Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Harassment shouldn't be brushed off

Sexual harrassment has become such a part of the scenery that we often fail to acknowledge it. Photo / Thinkstock
Sexual harrassment has become such a part of the scenery that we often fail to acknowledge it. Photo / Thinkstock

In mid-January I was striding along a road in rural Hawke's Bay on my 4.4km power walk, with a car museum to my right and a farmyard zoo to my left, when a pale van approached from behind and came to a complete stop in the middle of the road. "I'm going as far as Te Awanga if you'd like a lift," said the male driver.

I just laughed in his general direction without slowing my pace. When I started laughing my intention was to show him that I understood it was a joke but in hindsight I think I may have been enabling inappropriate behaviour. Then he said, "It would save your legs." And that's when my imagination went into overdrive and I began to wonder if it really had been an attempt at humour.

I've watched my share of Criminal Minds episodes showing cages full of missing women with straggly hair and dead eyes held captive by unprepossessing predators. And because the perpetrators inevitably operate out of vans, I made a mental note of this guy's number-plate as he drove off - presumably once he'd realised I wasn't about to hop in his vehicle.

Needless to say I mulled over this event as I completed my walk. If it was a joke then it was a poor one and only resulted in my feeling that wee bit less safe for the rest of my outing. And it got me thinking about all the episodes of sexual harassment that we just take in our stride, often silently and uncomplainingly, as the cost of being a woman.

Between Christmas and New Year less than 500 metres from my home in Auckland a young man - who looked like a schoolboy driving his mother's hatchback - yelled "nice tits" as he drove past, giving me a fright. His head was out the car window and he was really angry and aggressive, and I couldn't (and still can't) work out the source of his fury.

At someone's farewell drinks at the viaduct's Loaded Hog in the 1990s, a work colleague's initially casual arm around my shoulders became so prolonged and constricting that I had to struggle violently and shout to escape from his unyielding grip.

And one afternoon in 1982 a jean-clad stranger ran the length of a Palmerston North park especially so he could rush up and grab the schoolgirl me between the legs.

In the scheme of things my experiences of sexual harassment/assault could have been far worse and, anyway, I'm not dwelling on my experiences per se. Rather I'm affronted that this backdrop to our lives has become so ubiquitous, so much a part of the scenery, that we often fail to acknowledge it. Have some of us become socially programmed to brush it off, to not make a fuss? I know I don't really discuss these episodes.

I'm affronted that while as women we're supposed to get an education, get a job, get exercise, raise a family, keep a house, be a decent person and generally contribute to society we're simultaneously also compelled to navigate this kind of demeaning, careless and sometimes downright dangerous behaviour from men. And the more I think about it, the angrier I get.

- NZ Herald

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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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