Sexual Harassment In China

Most of my Chinese friends told me I shouldn't dwell on what happened to me yesterday, I certainly shouldn't make a big deal out of it. The best would be if I just forgot all about it and moved on with my life. Talking about it wouldn't do me any good they said. Even my fish told me what happened was just a chance encounter and that it will not happen again. His confidence is mesmerising.


Well, tell you what. I have no intention of keeping quiet and I will most definitely not sweep the whole affair under the carpet and pretend that it didn't happen.


Yesterday on my way home from work, I got sexually harassed by a Chinese guy who afterwards seemed very proud of his actions. This happened at around 7.20 PM in the evening on a busy main road. I had just turned off Wu Luo Lu onto Ding Zi Qiao Lu in Wuhan's Wuchang district. I was walking rather slowly as I was checking some messages on my phone. In front of the Agricultural Bank of China someone close to me suddenly said "Hello Baby" and when I looked up a random guy blew me a kiss. I would say he was about 1.70m to 1.75m tall, short black hair and he was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. He was with a friend, an older guy. Since the guy was too close for comfort I side-stepped him and ignored him.

Most Chinese are fairly friendly around here. Wuhan is a big city, there aren't plenty of foreigners around but we are not that uncommon. Most people just get on with their lives and don't act weirdly. Some small kids like to run up to me and shout "hello", which actually makes me smile and some of the people on the road greet me and wave. Usually, if I am not too tired from work, I will smile back.

This particular guy did not seem to take well to being ignored so he tried to give me a hug which I thankfully managed to side-step only to find that he chanced the opportunity (let me be blunt here) to squeeze my arse.

This has never happened to me before. Not even my fish will squeeze my arse or slap my bum. He actually respects me and he wouldn't even do that as a joke. Neither would I, although I do like to poke him between the ribs which is mostly useless because he's not ticklish. Then again, this fish is my boyfriend and poking him between the ribs to make him laugh because he had a bad day is not sexual harassment.

Needless to say, this incident has violated my personal space and I feel considerably shaken up. It wasn't even late at night, there were plenty of people about and this pervert's nasty grin, after what he clearly considered to be a heroic act, left me feeling even more uncomfortable. I managed to keep my head held up high on my way home but once I got in the door and locked it behind me, I simply cracked up. When I called my fish, he did not understand a single thing of what I was trying to convey between my heaving sobs and had to resort to a reading a text message, I had send him minutes earlier, to find out what had happened. Unfortunately he did not really understand seriousness of the issue for he simply told me that it was a chance encounter and that it won't happen again. Once he had made sure that I was safe at home the issue was pretty much history for him. I'm sure he was just trying to make me feel better but that wasn't the right way to go about it.

Sexual harassment is an everyday thing, not only in China but in every country all over the world. Open any newspaper or log on to any news website, the headlines are full with news about assaults on women. Apparently though, we women should just keep quiet about it. It is expected that we move on with our lives instead of causing a fuss. Maybe this guy only grabbed my arse. Maybe some other guy only deliberately squeezed a woman's breasts while exiting the crowded subway. Maybe yet another guy only took a sneaky picture of a woman's underwear because she decided to wear a skirt to work. And maybe yet another guy only shouted some obscenities while driving by. None of us where dragged off to a dark corner, drugged, beated and raped by one or more men. 

Still, no matter what happens we're supposed to be dignified and move on with our lives and by all means, don't cause a fuss. Don't disturb public order because apparently it's okay for some men to behave like pigs and get away with it to. It seems most police departments consider minor harassments too much of a hassle. It's too much paperwork so they find a way of sweeping these incidents under the carpet. Prosecutors are too busy catching the big fish so they don't have the time to follow up on these little incidents. These little fish mostly go unpunished and as such some men seem to think it's okay to continue acting like they own the world they walk on and every woman they meet along the way. Granted, there are many men who do not think and act like this but those who do make it even harder for a woman to trust a man.

Let me tell you something, this is not okay. This is not alright and we women will not and should not keep quiet about it. I deserve a voice and you should god-damn well listen to what I have to say. Sexual harassment, no matter how minor the incident, is never okay. It was not my fault. I did not wear any revealing clothes nor did I invite this bloke into my personal space. He just took the liberty to violate me and this is not acceptable.

Even if I did wear sexy clothes, this is still my prerogative and not an invitation for perverts to come and harass me. It is summer here in Wuhan, temperatures are currently above 30 degrees during the day and above 20 during the night. Naturally women opt for summer dresses, hot pants, tank tops and other light garments but I have yet to come across a Chinese woman who dresses like a slut, waiting for a man to come and pay her by the hour. I wouldn't dream of dressing like that. In fact last night I was wearing long black trousers, a see-through white top with three quarter sleeves with a light pink top with short sleeves above it. I like to cover my upper arms so that that's why I was wearing the see-through top underneath the pink top. Also, pink top it did not have a low cut to show off my cleavage. I am a teacher, I like to dress professionally. I respect my students and I want them to respect me too. I might dress a little sexier when I go out with my fish but I'm always conscious of how I look like. Especially here in China, where I stick out like a beacon. 

