CW: sexual harassment
Alright everybody. I am about to rant. A couple of times. I'm sorry I have been more or less AWOL over the past month (unless you follow me on Instagram), but I have been silly busy with the ins and outs of getting a job, starting my third year of university, taking care of my mental health and baking mango cakes.
But before I launch into my rant I feel like it is very important to introduce you to this dress:
This is my one of my favourite dresses. Like most of my stuff, I got it cheap at a thrift shop. It's comfy, flattering and makes me really love my body. I call it my "super hips" dress. And I would pretty much live in this dress if I didn't cop street harassment for it every time I go out in it. Literally. Every. Time. I live near a major road, and walking to the bus stop is really becoming an exercise in how many ways I can creatively respond to/ ignore gross cat-callers from cars.
Before heading over to Annika's house to take these photos, I sent her an exasperated message detailing the ins and outs of yet another shitty walk to the bus stop in this dress (she also has also written a fucking fantastic open-letter to cat-callers here). It was a really hot day, I was grossed-out, sweaty and bothered and had absolutely zero tolerance for bros, so I got my teeth stuck into some searing and shouting, which to an outsider would make it seem like maybe I am an incredible bad-ass who doesn't get scared or isn't made anxious by shit like this. This is not true. It frightens me. It can ruin my day, hell, it can ruin my week. Over time, this kind of crap can, and does, ruin women and gender non-conforming people's lives.
It is a deadly serious issue. This is not about some well-intended dudes who just want to wish you a nice day as they speed off down the highway. This is about cis-men's perceived entitlement of the body of basically anyone who is not a cis-man. This is about the strategic layering of masculinity and power over time that continues to build an empire of misogyny in which we still reside in.
This video came across my newsfeed this morning, and it is a fantastic SBS report on sexual-harassment in Australia. According to this report, 83% of women aged 18-24 experience abuse from random guys in public. Definitely worth a watch.
Now, without a doubt the most time consuming, exhausting and difficult thing I have been doing recently is trying to get a job. I have worked in countless crappy waitress jobs over the years, and it's taken its toll on my well-being. From the misogyny spewed out from the some of the self-appointed small-business overlords to the snide, sexist remarks from my customers (no sir, sorry, I am not "on the menu" and I also don't "come with the special"), it has been a roller-coaster of tiring, sometimes terrible, sometimes incredibly fun and rewarding and always exhausting under-paid work days broken up with days of great tips that would sometimes be claimed by my boss because apparently I didn't work hard enough.
So, yeah. I am pretty over hospitality. So over the past year, I have been volunteering with The Trading Circle, an amazing not-for-profit business that sets up producer groups of women around the world living in poverty or hardship, and seeks to foster their skills while at the same time creating a source of fair income and trade. We sell their crafts in our shop, and the profits go directly back to them. It has been a wonderful place to work, not only for the amazing work behind the scenes but because of the amazing and supportive community I have been a part of, that has been a world away from my experience as a waitress/ barista.
So I decided recently that I have enough experience to break out into the world of paid retail work, and have successfully landed an awesome job at a not-for-profit second-hand boutique store in Sydney, run by an acclaimed international charity organisation. So that's pretty damn cool, and I get to manage the whole store for two days every week, going through donations, making the store pretty etc. I've only just started, but I love it. I feel lucky, and privileged to have been given such an opportunity.
(This is my favourite necklace, given to my by my gorgeous friend Rasiha for my birthday. Jeanette Winterson is one of my favourite authors, and writes fantastic things on the body and feminism.)
But that is the cool part. The not-so-cool part happened during another interview for a retail shop in the city.
I arrive, dressed in my smartest interview attire. Manager-dude shakes my hands before standing back, aghast by the amount of "electricity" we appear to share. I nervously laugh and try to remain composed. I want the job. During the course of the interview, the man attempts to stand over me, while asking me if he was "intimidating" me. He then tells me that he "knows (I am) a girl, but this job is more than just pretty things", before telling me that he and I could "get into real trouble here". Before I leave, he confides in me that no, I probably won't be getting this job, because sure I am perfectly qualified but he thinks I am too attractive for the role, and that I could get him into trouble because we are obviously so attracted to one another.
"But" he says, "I want you to come back and visit me Katie. Come and visit me tomorrow."
I left the store quickly and called my friend for support, and then received a phone call from him asking where I lived.
I ended up filing a formal complaint with the Human Rights Commission and being involved in a series of events wherein this man was heavily reprimanded for his actions, and out of some miracle the CEO of the company was this amazing woman who helped me every step of the way. It is not always that easy to get justice though, so if you have been victim of an kind of sexual harassment in a workplace environment and live in Australia, don't feel like you have to keep it to yourself.
The Human Rights Commission lists example of sexual harassment occurring in the workplace (which happens to 1 in 5 women), including:
- staring or leering
- unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against you or unwelcome touching
- suggestive comments or jokes
- insults or taunts of a sexual nature
- intrusive questions or statements about your private life
- displaying posters, magazines or screen savers of a sexual nature
- sending sexually explicit emails or text messages
- inappropriate advances on social networking sites
- accessing sexually explicit internet sites
- requests for sex or repeated unwanted requests to go out on dates
- behaviour that may also be considered to be an offence under criminal law, such as physical assault, indecent exposure, sexual assault, stalking or obscene communications.
If you have experienced any of this, or anything else that makes you feel uncomfortable, do not hesitate to say something, either to someone in a higher position, the HRC, a friend, or heck, me. I am more than happy to help if you need, and if so please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So that concludes the story of this sexy dress and my new job. Well, not really, but I am reaching critical lows of energy and need to take a nap. Because this is draining. But what is exciting is the potential for change, and our ability to reach out to one another and connect. We can get shit done, and it's hard, but we are doing it. So well done us.
Katie B xxx