Reclaiming our public sphere – Enough Harassment!

I recently arrived in Tunis to attend a training course. On the first day, we finished at 7 pm.  I went to my room to finish a paper but I couldn’t sit in front of the computer after such an intense day, so  I decided to go out and walk around for a bit.

I was having a nice walk in a main open road, enjoying the refreshing weather.   Then, a young man passed me and was a bit too close to me, so I moved quickly in a panic, and as he passed by I laughed at my paranoid action.  Why was I so jumpy I asked myself?!  Then I wondered if it had something to do with the last time I visited this beautiful city.

In June, I was here on a very short work trip.  After lunch, I had to go back to the office, located on the fourth floor of a downtown building.  As I stepped out of the elevator I began walking through the double doors, to reach the office.  Before I got to the door, a man happened to be there and asked me where something was, I told him I didn’t know.  Then I began walking away, but I felt a hand on my shoulder.  I turned around, and as I did that, he came very close to me, and started yelling at me to shut up, then he pushed me towards the wall, where he cornered me and tried to kiss me.

I panicked, froze, but managed to push him away, while thinking to myself, “maybe this is not the right floor, what if no one is here, who is going to hear me if he rapes me!!”  This made me panic even more.

I wanted to scream, I wanted to yell, but words wouldn’t come out.I don’t know how long this lasted, probably five minutes, but it felt like a lifetime.

Eventually, I managed to raise my voice, somehow pushing him away, and he left. Slowly, I walked towards the door,  and with a shaking hand opened it.

At the office, people noticed my shocked and pale face.  We wanted to file a police report, but figured it was pointless and I didn’t have much time there (in retrospect, I think I still should’ve).  Instead, we told the guard of the building, and asked him to keep an eye out.

Anyway, it seems that this incident was what caused me to panic as that man passed by me; so realizing that, I  smiled, because I was happy that this story didn’t prevent me from going out in a new city alone.

Moments later – only in a coincidence that only seems to happen in the movies- another man passed by in the sidewalk.  This time, I was sure nothing will happen, but from a bit far, I saw that the man was beginning to move closer to my side of the sidewalk; I told myself that I’m imagining, but he kept coming closer until he was close enough to say something, and touched my ass!

My heart started racing, and I sped off, without turning back until five minutes later when I found him standing far away.

I was so upset that I didn’t yell or slap him.
Why did I let him make me feel uncomfortable?
why did I let him own this public street?

Florence + the Machine’s song popped in my head:

“You hit me once, I hit you back
You gave a kick
I gave a slap”

but, that didn’t happen.  I didn’t hit, kick or slap.  I just walked away upset with myself. Logically, I know I shouldn’t be harsh on myself, and should only be upset with these men, but a part of me can’t help but be upset about my own reaction as well.

It infuriates me that these incidents happen too often.  We are told to ignore it, and we are encouraged not to talk or write about it, because if we do, then people will ask us what we did, or what we were wearing to merit such actions!

The truth is, sexual harassment happens everywhere, and can happen anywhere. These incidents occur in many countries throughout the world.  At this point, I don’t want to theorize or analyze these incidents, I just wrote this to let off steam, and to remind men that they don’t own the public sphere.  It’s time for us to reclaim it.

Enough is enough!!!

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