Last Sunday the hashtag #YesAllWomen seemed to make Twitter explode. Women from all over the world were protesting sexual harassment -- the strange presumption that men have "the right" to women's bodies. The protest was sparked by the killing spree perpetrated by 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, who murdered six innocent people before taking his own life last Friday. He was sexually frustrated; he hadn't gotten the attention, affection and sex from women he felt he was so entitled to -- according to writing he left behind.
The hashtag immediately sparked a contra-protest; men from all over the globe felt they were the ones being assaulted because there was no nuance within the discussion. To them it felt as though they were collectively being punished. Poor men. "Why don't we women give them a break?" they sighed. It's not like it's their fault your employer/uncle/brothers' best friend tried to grab you under your skirt. The protesting men somehow re-framed the discussion and made it all about them. About their feelings and the way they are being punished by us evil women. But hey, guess what, men? This isn't about you. It's about millions and millions of women, all over the world, being harassed. By men. You may not all be as oversexed humping dogs, but all women do get sexually harassed. Be it physically or verbally. By men.
It's a bit like conducting a road safety campaign for car drivers, having all drivers immediately protesting that they never get into accidents. But just like there's no way of telling which driver might hit you on the road, there's no way of telling which man, given the chance, might assault you. To get the message out, a campaign against sexual assault has to be just as common as a campaign against speeding. It's everyone's business. But men somehow just don't seem to get it.
Let's use another traffic comparison: walking down the street as a woman is just like crossing a busy highway as a pedestrian. Chances are it's not going to go well. It doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get physically assaulted, it could "just" be verbally. It's like having someone tailgate you; you're not immediately being hit, but you've had better roadtrips.
Women want to be left alone on the street, but men have a difficulty understanding that. They think that whistling, hissing or saying "nice ass" is a compliment. It seems to be so rooted in their brains they just can't seem to let it go. I've been told, many, many times that if I don't want to be harassed, I have to adjust myself. Because surely, if you look cute, you're asking for it. Well, hate to break it to you, but -- according to the guy that grabbed me while I was not having my best day, wearing oversized sweats and on my way to work -- if you don't look cute, you're still asking for it. So how can you as a woman avoid being hassled? Let me give you some guidelines I've tried myself.
1. Avoid situations in which you may expect men will be annoying. Basically that's everywhere. For example, the pub. But also that bench in the park where you go jogging. When you spot men, cross the street and try to stay out of their sight. If avoidance isn't possible, for example because the men are leaning against a wall, or it's too late to cross the street without drawing too much attention, then just walk through. Whatever you do, do NOT look angry; you'll only attract comments like "don't be so angry babe, it makes you look ugly, but you so fine!" Thus giving the gentleman a "reason" to start an unwanted conversation.
2. NEVER make eye contact. Not even for a millisecond. Because if you do his brain will somehow register a "yes, I don't mind being harassed." While not looking directly into his eyes, it's still very important to notice who you're dealing with. You might find yourself in need of a description later. It requires some training, but if you practice you'll notice that you can perfectly see what's happening right next to you, though you're gazing straight forward. If you fail at that, get yourself a pair of sunglasses. Do that anyway, they will come in handy.
3. Conceal anything indicating you're a woman. Do you have beautiful big breasts? Cover them up. Men will not be able to resist you. It's nature. And women, please: do not wear that trendy red lipstick. Red lips are a -- biological -- sign of sexual arousal. You'll awaken the baboon in men. A primitive urge they do not control.
And dear, beautiful, sweet, young girls: leave those skirts and short pants in your closet. Wear them in your backyard or on a boat, far out at sea. Though all fashion blogs may agree that hot pants are super duper hot this season, men will not be able to resist your long slim legs. Know that if you choose to parade around like that, according to their mind, you're asking for it. Because if a woman dresses beautifully, men automatically think she's interested in them.
4. Women, rethink your third drink. But also your first. If you feel like boozing it up, do it at home, where it's safe. Especially if you're the kind of woman that gets all giggly from alcohol. Somehow a giggling girl equals a girl without an opinion. You may say "no," but all he will hear are your giggles. And if the two of you have swapped some saliva before, he'll think you're taking him on an all-inclusive holiday. So always, always, always stay sober. Always. Drinking alcohol is reserved for men.
5. If the tips above don't work and men still bother you, just immediately make it clear that you're "taken." That you either have a boyfriend or a husband. Somehow that men can understand. They totally respect the fact that you're already owned by another man. If they hesitate, you can help them out by saying your guy is a Marine, or "my husband will be back from kickboxing any minute now." The better property is protected, the more respect he'll show.
You can ask any man and he will fully agree that if you follow the above steps, sexual harassment will decrease significantly. We could of course all wear a burka so we're no longer a "risk factor" for men. There are countries in the world where they seem to think it works, so why not give that a try? Just cover it all up.
Or, maybe, there might be another approach we could try. But I have to warn you: it's quite controversial. We could also try to tackle the problem at its core. Say, the perpetrators, instead of the victims?
We could teach men to have respect for womanhood. Teach them that they are not entitled to a woman's body. Tell them that harassing women on the street is not only intimidating, it's very much undesirable. And make it clear that when a drunk woman says "no," she means "no" and not "whatever, I'm so trashed, my opinion is no longer valid."
We could do that. Or maybe even launch an online campaign. With a nice hashtag. I'm just juggling ideas here.
Hasna El Maroudi is a Dutch journalist from Moroccan origin. She works for Joop.nl, the online opinion website of the Dutch broadcasting agency VARA. In the past she has written columns for several Dutch newspapers, such as NRC Handelsblad and NRC.next.