“Just ignore it!” by Fatima Zahra El Hafa, Morocco

No matter the situation, I always prefer to confront the problem rather than just ignoring it. An accident I had last year was no exception.

I was on my way home after a long and tiresome day at school. It was evening time and the street was busy with people rushing back home to rest. I was walking and chatting with three of my classmates. We were laughing and joking about our plans to spend the upcoming holidays sulking around. That’s when I noticed a man following us on his bike.

In the beginning, I brushed it off and thought that I was just paranoid due to all the tiredness and stress. “He’s just taking his time and enjoying the ride,” I thought to myself. Suddenly, he approached us and started saying things like “I like the one wearing blue the best” and “Can you share the joke?” I, of course, could not take it. I stopped and glared at him, but he just kept going with his unwanted flirting. One of the girls whispered at me: “Don’t look at him, just ignore him and he’ll eventually grow tired of it and go,” and all of the other girls nodded in approval.

Now, I am not a believer in the “If you ignore the elephant in the room, it will eventually vanish” theory. So I stopped and snarled at Mr. Harasser to “get lost” because we obviously weren’t interested in his flirting.

At first, he was taken aback by my response. Because, how dare I, a mere “girl”, respond to almighty Mr. Harasser? His ego obviously couldn’t take it. He sneered at me, “I wasn’t speaking to you.” I gave him a fierce glare and turned to my companions as a sign for them to speak and back me up. But, they all stared at me pleadingly asking me to just let it go and one of them even attempted to drag me by the hand as a sign for me to keep walking. I turned to the harasser and yelled at him: “If you do not go this instant, I will scream at the top of my lungs. Or you can just keep following us so we could all go to the police station”.

Maybe it was because the said station was nearby or maybe it was the busy street we were in. Either way, my words seemed to have the desired effect, because Mr. Harasser went on his way, all while throwing death stares at me.

As soon as he left, my companions all started throwing the “You should’ve just ignored him” statements at me, asking whether I wasn’t “scared he would do something aggressive” and the best one was, “What if people saw you arguing with him? They would blame you because you are just a girl. He’s a man you know!”

I was not surprised by these statements. In fact, I expected them, because they are all part of the “How to treat you harasser” steps most girls in my society are raised and advised to follow. However, none of those steps refers to confrontation.

Men harass and assault women, yet our society always finds a way to blame it on the woman: it is either her being in the wrong place or her wearing the wrong thing. This victim blaming culture is what makes it difficult to rid our society of the misogynists and it helps fuel the patriarchy. It is what makes a woman brace herself for the offensive words and ogling — if not worse — before she leaves her home.

If we want to change this situation, we first have to recognize that sexual harassment is not an issue to disregard as “less important”, for it has a much greater impact than people tend to give it credit.

In any sexual harassment situation, the harasser’s advances on the victim are a clear use of his power and control over the victim. Throughout history, sexual harassment and assault have been employed to put women in their place, assigned to them by a patriarchal misogynistic society, and to stop them from being active members in their respective communities. It emphasises that as a woman, you deserve to be dehumanized and objectified. Simply put: as a women, your place is at home.

In my case, what my companions didn’t know is that every time I confront a harasser, I feel scared. I am human too, and I fear for my safety. In every similar situation, I ask myself, “What if he attacks me or starts stalking me? What if he is a dangerous man?” I ask myself all of these questions and I imagine all of the possible, scary, worst-case scenarios. But I also feel disrespected whenever I am harassed. I think to myself, “Why does he think he has the right to downgrade me and make me feel humiliated? Is there any alternative to confrontation?”

I don’t know the exact answers to most of those questions. But what I am sure of is that I don’t have to keep my mouth shut. I don’t have to bear the attitude of Mr. Harasser and his likes. I don’t have to “just ignore it”, because I don’t deserve to be harassed by a complete stranger, or anyone for that matter.

You don’t deserve to be harassed.

No one deserves to be harassed, anywhere, anytime, and for any reason.

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