I was walking to the locker room at the office when I met her. Without any prior warning she touched my body part and chuckled.
“It’s bigger now,” she said.
I pushed her hand away from my body and said indignantly, “Don’t touch me!”
She giggled, showing no remorse, while another female co-worker defended her.
“No, it’s not,” her friend said.
To be clear, I am open and mostly feel comfortable with haptic communication. But last week was different because my colleague came up with a phrase that shifted the whole context of her touch, making it rude and demeaning.
I’ve read, heard, and been concerned about women being harassed, and I condemned those assaults. Having experienced it myself now made me feel as if I was disconnected with my body. I felt that my autonomy had been violated, disowned, and dethroned by any definition. Gone was the sanctity, substituted by the undeniable abhorrence towards my own torso. This body is always with me since forever, but in seconds it no longer became mine anymore. It was an object.
I was about to lecture them about their imbalanced understanding of feminism. But since I had to start working, I said: “That was not feminism. You have to think again.”
Irate, I confided in another colleague, a woman who was once harassed by a male coworker. I had hoped that as an ally in this experience, she would say something to soothe me, the way I was to her when she had just been harassed. But she only smiled and it made me feel insignificant.
I shared about this experience on Facebook, seeking support from friends. But friends on my timeline were not as supportive as I had expected. Some close friends – who I believe are familiar with feminism and consent – even made fun of me in their comments. It was then I realized that the patriarchal society does not recognize male victim. It is nearly impossible to have people take my experience of being harassed seriously.
This made me feel even worse. Luckily some friends supported me and told me they were sorry to hear about my experience. Gradually I felt better, though I had decided to give those two colleagues the cold shoulder for a few weeks.
Apparently this is a global phenomenon. On Reddit last year, a male victim of sexual harassment by a woman shared his ordeal and started a poll. Hundreds of men responded in just 22 hours, claiming the same experience happened to them in bars, clubs, even at the workplace. Their harassment range from sexual comments to sexual touch.
These stories are also well-reflected and confirmed in videos of social experiment on YouTube. One experiment conducted by @JoeySalads in a shopping center showed that people readily jumped in to protect a woman named Lexi when he was touched by Joey. But when they reversed the role, no one even notice or dared to come to his help.
Is this the gender equality championed by feminism? Of course not.
I believe that feminism is a great equalizer to everyone. This means putting equal spotlight on harassment of all victims equally, regardless of their sex, gender, and identity. Body is body. When it comes to harassment, no one has the privilege of doing it.
Rio Tuasikal is a journalist based in Jakarta. He covers mostly everything, but writes passionately on gender and human rights. You may found him at the nearest convenient stores writing, sipping coffee, daydreaming, or all combined. Otherwise just poke him via Twitter @riotuasikal or swing by to blog riotuasikal.com.
Got an opinion on this issue? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.