Let’s Talk about Sexual Harassment

by Rachel Pieh Jones on October 15, 2018

#metoo

Kavanaugh vs. Blasey Ford

Running while Female (aka, living while female)

Its time to talk about sexual harassment again. I am not coming at this from a political angle. But recent US political events highlighted, again, that sexual harassment is a very real and present danger and can have long-term consequences, sometimes leading to depression, anxiety, poor sleep, high blood pressure, and PTSD.

Organizations, teams, families, friends, coworkers, everyone living abroad needs to talk about this.

*****

What does harassment look like? Here’s just a few examples based on personal experience:

Leering. Open-mouthed, wide-eyed stares. Kissy-faces. Sexual hand gestures. Men cupping imaginary breasts. Men pulling down their pants. Pulling my hair and yanking on my clothes. Calling me a whore and a prostitute and an infidel and describing what they would like to do to me or simply shouting, “sex!” Throwing rocks and soda bottle caps. Trying to trip me. Jumping from behind and shouting, in an attempt to scare me. Spitting. Following. Mimicking my walk. Walking behind so closely they step on my heels. Drawing the finger across the throat. Grabbing my breasts, pinching and/or punching my ass, dumping a bottle of liquid on me while I wait on the corner.

(Lest I give the impression this only happens where I live now, I have experienced sexual harassment in every country I’ve spent significant time in.)


Unfortunately, even while women shout and educate and train, I don’t have high hopes that sexual assault or harassment will stop. But I also don’t want to sit in a place of anger and humiliation. These experiences need to be redeemed.

The first thing I did after a particularly upsetting incident was visit two friends, one Djiboutian and one expat, who live together. I told them what happened, they told me what they experience, how they respond. We prayed for each other. This is how we start to redeem sexual harassment. Together, we refuse to be silenced.

I own my story. I listen to the stories of the women around me. I say, me too. That happened to me too. (I actually wrote this essay four years before #metoo. Just sayin’.) I tell my story, I don’t hide it because it is embarrassing, because my reaction wasn’t what I wish it were. I hear the women around me say, me too. And, I’m sorry. And, I’m angry with you, for you. We are the walking wounded. Yes, we are wounded, but yes, we are walking forward, out the front door. And knowing that Asha is walking out her front door, Mumina out hers, Sarah out hers, Carrie out hers, I gather all their strength and step out mine.

I recognize that there is nothing new under the sun and I read about the women of faith who have walked this path before. Dinah. Tamar. Esther. The Levite’s concubine. Their tears are not forgotten. Not by women and not by the Creator of all humans.

I learn, to the depths of my core, that I am created in the image of God. I learn how to offer that same truth and dignity to others, to lessen the incidents of my own dehumanizing of others, like beggars at my door or men I might lump into a clump of harassers. I honor the men who rise up to defend me.

I talk to my husband about it. Men need to know what this does to women, they need encouragement and exhortation to talk to other men about it. It needs to be a team discussion topic.

I use words to illuminate the raw places of my soul and wrote this to my body after a boy grabbed me through the car window while I was stopped in traffic. I encourage anyone who has been harassed to write a letter to your body.

You are my body. This is all I’ve got. This color, this shape, this height. These are my muscles, you are strong and enable me to walk down the street or run or bike. Underneath these clothes, these are my stretch marks and scars and cellulite patterns. This is my voice and the way I laugh. When I walk, this is the way my butt swings, this is the rhythm of my hips and the sway of my shoulders.

Sometimes when people call me a whore, I’m tempted to round my shoulders over, to curve my back, to turn in on myself. I become so conscious of the way my hips move that I trip over the stones in the dirt road. I’m so aware of the teensiest bit of bouncing in my body, that I feel my face burn red, as though there were something to be ashamed of in the jiggle.

There isn’t something to be ashamed of here.

You are my body. You are all I have to walk around this world in. It is hard enough to escape the shame and guilt of all the ways I am weak and fail my friends, my family, my work. I can not let people add to that shame by allowing them to put that on you, too.

So I won’t.

You are a temple, a holy place where the essence of ‘me’ dwells. We will walk in the glory that is this body, this temple. I promise to own it. Care for it. Use it. Wear it with confidence even in public. There is no shame here.

What else can you do to process harassment in a healthy, restorative way?

P.S. I wrote a follow-up to this piece on my blog, about what happens to me almost every time I write about sexual harassment, if you’re interested.

Some more pieces:

The Story Women Need to Tell

This Is My Body. Thou Shalt Not Break It.

Freedom from the Silence of Shame

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel writes about life at the crossroads of faith and culture. Her work is influenced by living as a foreigner in the Horn of Africa, raising three Third Culture Kids, and adventurous exploration of the natural world. She has been published in the New York Times, Runners World, the Big Roundtable, and more. Her next book will be released in October, 2019. Get all her stories and updates in the Stories from the Horn newsletter http://www.djiboutijones.com/free-djibouti-jones-updates/

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