Ok. This is a post that isn’t like the others. I try to keep this blog as a diary for myself, to remember all the experiences I have had. It started out when I thought I would only do this for three months until I was back on skates, and it has continued as more of a way to remind myself of what I have done. Because my memory is so bloody shit.
But due to some recent events, I feel this post is worth going off-road for.
I have had a couple of… situations… happen where I felt out of control. I was let down by people, I was let down by myself, and I felt shame and embarrassment and so didn’t talk to people about it. I am even struggling right now to just label the “situations” for what they were.
The reason for that is how people perceive these issues. And interestingly, how you’re perceived after them. But you know what, I’m gonna blog about it anyway. So here goes.
Since taking up refereeing I have been sexually harassed a few times and sexually assaulted once. By male officials. There have been some low-level “this guy doesn’t experience women very often and doesn’t realise how creepy he is being” situations. Like the time a ref thought it would be funny to come into the showers when I was in them, knowing I was the only female in the changing rooms (and after I had told them I was about to go shower… so they would keep out of it for five minutes). Or the time I told a story about a skater who accidentally smacked my boobs when I kit-checked her (hilarious), and a ref said how he would love to do that to me (WTF?). Come on guys… that shit’s just weird. Homework: Experience humans more and stop being odd around them.
But then other times I have been dictionary-definition-sexually-harassed and assaulted. I have felt unsafe. I have been followed, I have had people try to kiss me, people actually kiss me when I have been pushing them away, I have had people trying to hold my hand, calling me names, telling me that “I don’t really mean ‘no'”, and have had people touch parts of me that were so off limits I don’t even want to type about it.
The reason I have decided to write a blog post about this is not actually because of those deplorable actions. I’m sure everyone can understand how getting a person on their own and being forceful with them against their will isn’t cool. (If you’re not sure about that, I’m not sure I can help you). But the reason I am writing this is as a guide for friends, fellow refs, and anyone who sees this happening.
I won’t lie, some of the reactions of my friends to the above things hurt me more than the actual things themselves. I’d like to think my friends are on the whole, good people. I also understand how bloody hard it is to do the right thing when no one explains it to you.
I should point out that I’m not a victim. I stand up for what I believe in and I’m a fighter. I don’t need rescuing. But I do need, like everyone in this situation, some support.
I recently posted on my FB about a guy who harassed me in my local Tesco: https://www.facebook.com/karenvonsleaze/posts/10152462828476640?pnref=story
My friends gave me so much support. Some acted annoyed that I didn’t instantly go to the police. Some said they thought I was brave for standing up to people like this. I had over 200 comments and about 20 people privately messaged me. Two of them hit the nail on the head: They both said it’s not my job to do anything about this. I should speak to the police if I felt it was right for me. I had been attacked and I should put my own safety first. PERFECT responses. (I went to the police, for me, not for anyone else).
Two of my buddies even posted statuses about it. There were a lot of men saying they wished they knew how to help. I get it. It’s tough being an ally. But there are things you can do.
And we do need you to help out. It’s easy to get a rep as a female who causes problems. So many of us will just keep our mouths shut. We will get changed in tiny toilet cubicles to avoid awkward situations. We won’t shower after events. We will start every sentence with I HAVE A BOYFRIEND.
Some of my buddies say I get offended at everything, or they lose interest at the words “sexual harassment”, or imply that it’s odd that I seem to get harassed an awful lot… and maybe that’s something I need to look into. That’s classic victim blaming. It’s easy to do, but it’s hugely damaging. It allows those situations to carry on, you’re taking the blame off the person being a douche and saying they weren’t the only one to do it, so the victim needs to change.
It’s basically saying that it’s my fault. That somehow I court this kind of attention. And because of that, maybe I deserve to be assaulted?
Not that it matters, but these things happen at roller derby events. Events where I wear a sports bra, a mens ref shirt, running tights and very little make up. I smell horrendous most of the time… oh and it’s roller derby: The most female-empowering liberated sport I have ever experienced, where I should be safe from the dreaded male gaze.
When you victim-blame your friends for this abuse, you’re saying you don’t care about them. You’re saying it’s their problem and you don’t care for their safety. They will hear that and stop asking for help. They will lose their own value and believe that they’re bringing it on themselves and this is what they deserve. Don’t do that to your friends.
