By: Stefs Lima, Guest BloggerNovember 27, 2015
Image via stoptellingwomentosmile.tumblr.com
A couple weeks ago I was on my Twitter account looking for news when I saw something different. I clicked on the page that brought me to a number of tweets about a subject that many people still think is inappropriate and treat as taboo. When I realized what it was, I was surprised. The tweets were girls and women sharing about the first time they had been sexually harassed. It's not easy speak out loud, even online, about something that many women grew up believing to be their fault, but here it was, showing me how much it matters for us all to tell our stories.
A 12-year-old girl shared about competing on Master Chef Junior Brazil and being sexually harassed on social media with words and phrases that treated her as a grown woman not a child. One of the sad things about this case was seeing the people who wrote it, including grown men who thought that their actions were not in the same area as pedophilia behavior (it was). I read what felt like a evil mantras: "it's just a joke," "it's just a game and if you don't get it you're a pain in the ass," and "it was in the heat of the moment, guys, let it go."
It's not normal and it's not a joke. What I read were grotesque comments about a girl who could be my little sister. They were harassing a kid who could be their daughters. And she, and any other person--whether a teenager, a child, or a grown woman does not deserves to pass through this hell. What happened with this competitor made me think again of what kind of world we're living in and who are those people that we are sharing the same oxygen. It was visceral.
To take action, Think Olga, a female collective here in Brazil who empower women through information, created the #FirstHarassment campaign. Juliana de Faria, the spokesperson, invited women to share stories about the first time women encountered harassment. The results blew my mind because I saw, for the umpteenth time in my life, how a story can make a difference and encourage many others to share their own.
What I saw was a moment of freedom.
It is true that the trauma and the pain don't disappear when you say your biggest secret aloud, the secret that afflicted your life to the point of changing how you see yourself. However, saying what happened is a way of taking action.
And the #FirstHarassment campaign showed that what people had typed online about a kid wasn't part of a joke. It's real and happens. All-the-time!
Think Olga analyzed around three thousand stories sent by women on Twitter and more than 82 thousand confessions emerged online, yielding a scary statistic: at 9 years old, a Brazilian girl will already have encountered her first harassment. These are children. Now, imagine the results in other countries?
The #FirstHarassment campaign took off, calling attention to harassment world wide. That some in society think it does not happen regularly, makes it clear that it is still not something women and girls feel they can talk about. If they do, many believe, they won't find a romantic partner. Others believe girls lie or that she is actually the one to blame. These are beliefs that the patriarchy shoves down our throats. This is why think Olga's campaign is a game changer for women.
By silencing the victims, we silence the problem, and many women don't want to live that way anymore.
Not just about the first harassment (and other types of harassment and abuse) they have encountered, but about everything that affects women in many different ways. A girl does not deserve to live with fear. She must protect herself and by doing that she'll protect others. Once she speaks, she will inspire others to do the same. Her actions spiral so that she and others cannot be ignored.
Sexual harassment can happen under any roof: girls and women are not totally safe. This can happen to you to your daughter, your friend. Sexual harassment is just one topic that belongs to the sexual assault's cloud, which many people don't take seriously saying "it's just words" or "it's just a little touch." This is sexual assault too, like sexual intimidation and rape--it is anything that does not get your consent.
First Harassment's campaign is a reminder that stories are important. We live in a world where it is always more easier to blame the victim and avoid the larger core issues. A lot of people love silence, but many more are through being silent.
Your story, no matter how painful, can make an impact in the lives of others. Whether it's about the first time you encountered harassment or another challenge you experienced, talking about it encourages and empowers others to talk about it too. You matter, your story matters, and who you are matters. If this has happened to you or is still happening: report it and share it (only when you feel safe in your own skin). It's hard, but don't let them silence you. Love is louder, and you deserve safety and respect.
How can we change the culture that makes it ok to demean girls and women? What can we do to help girls feel safe to express themselves online and in public? Share your thoughts below!
Stefs Lima has her own world called Random Girl (www.hey-randomgirl.com.br). She is a journalist, lives in Brazil and spends a lot of time writing (A LOT). Secret desires: continue to inspire people and create more and more stories to share.
Every girl is a work in progress. If you need more help, click here.