I saw something a few days ago in the Gold Coast that made me incredibly thankful to be alive right now. I was at a mini golf and bowling bar – the perfect spot for a date night and for losing to my fiance and his superior mini golfing skills – when I saw this in the women’s toilets. No, it wasn’t a poster for 2-4-1 cocktails, it was this…
This is not the first time I have seen posters like these on my travels and back home in England I had heard rumours of similar things existing. Each place might ask you for a different code word, but the message is still the same – if you need help, we will listen.
This isn’t going to be a post about the ethics of this poster or the absurdity that something like this even has to exist in this day and age. I aren’t going to go on a rant about how terrible things must have happened for something like this to be created because clearly some men being unable to accept being told ‘no’ is an issue in our society.
Instead, like with everything, I am going to look at the positives because for all of the negativity associated with this poster there is 1000 times more positivity.
In a world where sexual assault survivors are still too afraid to speak out, where allegations of abuse only come to light years after the event has taken place and where people live their day to day lives in fear, posters like this are a clear message that someone is listening. Someone will help you.
Whether we like it or not, as women we are conditioned to feel vulnerable. From a young age I was overly aware of predatory attention. I grew breasts in primary school and looked older than my age because of them. Getting asked questions like ‘are they more than a handful?’ By groups of sniggering, immature older boys wasn’t unexpected. Wolf whistling and catcalling were not uncommon experiences. Walking to the bus stop from school, even whilst in a uniform and clearly underage, became a game of ‘count how many cars beep their horns at you’.
Then there are bigger moments that define your younger years, moments that when you reflect on them as an adult make your skin crawl. One time that really sticks out is the time my best friend and I went to a fancy dress party and made our own costumes. We were really interested in fashion so we used loads of bin bags and created quirky dresses… the boys at the party spent the night trying to rip them off of us. We were thirteen. I came home and spent the night sobbing into my pillow, both disgusted with the boys for doing that to us and with myself for wearing something so stupid that could be seen as an invitation for that to happen (years later, I look back at that costume and think what creative geniuses myself and my best friend were, but at the time it was hard to do anything other than blame myself for making an outfit out of material that would rip easily).
As I got older, the threat only seemed to get more sinister. My mum’s departing words before every night out were ‘stay together and stay safe’ and I can guarantee she never slept until I came home. If a friend got too drunk, I would not let them out of my sight. I became like a lioness protecting a cub, ready to fend off any unwanted attention from men, especially those in fitted white shirts with too many buttons undone, slick hair and toothy smiles. Nights out became a mission and the mission was to simply survive unscathed. I would never drink too much, always keep my wits about me, my phone safe and with my friends.
But that still didn’t keep me safe. I’ve had people walk up behind me and grab/pinch/slap my bum, pull me to dance with them when I have said no to their unwanted attention, push me and call me names when I have repeatedly said no to their offer of a drink. One time on a holiday I was walking with my friends and a rep for a nightclub picked me up without speaking to me and carried me into the club. ‘It’s just banter’ he laughed mockingly, but it wasn’t banter to me when I went outside and couldn’t find my friends through the sea of people. I’ll never forget the sweat trickling down my back as I raced around trying to find them, the panic that closed my throat up thinking of finding my way back to the hotel alone and the sweet sensation of relief when I was finally reunited with them. Even when you’re in your pack, you’re still vulnerable. People still take the opportunity to pounce.
And then there are the times when you can’t all stay together and have to go your separate ways to get home, the times where you really will be left alone to fend for yourself. You make sure you get a taxi in a well lit area with lots of people around. You make sure it’s a reputable taxi company. You make sure you take note of the registration. You get in and chat to the driver so they know you are alert and not too drunk. In all honesty, I cannot name a single time I have gone out where I didn’t say to my friends ‘tell me when you get home safely’ and proceeded to spend the entire taxi ride home texting them or calling them so we all know each other is safe.
Day to day things are still a minefield as well. I’ve had people harass me on a bus. An old man once said he wanted to ‘chase me through the moors’. When I worked at a supermarket as a teenager I had a customer pull me by the arm over my till because I wouldn’t give him my number. One time a customer stood at the end of my till and sang love songs at me, humiliating me until he was finally asked to leave. On all of those occasions, other people were there. They either ignored what was happening and left me to fend for myself, laughed because they found it funny or shrugged and said things like ‘well you did smile when he asked how much his shopping was’ or ‘well you have got makeup on’. Over and over again it became engrained in me that this was normal and that I was in some way to blame for it.
Even as I have got older and more confident, my career more serious and life more my own, these events have still occurred. It is unbelievable how many people upon finding out I am a teacher and make crass ‘punish me’ jokes. Strangers have come up to me and said ‘smile love’. Even the thought of walking around at night makes me uneasy, never mind walking around at night alone and I am twentyfive… I shouldn’t be afraid of the dark.
I could list and list and list examples of what has become a part of my daily routine that I shamefully have just learnt to accept and I still feel like I’d just be scratching the surface of my experiences with harrassment.
But I know we are in a time of conversation now. It’s a time of shouting back, of calling people out on their unwanted, uninvited advances. We are slowly but surely taking back ownership of our bodies, our sexuality, our safety. I know that collectively women are standing together and saying ‘no’ and the sound of our united voice is being heard. Together we are too loud to ignore. There is still a colossal mountain to climb, but heads are turning, ears are listening… change will come, I hope.
I know this poster does not fix anything. I know it is just a drop in one huge, raging ocean. The problem is much, much bigger than this poster could ever hope to shine a light on, I know, but seeing it gave me hope and this blog isn’t called The Good In Every Day for nothing. If more and more hints like this are cropping up in more and more places around the world, then surely that is a sign that things are getting better. Surely it means that there is an acknowledgement that there is an issue and a commitment to eradicating it. It’s not just you and your friends talking about harassment over a few cosmos now – it’s business owners, charities, politicians, men.
The more we talk, the more people will have to listen. The more we come together, the more power we have. Each step we make is a step we take together. This poster is a drop in the ocean but it’s a drop in an ocean with a tide that is moving in the right direction.
Who knows, one day an Angel Shot might just be a delicious drink on a menu that you and your friends can drink worry free.