I don't even know why I am justifying myself. It shouldn't matter what I was wearing. What matters is that a pervert invaded my personal space and grabbed my arse when I ignored him.

I would not dream about doing this to a man. Why do some men think it's okay to act like this? This bloke, who harassed me, wasn't even drunk. He clearly just wanted to be a daredevil. But let me tell you, if he already went this far with me, how far will he go with the next woman who side-steps him and ignores him? Maybe he won't meet this woman on a busy main road but a quiet alley. Will he take advantage of the opportunity, scorned by the fact that she ignored him because she wants to go home to her family, boyfriend, child, husband?

I always told myself that if one day I should be unlucky enough to be subjected to this kind of harassment I will just whirl around like a superwoman and slap my attacker across the face hard enough to make him see stars. But in reality I was too shocked to even move. I just managed to give this pervert a dirty look, then the realisation of what had just happened dawned on me and I just wanted to get away, far away. I wanted to call a my fish but I couldn't dial his number until after I got home. I would have cracked up and cried like a baby in the middle of the street. The last I wanted was to attract a huge crowd, I just wanted to get away. I wanted to go somewhere where I would be able to feel safe again. Never before felt closing and locking the door to my apartment this good.

Tonight I finish work at 9 PM. I am not looking forward to walking home alone. This past month I never once considered the late hour when walking home in the evening after work. There are a ton of people out on the street, vendors, kids, shop owners, people leaving restaurants, people sitting in front of their shops and talking to the neighbours... It's not a quiet place. People are around.

But I'm afraid. I'm scared. I would feel safer in the company of a friend or my fish. I don't want to face another pervert, I don't want to let another man make me feel the way this piece of human scum did. There are a million names I want to call this pervert but I'm holding back in favour of actually writing something useful.

I have two important things I would like to share with everyone:

First of all, to all the women out there, sexual harassment of any kind is not okay and you should not keep quiet about it and move on. Write about it, publish this stuff on your Facebook, Twitter, Weibo or whatever other social network you are using. Making people aware of what happened to you. Do anything but keep quiet and sweep the incident under the carpet. No man has the right to violate you in this way (or any other way) and if we must endure letting this "petty" crimes go unpunished because the police and the prosecutors consider it too troublesome then we should at least kick up a stink to show everyone what we're made of. Let's show the world that no-one is allowed to touch is without our consent.

Secondly, to all the men out there, keep your hands where I can see them and keep everything else in your pants. If a woman wants you in her personal space she will let you know. If she doesn't she will also let you know and you should respect that. No does not mean yes and it is also not an invitation for you to keep trying. Do not push the boundaries, one day you will find yourself on the wrong side of the law. If that's where you want to be, I already pity you, but what I pity even more is that you do not have the willpower to restrain yourself. You are not the stronger sex, you do not own a woman and you are not entitled to boss us around and make us feel like a second class citizen. In fact, if you believe that you can go around and grope women or shout obscenities at them then all I want to do is punch you in the face until I hear the bones in your nose crack.

That said, I take my virtual hat off to all the men out there who are gentlemen and respect and honour women just how they should.


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Update 16th of September, 22:57PM: My students were shocked to find out about what happened and three of them offered to walk me home. One of them, a sweet boy preparing to study abroad, walked me all the way to my front door. I must have said thanks about a thousand times, I'm truly grateful to my lovely students for caring this much about their teacher!

Comments

  1. I'm sorry to hear what happened to you. And kudos to writing about it. How long do you have to walk home? Have you thought of taking a cab in the evenings?

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    1. Thanks you! It takes me about 20 minutes to walk home, there's a bus but taking it would take me even longer so I walk. I enjoy it. After a day of teaching it's kind of relaxing. I could take a cab but they are tough to get, still it is worth a thought though this might end up being quite costly since I work the late shift for four out of my five working days. Today a student walked me to my front door though.

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  2. Oh lady! I'm so sorry this happened to you. Especially if it's the first time.

    The shock and surreal feeling of the situation and I'm sure being in a foreign country doesn't help! I cannot go so far as to confirm your boyfriend's opinion (that it won't happen again). What I mean by that is the fascination with you being a white woman in China. I can only explain it like this: many Chinese men are unsure how to behave around foreign women. So often times they just act odd, in almost a dissonant fashion. Once I was in a dance club with an Italian blond friend of mine and these Chinese guys kept trying to talk to her and how they did so was to poke her arm and throw a peanut at her to get her attention. Yeah, that's not sexy or cool, just asinine. And basically harassment. I noticed the same weirdness in India. Men are often together in groups at night in China and I want to assure you that 9 out of 10 times, they might stare at you and say "hello", but there is the odd weirdo who doesn't know how to function. Remember that Chinese girls and boys are quite immature compared to their western counterparts, so I think that also has a factor.

