When I shared the video on Twitter, my tweet went viral, garnering 2.9 million views to date. People expressed support and sympathy, while others went out of their way to place the blame on me for my clothing and how I behaved.
TAGUIG CITY, Philippines — As I rode my bicycle to a friend’s house one afternoon, a man on a motorcycle saw me and began to slow down. For a while, he idled slowly beside me, leering. Looking straight ahead as I pedaled, I did not notice him right away. However, my boyfriend, who was cycling behind me, saw the scene unfold. He began yelling at the man.
My boyfriend always wore his GoPro camera while bicycling, in case of accidents. That day, the camera caught the entire interaction on film. After we posted it on social media, the video went viral, but the response was not what you might expect. I received comments from men blaming me for what happened. This lit a fire inside me. I was reminded of the position women in this country are constantly put in by society, and I became an advocate, speaking out about harassment.
I rode my bicycle that day wearing a sleeveless top and leggings to be comfortable. My clothes remained the last thing on my mind. However, a woman’s choice of clothing matters little to most men in my country. Regardless of what you wear, they find a way to sexualize and objectify you. We arrived at my friend’s house and climbed off our bicycles. I noticed that the motorcycle rider was still following us. I yelled angrily at him to ensure he knew I noticed him. It feels sad to admit it, but I have become accustomed to incidents like this.
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Like most women, we become desensitized to harassment, though it still makes me feel horrible. From my early teenage years into adulthood, I experienced harassment almost on a daily basis. It takes on many forms: a stranger staring, someone cat-calling down the street, or disgusting remarks and behavior. As soon as I make it out the door, I feel hyper-aware of my surroundings, attempting to stay safe. What happened to me that day feels like a small thing compared to the reality of everyday life. It reminded me how little society actually cares about women’s safety and well-being.
After the man left and the harassment ended, a sense of gratitude filled me for having my boyfriend there. A situation like this feels much scarier alone. When I shared the video on Twitter, my tweet went viral, garnering 2.9 million views to date. People expressed support and sympathy, while others went out of their way to place the blame on me for my clothing and how I behaved. It feels so unfair. Men get to do anything they please, I thought, and it’s always up to women to make room for them.
Society asks me to forgive, teach, sympathize, dress more modestly, look the part, smile, and be nice. Questions began to arise in my mind: “Why does society fail to hold men accountable, and choose to victim-blame? Why do I have to adhere to them? Why does society not expect men to learn how to conduct themselves properly, but rather excuses their behavior? Why is my anger unjustified?”
As I read through the comments, a person in the MISMO Vibe group expressed concern about the responses which blamed me for the incident. A man hopped on the Twitter post and replied. He insisted these people were just expressing opinions and should be heard openly; he suggested we not silence these sexist, victim-blamers. He cared little about my point of view. As the victim in this circumstance, I felt unheard. I saw this man policing our reactions and I learned something valuable that day. Many men will always side with other men, regardless of the issue. They will sympathize with one another and make assumptions, accusing the woman of purposefully looking for it. I realized this applies not only to an experience like the one I endured, but to the life I live every day.
Whether a woman speaks out about incidents of abuse and assault, or she stays silent, strong feelings of empathy arise in me. I watch as, time and again, society turns its back on victims who speak out. It takes great courage for me to continue to shed light on this issue in the Philippines, especially as people blame me, or call me a liar and an attention-seeker. Some days, I feel terrified, but I carry on.
There are so many things women want to do safely without fearing for our lives. We want to be able to jog at night, walk someplace alone, lay out at the beach without an escort, or just hang with female friends in a public space. When we do, however, we face incidents like the one I endured. In the aftermath, people spend more time analyzing every word and movement of the victim – looking at every minute detail. Instead, they should hold men accountable.
So, today, I speak out. I call for society to teach men, from a young age, what consent means; to teach them accountability. I ask our culture to recognize how men’s behavior impacts those around them. Today, we are forced to teach girls from 10 years of age about the reaction they will get to their clothing, not to speak to strange men, and always smile and be polite. We won’t stand for it anymore. Today, women are fighting back.
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