At a jam-packed London concert when I was 16 years old, a man put his hand on my leg. I knew straight away that it was absolutely not okay. I did not know him, he had not spoken to me, and most importantly, at no point did I answer yes to anything like, 'excuse me miss, can I put my hand on your thigh for a while?'. I stopped for a moment and spluttered something like, 'sorry, can you move your hand, please?', in a tone that was definitely more polite than he deserved. He moved, laughed to his friend and scoffed: "sorry, I thought it was my leg."
Memories like this - and trust me, I have more - are why the Coachella 'Eat. Sleep. Rape. Repeat.' t-shirt didn't shock me one bit. Upon seeing it, I sighed and shrugged my shoulders, rather than gasping in disbelief. And that, everyone, is why we have a problem.
I've told my 'And then he said he thought it was his leg!' story for the past seven years. Usually with far more pizzazz, spurred on by a determination to label it as just another ridiculous thing that's happened, another silly story from a night out in a room that was full to the brim with sweaty bodies and loud music.
What I didn't realise then, is that it was the first of many similar situations and that in that split second, I'd decided on a reaction I'd use multiple times in the years that followed. It's taken me until this week to reflect on how I've been going wrong.
In my refusal to see what's happened to me at concerts as anything more than a funny story, and partially out of my own embarrassment, I've unintentionally played down harassment. Imagine if somebody behaved this way in a shop. You don't need me to tell you that security would be over quicker than you could say, 'this is probably illegal and a gross violation, get the hell off me'.
I feel slightly ashamed - and definitely annoyed at myself - for always recalling these stories with a forced laugh. I count myself as a feminist, read Everyday Sexism and engage in online debate, but I've let these personal experiences fall by the wayside, transforming them into a bit of a joke. I would never turn anyone else's groping incidents into a joke, so why have I spent years doing it with my own? The answer takes us back to where they happen.
I've always attended festivals and concerts with a group of predominantly male friends. Among them, the fact I am a woman often goes unnoticed, in the nicest way possible. I am not discriminated against for my gender, treated differently or regarded as inferior. But these groping incidents, and the occasional shouts and leering faces I'm confronted by, bring my gender to the forefront of our minds. All of a sudden, it's as if I've been pushed onto a stage in front them, with a giant banner that reads 'Rachel's A Woman: Different And Second To You All!', lit by giant pink lights above my head. So in a bid to disappear into my wellies and jumper, I make a joke as part of some strange attempt to normalise it all. Would I try to normalise it if one of them returned to the campsite and admitted they'd just groped a woman? Erm, no. I'd - sorry but this is really the only phrase that works - lose my shit.
It's only through "losing our shit" and having conversations that things will change. I'd like to go back to my 16-year-old self, and explain that these things shouldn't happen. I'd tell myself to resist that urge to laugh, and focus on the outrage and upset. Every time I've spoken to female friends. They've shared similar and sometimes identical memories. These experiences mirror many of those shared on Everyday Sexism, yet because of their location - in arenas, fields or underground bars - they've slipped under many of our moral radars.
The music world, and the crowds that come with it are predominantly male, so we need to be even louder. Until we realise that festivals and concerts all too often play host to these incidents, nothing is going to change. Scream, shout, and even cry if you want to. Confront the perpetrator, tweet about it after or rant to one friend in the pub. Just, for goodness's sake, don't stare at the ground, force a chuckle and dance off into the distance.Suggest a correction