Leaving Liverpool Pride this weekend I was joined on my walk into town by two samba dancers dressed similarly to the picture above who had joined the march alongside the seemingly standard samba marching band. I was wearing bright-red suspenders and a pride flag as a cape and so couldn't have been more obviously part of the pride celebrations. They told me that they were walking back to the bar which employed them and asked if they could walk with me as they did not feel safe. Of course I said yes. What I then experienced was a first hand, vicarious experience of everyday sexism in action.
**Trigger warning for discussion of rape and sexual assault**
This took all of twenty seconds but has remained vividly in my mind.
As we continued up the street, a conspicuous trio to say the least, it's fair to say we attracted some attention. Suddenly, coming towards us, I spies around six young men (I would guess around 17-years-old). As they began to notice the women I felt a sinking dread in my stomach as the unfortunately inevitable happened. The men began to point at the women and nudge one another. Then the cat calling began. "Alright, gorgeous" shouted one, while the others laughed and a couple wolf-whistled.
At this point they had separated at either side of the pavement as they passed us, effectively surrounding us, and continued their leering. I felt intimidated. What were these men going to do? What would I do if they tried to assault the women? If I was anxious, I can only imagine how these women felt.
Thankfully the men moved along and left us alone. I turned to the two women and saw a look of both fear and resignation on their faces. "See why we asked to walk with you?" said one of them wearily. I could. The anxiety I had felt was replaced by anger in my chest. How could these men think that these women's dress gave them the right to intimidate and leer at them?
These women are professional dancers, artists. As someone who struggles to pull off the Macarena, I am in awe of people who can dance. How can they coordinate all their limbs so effortlessly? These women have a talent they clearly love to express. They came to Liverpool Pride and marched in solidarity with me and my fellow LGBT Liverpudlians. In short, these women deserve respect (as does every woman, not simply because of their talent or activism).
As a liberation activist and feminist ally, I have read so many stories which fall into the category now generally known as Everyday Sexism. But never before had it been so real to me. I will never forget the expression on the faces of those women as they turned to me after this occurred.
Wow trolls are so dumb. Whole team working on this now. Look forward to your arrest genius. pic.twitter.com/3HRCi7kCaE— CarolineCriado-Perez (@CCriadoPerez) August 3, 2013
I am often faced with those who try and argue that feminism is no longer necessary, that we should talk about gender equality instead or that misandry is as much of a problem as misogyny (sorry, guys, misandry is not a thing, stop trying to make it happen). This has now gained a much uglier and much more dangerous face in the so-called "trolls" who have been sending vile abuse at prominent women such as campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and MP Stella Creasy.
The simple fact is that society is structured around power. That power is, overwhelmingly, in the hands of white, straight, non-disabled men. Those who campaign to define their liberation and their own place in society are challenging those in power. They are taking the power over their own lives back. This power does not always look like a nearly all-male, white cabinet of millionaires in Downing Street or a FTSE 100 boardroom. Sometimes it looks like a group discussion with 80% of the talking coming from men or, indeed, two women in samba outfits being unable to walk down the street without being seen as objects of sexual desire for any men who happen to walk past them.
When this power is challenged, those with power and privilege don't like it. Often they think they are nice, progressive, modern men. But what they fail to realise is that sexism will not always look like they think. Because they do not see themselves as at all sexist in their own minds, they can't understand how they may have to give up power as well.
In the current discussions about the introduction of gender quotas into National Union of Students (NUS) elections, many otherwise good and progressive officers have pushed against this move. They have various arguments around it, but it often seems that they don't like the suggestion that they achieved their position not just through merit, but also through the inherent advantage of being a man. I can understand this is not a nice thing to face up to. As a Students' Union President myself I have to accept that, given only around 30% of Presidents are women while 56% of students are women, I had an inherent advantage in gaining my role. It does not mean I didn't have to be good and campaign hard or that I don't deserve my role. But if I fail to recognise that blatant fact and use my position to do something about it, I don't feel the role is worth having.
Please do not misunderstand me, I do not think those arguing against election gender quotas are the same as those sending sexual abuse and rape and violence threats to women via twitter. That would undermine the severity of their acts.
But to all those who still genuinely argue that feminism is no longer needed, take a good, hard look at yourself. Consider that the roots of your feelings may not be too far away from those who try and silence women like Stella Creasy and Caroline Criado-Perez. Consider how you may have an advantage from being a man, being white, being straight or being able-bodied. You don't need to feel guilty - the society we were born into is not our fault. But consider how you can take that privilege and spread it around a bit. Listen to feminists you know, genuinely consider what they have to say. They don't hate you for being a man.
If anything in my life is gained through the power structures that create situations where women are made to face the abuse that these amazing women on twitter have faced, or where a woman in a samba costume feels the need to find a man to walk with for protection just because she is wearing a costume, then the price is to high to pay.