COMMENT: What it is like to be sexually harassed on Dublin's streets 4 years ago

COMMENT: What it is like to be sexually harassed on Dublin's streets

On the streets of Dublin I walk.

I am called at and I am whistled at and I am propositioned. For 12 years I have accepted this, I know Dublin’s pavement better than the city sky. It wasn’t until this week I thought about how my acceptance is acquiescence, is cultivation , is encouragement.

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 The silence and smiles with which I have always protected myself are becoming obsolete, they are short term protection from a problem which will not be eradicated without my voice.

Recently, as a match ended in the Aviva and I left my friend’s house, I didn’t pause and think about the crowds that would soon be filling the surrounding streets. It didn’t occur to me yet that it was time to feel fear.

I ignored the men behind me as they made comments about my legs. I ignored the men beside me as they asked me to come home with them and suck their cock. I ignored the desperate displays of hyper-masculinity all around me and turned my music up.

Rosanna, I reasoned, they’ve been drinking, they’re in high spirits because of the match, you’re the only woman in the crowd, of course they will say things, of course you’ll feel uncomfortable, you should have left before the final whistle.

Rosanna this is your fault, why did you put yourself in this situation?

I walked past the pubs at Beggars Bush and a group of men drew closer to my heels, demanding my attention they were relentless as they remarked upon my walk, my hair, my body. 

Finally I looked back at them and saw three fathers with a huddle of young boys at their hips. They cheered as I turned and instantly I smiled.

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I fucking smiled.

When I think of this moment now, it feels disgusting l and I am furious at myself. These fathers were in the process of educating their children on how to conduct themselves in public spaces. The day’s lesson? A woman is public property, if she ignores your advances it is your right to harass her until she capitulates and admits that her coyness has indeed been an act and she is indeed desperately awaiting the attention only a man can give her.

A smile is worth a thousand words and that evening mine betrayed me, silencing my anger and validating the example these men were setting for their sons.

 The memory of that smile has tormented me. Days after my anger at those men has subsided it is my failure, not theirs that lingers.

I am a woman of great privilege and my privilege has never been lost upon me. I live in a country which largely sees me as equal to men and I live on a street that is quiet and safe. I know this is not the position of most. Women all over the world live in constant debilitating fear of men in public and private spaces. Physical, legal and societal abuse are the international realities of women’s lives.

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Getting harassed by some soccer fans therefore seems trivial if comparison is introduced. But where is the line drawn? Did I draw it? Who said sexism in any form is no longer an issue worth speaking out against? Was it me? Every time I act passively do I cause the tide to ebb and contribute to the opinion that these displays of misogyny are too low level to be tackled?

My privilege has afforded me opportunities but what have I used them for? I am strong, educated and obligated yet in 12 years I have never once responded to verbal harassment with an honest answer. I have walked away and suppressed my outrage at these public reductions from being to object, from woman to body, from Rosanna to target. I have been weak. 

It is my responsibility to speak now and never again try to make polite peace with the infringement upon a woman’s right to human dignity.

If I am not prepared to speak directly to these offenders against equality, how can I suppose to support the development of women’s rights and position in society?  I am not a person of confrontation, yet I am one of outrage when I see individuals being subjugated. It is my responsibility and now yours, if you choose it, to respond. Without anger, without expletives but with certainty.

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If you are being harassed or if you see a woman being harassed or if indeed you have in fact been guilty of beeping at a woman, shouting, calling, demanding her attention as she demands nothing but the freedom to walk through public space, remember it is never a compliment, it is a threat. 

A society where women feel fear walking in public spaces, is a society that demands a higher class of dignity from both men and women and needs people to speak out and not just passively accept a two-tier system.