    I know this sounds like I'm excusing his behavior, I am absolutely not doing that! I'm only trying to give you context so you don't feel so afraid to live your life. Live your life, lady. You're stronger than you think! And god forbid if there is a next time, you might feel more sure of what to do. (I recommend learning a bunch of swear words in Chinese). It honestly could have been that he thought you are pretty and thought this is the way to talk to you OR he's basically an asshole. Either way, he comes out being an asshole no matter what.

    As for this issue that constantly comes up amongst other cultures, I'm a firm believer in saying something, standing up for yourself and not keeping quiet just because of cultural sensitivity. Maybe another woman might ignore it or whatever, but the fact is it made you very upset and it's okay to acknowledge that!

    Nothing is petty if it makes anyone feel uncomfortable even for those few minutes. Breathe deeply! Other women know what you mean and support your voice!

    Hugs!

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    1. Thanks Jeannie! I can totally understand where you are coming from and I know that you aren't trying to excuse his behaviour or anything. It is good to talk about the context since China's culture is so very different compared to what we're used to. I find that most Chinese guys do seem fascinated by the fact that I'm a white woman in China and that I appear confident and maybe bolt. They are possibly genuinely interested in just striking up a short conversation, saying hello or getting me to acknowledge them with a smile. I can totally understand that, but some nutcases have a couple of loose screws floating around their head and it makes them act like absolute imbeciles. This pervert falls into that category. I've come across plenty of lovely people here in China. They are just curious, a little shy maybe, and like you said generally speaking more immature compared to their Western counterparts, especially the younger generation, but they really have to learn the boundaries. I will however take your advice and expand my knowledge of Chinese swearwords. I know quite a few but I'm afraid I don't know enough... :-)

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  3. It's terrifying to have your body violated like that, and don't let ANYONE tell you that it wasn't a big deal. Someone put their hands on your body without your permission, and that's never OK. I'm so sorry you experienced that. And please don't be harsh with yourself about your lack of immediate reaction to him--I had something similar happen, and I know exactly how easy it is to second-guess yourself and be angry with yourself because you didn't make a scene at the time. But you did something even more important than calling attention to what he'd done--you got yourself away from him and safely locked in your apartment. Nothing is more important than your safety, and you made sure you took care of yourself and put as much space between you and him as possible. That is a logical, respectable reaction, and don't let your inner superwoman tell you differently.

    You might not have punched him in the gut (I didn't, either...when my incident happened, I did exactly what you did!), but you're doing something very important now. You're sharing your story so other women know that these things happen and that we should NOT be quiet about it, and also so men know that this behavior is not acceptable. Keep shouting it from the mountaintops, babe, it's an important message and you ARE a superwoman for telling your story. *HUGS*

    If you need to talk, rant, cry...I'm here for you. You have my email and we can always Skype. <3 Bru

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    1. Thanks Bru, you're definitely right. We need to talk about it and I'm so glad that I have this blog. It's my personal space, my mountaintop. Here I can shout about anything I want and I do have attentive listeners. I'm sorry to hear something like this happened to you. In hindsight it really was just a small thing but nevertheless it was a massive step over the line and we should never excuse this kind of behaviour. The papers and the internet is practically overflowing with news like this and we need to stand together and make ourselves heard. Here in China girls are quite conservative and while I do believe that some of them will talk to their girlfriends or maybe even boyfriends, most will just keep these kind of things to themselves without ever talking about it. They are taught that they should not complain and if they do they are (in some occasions) told to just toughen up or dress less sexy. Stuff like this just angers me beyond belief. Feminism isn't really my cup of tea but touch me or my girlfriends in the wrong place and you're fit for the meat-grinder!

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  4. You speak the TRUTH! It's amazing how many people will tell us to just "let it go" even friends, family and other women. You are absolutely right in that we should not let it go. Have you heard about Hollaback? It promotes exactly the kind of speaking up you're talking about: http://www.ihollaback.org/ It's quite therapeutic.

    Last time I was harassed on the street I wrote about it (like you said, probably much healthier than cursing the guy out, though I always wish I did it afterwards.) It's so often said it's a cultural phenomena, but I believe women of every nationality deserve to walk down the street freely. http://www.seeknewtravel.com/street-harassment-is-it-ever-ok/

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    1. I haven't heard about Hollaback but I will check it out and see what it's all about. My mum is under the impression cursing somebody isn't the wisest choice but sometimes it's strangely liberating to just tell the bloke what you think of him, although most of the time we only seem to find our tongue when it's already too late. I'm so proud that you too wrote about what happened and refused to sweep it under the carpet.

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