeing a woman pissed off and powerless in the face of an untenable situation. I don’t care why. Either way, the guy who gropes is a disgusting creep. It comes down to a complete lack of respect for women’s bodies, and women in general. So stop groping me.
What I truly hate about groping, as I write this post, is that even writing about it, there is a sneaking sense of inner shame at work telling me that somehow it is wrong of me to feel angry and to publicly voice that anger at being groped. And it is this very sense of shame – that it is wrong to oust and publicly denounce men who grope women – that really troubles me. This shame compels many women to quietly defuse a situation where sexual harassment occurs, with as little fuss as possible.
Not all men grope. I have a large number of lovely menfolk in my life, friends, colleagues and family, who are as angry and baffled about groping as I am. But to those men that do grope, what should we do?
Please, tell that shame and fear of “making a fuss” you have in the face of being groped, to stick it where the sun don’t shine. Make sure you do expose the person, and the action, publicly. You will feel better for flipping the situation on its head, and taking ownership of it yourself. Being groped is not a personal failure: it is the failure of that man to show any form of respect or decency towards you, and towards women generally, and it is not okay.