As women, I think we have things a little tougher.
Yeah, we are independent, strong, brave, and hardworking. But let’s face it, most of the time, we’re defenseless against the attacks of the world. We’re still not free from unfair treatment, gender pay gap, and harassment.
I finally understand victims who blame themselves after being sexually harassed.
It was a bright Tuesday morning, just like any other morning, I woke up and started my routine as I got ready for work. I donned a simple red floral dress from Cotton On and paired it with a black cardigan, also from Cotton On. At 9:20am, I booked a ride to the office.
10 minutes later, the car rolled up outside my house and a message came through, signalling that he had arrived for pickup. I got in and like every other ride, I wished my driver good morning. Thinking nothing of it, as the journey was mostly a silent one, I continued using my phone (like a typical millennial) throughout the ride.
Minutes away from reaching my office, I leaned forward to instruct my driver where to turn in. Most of them make the mistake of stopping outside the office which obstructs traffic. He turned back to tell me “okay”, and looked straight at my chest. His eyes never strayed from my cleavage while I was talking to him and I gripped my cardigan so tight, my knuckles turned white.
Upon reaching the entrance of the office, I crossed my left leg to adjust the straps of my sandals, he turned around and tried to look up my dress. I walked out of the car on shaky legs as he waved and smiled at me, telling me to have a good day. I will never forget that smile. It was more of a leer, if you ask me.
My phone buzzed, indicating that the ride hailing service has deducted the fare from my account, prompting me to rate the car ride and my driver. I ignored it.
Sitting down at my desk, I could not shake the feeling that I needed to tell someone about what happened. I texted a colleague of mine (yes, we’re in the same office but everyone texts nowadays) about the ordeal and the first question she asked me was, “What are you wearing today?” After describing my outfit to her, she said, “Oh, so low. But that dress spills your boobs also.”
I replied back with, “That’s not the point.” But I cannot deny that I spent the next couple of hours sitting at my desk, questioning myself. Was I to blame because I had worn this dress? If I had worn something else, would that entire unpleasant encounter be avoided? Was it my fault?
I shared my experience with my superior and she assured me that it does not matter that I was wearing a dress with thin straps. “It is a beautiful dress and you look nice wearing it,” she said.
Instead of blaming my driver for what he had done, I blamed myself instead. A million ‘What Ifs’ ran through my mind. I could not stop thinking about it all day.
When I had finally plucked up the courage, I rated the driver 1 star and left a comment, “I felt uncomfortable and violated.” They got back to me also immediately with an email, apologising for the booking and requesting for an elaboration so that they could assist me accordingly.
I did not reply.
I left it alone for two days before I sat down and wrote my reply. Explaining the ordeal to them felt as if it happened mere minutes ago and not two days. You might be wondering why did I take so long to get back to them. Well, truthfully — I was afraid.
The driver picked me up from my house, he knows where I live. What if he comes back and demands an apology for the low rating? What if he comes back to hurt me?
This brought flashbacks to when I was sexually abused when I was 5. A trusted family friend babysat me from when I was an infant to 9 years old. She had a family of her own. They all loved me and treated me as one of their own and I did the same. Unfortunately, her youngest son, who was around 16 or 17 years old at the time, took too much of a liking towards me.
Nap time was very important in that household but I hated it. Because for as long as I could remember, nap time was when he came in to ‘cuddle’. I prayed every time that I would be dead asleep so I would not be conscious of his actions but I was always out of luck. Every afternoon, he would come in and lie down behind me, always spooning, and slipped his hands down my pants, inside my panties. Other days, he would go under my shirt. Despite not knowing what was happening, I knew it was wrong. It felt wrong.
I never told anyone about it, and he assured me that this was normal. That I could not tell anyone about this because it was ‘our secret’. His mother came in one day and caught him. I was so grateful for that day because I thought it would stop. But it didn’t.
He continued to come in to the room that I was sleeping in and touch me. But he was smarter this time, he always left before his mother did her rounds to check up on us or wake us up. Why didn’t I tell my parents about this? I lived through that for 4 years before my dad decided to send me to my aunt’s house instead.
Why didn’t I say anything to the driver when he stared at me inappropriately? Why didn’t I kick up a fuss and demand that he be removed from the ride hailing service? What if he does what he did to me to someone else and this time it goes even further than a stare?
Do I still take ride hailing services? Yes, but now I’m more cautious of the drivers. Do I dress differently now that something has happened? No, because no matter how covered up I am or how revealing I wear, pervs will still be pervs.
I did learn something though. Women go through sexual harassment and abuse all the time, but they come out stronger every time. We may not be able to stop each and every single harasser, but we can speak up against it and we can support each other if it happens. Not shame or blame each other when an incident occurs.
As women, we already have the shorter end of the stick in a male-dominated world. Yes, change is slowly picking up, but we should know that we are a part of the change and not wait around for someone else to make the change for us. Support each other, be there for each other and stand up for each other.