I was sexually harassed last week.
I was walking home from a friend's house one evening, and passed a group of drunk men. One of them decided to approach me, grab my chest, and say "Come on, love." I elbowed him in the face and jogged away.
Come on, love - am I really that desperate that I'd get it on with a random drunk man in the street? The sad thing is, I don't even get upset about this sort of thing any more. It just makes me angry. I ended up heading home and having a rant to my housemate. I mean, what gives people the right to think they can just approach someone and violate them like that? It makes me incredibly angry that if a man was walking home, he'd be more likely to encounter less trouble - but for a woman, it's not going to be safe for her.
The irony of it all is that I've spent the last two months working on International Women's Day for Exeter University - compiling a web gallery, designing a display and organising a talk, all centred around inspirational women. But last week I was made to feel like nothing more than a sexual object - the exact thing that the project my job represents is against.
So many women, even today, are being made to feel like they are less important, insignificant, second-class citizens because of their gender. I never take for granted the leniency of the country I live in, the laws that are in place, and the freedoms that I have, compared to so many other parts of the world where women are oppressed and abused to an indescribable extent. But it is undeniable that a disgusting percentage of women will have experienced sexual harassment, discrimination or just plain bullying, purely because of their gender.
More than that - women who dare to be different will face even more difficulties. Go against the grain, feel the pain. It's a disgusting, objective fact, that if people see something different and live in a narrow-minded, ignorant bubble, they will make that person's life hell. As part of my job, I managed an event for International Women's Day at the University where Mandy McBain MBE, Client Account Manager for Stonewall, gave a talk on her experiences as a woman in the armed forces. In 1986, women in the forces were not allowed to go to sea or carry weapons. They had a restricted choice of employment and had to leave if they became pregnant. Change happened slowly, but Mandy had a significant impact on that, particularly in her work towards acceptance of LGBT people in the forces. She was awarded an MBE in 2012 for her work towards inclusivity for the Naval Service, wider defence and on an international level.
Stonewall, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Equality Charity, represents acceptance without exception, and this is a goal I believe we should all work towards. Your sexuality is a part of you, but it doesn't define you. I only came out as bisexual last year, as I have been around homophobic people and comments my entire life. I have family and friends who have made comments that portray lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people as inferior, or as behaving in an unnatural manner to cause a stir. So I'm attracted to men and women - that doesn't make me greedy, as I've been told before, nor does it make me unnatural, as I've also been told. I am not defined by my sexuality - I am also a woman, but more importantly, I am a person, and I have the right to be treated as an equal.
Mandy said during her talk that we all have a responsibility to make things happen - to make a difference. This doesn't have to be a huge statement or action - don't underestimate the impact you can have on someone. Mandy spoke of how a woman came up to her once and said that, during her first march for pride, Mandy had asked her if she wanted to sit with her at breakfast. That was all that was needed.
When I chose to have an abortion in December, I felt an overwhelming mixture of emotions. However, I knew that my friend had been through the same thing a few months previously. As I processed the aftermath of the procedure in the weeks that followed, I slowly became able to open up about it. Two more friends told me that they had been through the same experience. That was all that was needed. Don't underestimate the difference you can make.
Women are victims of gender discrimination, but it is often seen as a woman's issue to fix. It is not for women to fix an issue they did not create and are victims of - it is for all of us to make a difference. And that is why I have spoken out here about my experiences. Too many women will be able to identify with some or all of what I have been through. That has to change.
I now feel uncomfortable walking home alone at night. I've had to begin asking my male housemate to come out and meet me to walk me home if I'm out late, because I am now afraid for my safety. Perhaps one day women will be able to walk down the street - more than that, live their lives - without feeling afraid of what the consequences will be for simply being who they are.