The Power of NO

A friend of mine recently shared several incidents where a certain type of man has found it appropriate to cop a feel of her (peculiarly, always on some mode of public transport). At the time of conversation we were having a laugh about it because a) Smile through the pain and b) My friend punched every single man in the face who put his hands on her. Not all heroes wear capes, they say. 

I  began to recall moments where I’ve also been subjected to unwanted physical contact; how powerless I felt. At 16, I remember getting off a bus and this guy with trousers hanging below knees and a icky smile grabbed my bum as he hopped off the vehicle. I remember screaming “don’t touch me!” followed by the lame retort: “Well don’t wear a skirt that short then”. In those days, I thought very little about reacting to reactions and would easily tell someone to fuck off. Truth is, that guy was physically bigger and stronger than me and I was “lucky” things didn’t escalate. 

Words and illustrations by Chelsea Hipwood

Another friend found herself on the tube in broad daylight and a man sitting opposite (what is it with men being gross on public transport?) decided to have an explicit penis fondle! These types of men are sexual predators, desperate to exert control through sexual harassment. They carry delusions which permit them to do whatever they like, whenever they like, to whomever they like. It’s sickening.

My friend then witnessed a man rubbing himself onto a girl and mouthed “Is he trying to touch you?” The girl replied “I think so”, so she began to video him, making sure the harasser was called out and shamed.

Words and illustrations by Chelsea Hipwood

It’s deeply concerning that the victim of assault felt too scared to confront her attacker. Even on a packed train, she was frozen in fear (which of course is not her fault and a natural response). 

Maybe if self-defence classes were compulsory across schools and even working environments, women would feel more confident in defending themselves.  

Over the years, I’ve found myself in situations where relatives, friends and even coworkers have exhibited predator-like behaviour; from massaging my shoulders, to leering at my breasts and so on. Instead of plucking up the courage to say “You’re making me feel uncomfortable”, I’ve simply shrugged them away, or acted nonchalant. I’m so tired of “towing the line”, believing that I have to accept behaviour which makes me uncomfortable, to avoid making the other person feel uncomfortable. Why is that even a thing?

Words and illustrations by Chelsea Hipwood

My best friend doesn’t like hugging strangers and avoids the whole “London greeting” thing, where we stand up and kiss strangers on either side of their cheek. Whilst this is a notion I’m personally comfortable with; nobody should prioritise “political correctness” over what makes them feel comfortable. Perhaps if we encouraged authenticity, it would become second nature saying “no” to things we don’t like.

I live in London, which means that as a woman, I do in fact have rights, if someone gropes me on the train, I could have them done for sexual assault.

In other parts of the world, with too many countries to name, women undergo forced marriage, forced intercourse, FGM (female-genital mutilation); death-by-stoning and more. Basic rights such as learning to drive, roaming the streets independently or even applying for a passport is forbidden. When I think about it, I become insane (which of course doesn’t change the reality). 

If women in the UK haven’t yet mastered the power of no, where we have our freedom and our rights, how will we ever overcome the global issue of oppression? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging you to start displaying extreme behaviours by spitting into your palm to avoid shaking a persons hand, or getting the sledgehammer out to avoid a casual hug. What I am encouraging, is for you to decline those areas which make you feel uncomfortable.

And nobody should dictate to you what those areas are. 

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