That response is your fear coming out. A fear of hearing about bad things happening that you don’t want to admit happen. But your mate had it happen to them, so allow yourself to feel uncomfortable for a little time to hear and offer them some comfort – because they can’t just ignore that it happened and carry on.
However, like I said up top, you need to look after yourself too. If you hear things and they upset you, go seek out some help. Counsellors can help you make sense of things and develop a better understanding. I would say talk to a friend, but it has been pointed out to me that this has the potential to build into gossip. So practice some damage-control, if you need to talk about your experiences, talk. But if it’s someone else’s experiences – make sure you do it with a trusted individual or a professional who can provide a safe and anonymous environment for you to be open without causing any further problems.
So… allies, friends, and people I don’t know.. here are my Top Three Tips to standing up to sexual harassment… (these are MY tips, not a conclusive list, more a springboard for you to jump off of. It’s written about me, but assume you can replace me with anyone. Anyone. Regardless of gender. Got it? Good!)
Step one: ASK
I do not expect you to know what it is in my head. You may see a guy giving me a lot of attention, standing near me a lot and giving you filthy looks for talking to me. I may not have even noticed him doing this. I may have noticed it and be OK with it. Or, I may have noticed it and be freaking out. You’re my buddy, right? Ask me about it.
Some men think you should roll in there and defend my honour, make a scene and call this jerk out on his behaviour. But I think I would cringe myself into a coma if you did this.
So just ask. Come to me, get me away from the person and ask if I’m aware of what seems to be happening in your eyes. Am I cool with it? Have you got it wrong? If not, how can you help me? Worst case scenario, that bloke is my fella and you got yourself a little bit of embarrassment on your face *licks thumbs, wipes it off your face*. Please accept this… You would rather giggle with me about this later than have me crying on you because that guy got weirder. Right?
I may want you to white knight the fuck out of it. I may be like HELP ME DECK HIM (you can hold him down, I will do the punching). Or, more than likely, I will say “Yeah, can you shield me from him, he’s being super odd”.
Step two: Don’t blame me for it
Regardless as to whether I was laughing at jokes. I have rad hair (I do, it’s not a crime) or heaven forbid I had a shower in the changing rooms when I was the only female in a crew and had no other choices. It’s not my fault if someone forgets how-to-human and decides that they have the right to do whatever they want to me. It’s called entitlement and it is 100% their issue and not mine.
I have been called a “tease” by a buddy for talking to men. The scenario: I was the only female in a ref crew (again). I didn’t know the other referees so I got to know them as I was going to be with them for more than one game. I spoke to them, told jokes, told stories and shared ref tips. This apparently makes it open season and my fault for the harassment from one official in that group that followed. That is Grade A bullshit. I didn’t tell people about what happened that time because of that being said to me. I believed I had done something wrong. I had not. If you missed it earlier, see: Victim blaming.
Step three: Be the change you want to see
Women are overwhelmingly outnumbered in refereeing. We can fight for our rights and we do. But join us. Make it that bit easier.
This one time I wasn’t the only female in a crew, but I was the most outspoken. When a junior female referee was expected to use the same tiny changing room as us and the burly blokes on the crew, who made cracks about how hot she was and watched her get undressed. I said something. I didn’t say it loud enough and I didn’t say it long enough. But I took her aside and I found another area for her to change in. I felt intimidated by the situation, I can’t imagine how she felt. Men do not like me pointing out their perverse ways. Help me by doing it for me. You know it’s wrong, so say something. Don’t leave it to the women to say the situation is oppressive for them.
So those are my tips. From someone who has felt it, and wants your support, to someone who can give it. I’m not blaming anyone here. Men, I’m not saying you all do this. Women, we could show a sister some more support. People who don’t fit the gender binary, you can help out too. I know people from all walks off life get harassed – but I am sharing my experiences and saying how I could have had a bit more help from people who were there, and have since said they wished they knew how.
I also don’t expect this to change everything overnight. I just hope it makes it easier for people to be more considerate without worrying that they’re being sexist by standing up for a woman.
In the words of Emma Watson in that epic speech: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
I know that was a bit HEAVY, so here, have a funny:
Acknowledgements: Wiki, equalityhumanrights.com, YouTube, everydayfeminism.com.