One sunny afternoon in mid-2019, I was walking home from the physiotherapy clinic when I heard a voice shout out from a car, “heyyyyyyy sexy!”
I stopped in my tracks, shocked and confused.
It’s not that I have never experienced such catcalling before. After all, I did spend a year of my life in the objectification capital of Australia! I’m really quite the veteran at brushing off such obnoxious commentary. No, I was shocked because it was the first time I had ever been subject to drive-by harassment in Canada, and I had been there an entire year!
I turned towards the source and discovered that the commenter was not some random jerk. It was, in fact, my cheeky then-boyfriend who was giving me a sheepish grin as he drove past me on the way towards some errand. I laughed and relaxed and continued on my way, my faith in the decency of the menfolk of Victoria BC restored.
This episode of expert trolling by my beloved did prompt me to reflect how strange-but-good it had been to be living in a place where it felt perpetually unthreatening to walk around the city. It was like becoming aware of the weight of a burden you no longer carried. I could feel the sense of lightness.
Some months later I was carrying on with my peacefully harassment-free Canadian life when I saw a comedy show at the Victoria Fringe Festival by Australian comedian Jon Bennett (check him out if you ever get the chance). It was an amazing show, equal parts hilarious and confronting, about toxic masculinity in the land down under. I enjoyed the bafflingly-incomprehensible-to-Canadians description of the sport of AFL but I did NOT enjoy the reminder of just how ingrained the culture of sexism, sexual harassment and misogyny are in my homeland.
And THIS was a major hesitation I had in coming home. Of all the pros and cons of staying vs leaving, one of my persistent genuine misgivings was that Australian macho culture is so utterly revolting that I wasn’t sure if I could tolerate it any more. I hoped that maybe attitudes had started to change or that I might have aged out of the target demographic for these loathsome men. I reasoned that the many benefits of returning home would be worth the risks of cultural disgust.
I was ultimately in Canada for more than three years and in that entire time, the number of times I was harassed on the street was precisely zero. Zilch. Nada. Not once.
I have been back in Perth for all of THREE WEEKS and have already had my first episode of harassment. That old heaviness is back on my shoulders.
So, you disgusting drunken lout who crossed my path today, what was it that made you think you should tell me to dress up as a policewoman and fuck you in uniform? What gave you the right to tell me I’m looking sexy and in need of your cock? Did I provoke you in my knee-length dress, flat sandals and long sleeve jacket? Did I invite you with my complete lack of eye contact and non-acknowledgement of your existence? Was it the fact that I was scandalously walking home from a friend’s baby shower in the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight?
Or was it just that I was a woman walking down the street minding my own business, and you, a mediocre cis-het white Australian man believed it was your God-given right to intimidate and disempower me for your own entertainment?
Well mate, you and your bystander buddy can just fuck right off because this behaviour is NOT COOL. It’s not cute, or funny or charming and all of your declarations of “sorry! I was just joking” do not diminish your dishonourable intention.
I don’t pretend to understand the anthropological-socio-cultural factors that lead to more harassment and general jerkiness in some populations more than others. Although, obviously an ingrained drinking culture doesn’t help. And yes I KNOW it’s “not all men”. But what I do know from my own lived experience and that of 100% of my female friends that this is not an isolated incident, and this is a widespread problem. We should not have to put up with this shit.
Blokes of Australia, put down the beer can and pull your bloody socks up.
**photo credit: Nenad Stojkovic https://www.flickr.com/photos/nenadstojkovic/50277593413/