So March has almost left us now, and it wouldn’t be right for me to start this blog without saying a massive CONGRATULATIONS TO JETHRO!!! And of course to all of the other successful candidates. My commiserations go to those candidates who were unsuccessful, but know that the experiences and skills you have gained as candidates will stay with you and aid you in whatever careers you choose to pursue.
As the title of this blog suggests, I will begin with the usual rendition of some of the important things I have been up to as VPW. However the final bit is kind of an opportunity for me to get up on my soap box and explain an encounter I had in Cannon Hill Park this Easter weekend.
So what have I been up to this month? WELL…
First of all I gained a commitment from the University that the Extenuating Circumstances and Fit to Sit procedures WILL be reviewed after Easter, in time for next year’s exam period (yipee!!! Main manifesto point finally on the road to completion!!) This agreement was at the UEB-SOG (University Executive Board – Sabbatical Officer Group) meeting – the first of it’s kind!! Which is incredible in itself, let alone the agreements we made.
I’ve also been working on Gender Neutral toilets in the Guild! They will be trialled next term on the second floor (the same level as the sabb corridor) between marketing and the hairdressers – right outside the balcony to Deb Hall. I understand that there are issues about the location, it’s isolated and a bit of a pain to get to. But this is a huge step forward for the Guild, for 10 years we have been talking about Gender Neutral toilets and finally we have the opportunity to trial them. The toilets also address some of the concerns people had about case stories from other universities where sexual assaults have taken place in their gender neutral toilets during their club nights as these toilets are in a part of the building which is not accessible during FAB. I have spoken to the LGBTQ association and they were very happy with this proposal and I will leave a comments box in the toilets all term so that anyone who uses the toilets can tell us what they think of them.
I have also been working on a revamped NIGHTBUS! Wooo Wooooooo!!!! As the clubbing scene in town is not doing too well at the moment and FAB is booming as ever I have decided that the nightbus will be best used for Guild nights to get people home safely in Selly Oak and the halls. It is still a free service, which has been a much debated subject because (and this is a fair point) if one is paying for a night out why shouldn’t you pay to get yourself home. But for the moment I think that the nightbus taking people home safely from FAB and Sports Night (or Sports and Nutrition night) should be a free service. I think we should also be working with the local police to ensure that they know times the nightbus goes and places it drops too (for example if it has to start making stops like a bus stop rather than taking people to their houses – for capacity reasons) so that we are not just dropping people in groups with no protection. But that may be a matter for Guild Council and the future VPW to sort through as I suspect it may be after my time now.
So that’s the important parts of what I’ve being doing as VPW. Now I would like to tell you what happened to me on Easter Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday, that is).
A trigger warning here is that this will discuss sexual assault so please don’t read on if you think it will upset or offend you.
So I was helping out a friend by dog-sitting for the afternoon and thought I’d wear little Charlie (the dog) out by taking him for a long walk around Cannon Hill park.
We had got to the park and were half way round our first little wander round the lake when three young men, I’d say late teens, potentially early twenties at a push, jumped out of some bushes on the outer side of the path. They startled me a bit but I barely acknowledged them and continued walking Charlie. Suddenly from behind me I heard an ‘Excuse me’, so I turned around and the conversation went like this:
Him: ‘I think you’re well pretty, can I have your number?’
*I’m walking away, he’s following*
Me: ‘No. I have a boyfriend, this is his dog, so no.’
Him: ‘Oh please, I just think you’re so pretty.’
Me: ‘No. That’s not appropriate.’
Him: ‘Ok, can I have a hug then?’
*He spreads his arms out, I jump sideways and walk a bit quicker*
Me: ‘No, go away.’
Him: ‘Oh don’t be like that, look just shake my hand, I wanna be friends.’
*At this point I stop and turn slightly*
Me: ‘Look I don’t know what little bet you have on with your friends but I have said no now please leave me alone’
*I continue walking, he stays still*
Him: ‘Nahh I don’t care about them, oh come on!’
I then walked on along with the dog and looked back to see him high five-ing all of his friends.
I continued to walk around the park alone with Charlie and a few things occurred to me.
1. I was actively scared now to walk around the park again, and yet I was also scared to walk to along the lonely roads home in case they were there and angry that I had said no.
2. I had first excused my reason for not giving him my number with the words ‘I have a boyfriend’, not that I don’t give my number to strangers, or that I don’t give it to people who jump out of bushes, or even that I don’t like creeps who say they like the way I look before asking my name . But I made myself an object, I told him someone else owned me and therefore he could not. I like to think I’m a pretty strong minded, strong willed woman, and in an instant I gave all of that up.
3. I rang a close friend to talk through the events whilst I continued walking, and one of the first thing we discussed was what I was wearing. I was wearing trackies, a hoodie, big walking boots and a snood. No make up, and my hair a complete mess. We called these ‘not exactly “come at me boys” clothes’. Now this was something else that surprised me, that my state of mind dressed like this was that no one should bother me because I wasn’t dressed for it. Now I know how ridiculous this is, I know that the majority of women who face sexual assault are attacked by someone they know. But I realised that when I go on nights out and I’m wearing short dresses etc I expect to be bothered. I expect to be objectified. Not consciously, but I do. I prepare myself for it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take it well on nights out, I almost always either get a bouncer or get pushy with the person myself (‘short person syndrome’ is what my friends call it because it’s usually against someone much bigger than me). But I did not expect it on this walk, I wasn’t prepared and I panicked, I genuinely didn’t know what to do. How can the way you look change your state of mind so much?
4. Finally, this boy way determined to touch me in some way. He wanted a hand-shake, a hug, probably more. Physical contact was a goal for this boy, and No wasn’t an answer. And a huge part of me feared that had I been alone, in a lonely street, without a big old dog with me, that he probably wouldn’t have taken no for an answer. Touching me was almost his right, and I was being unreasonable.
And of course, this experience is not extraordinary. It’s something that happens every day to women, in broad daylight, in well populated areas. So what does it all mean? Well for a start clothes, make-up, relationship status and location mean absolutely nothing when it comes to sexual assault. These things don’t even feature in the mind of a sexual assaulter. A sexual assaulter sees a woman as their right, touching a woman is not a privilege to these people.
Of course I am generalising. It is not just women who face sexual assault, lots of people of all sexes and gender face sexual assault.
But this all leads to the same conclusion. We should not educate people how to avoid sexual assault. I should not have to learn self defence (although I am incredibly grateful to Leander Jones the VPDR for sourcing self defence classes for women next term), I should not have to be walked home by someone at night, and I should not have to wear ‘discrete’ clothing in order to avoid sexual assault. Nor should anyone else. Instead people should be taught to RESPECT each other. They should be taught from a very young age that touching another is not a right, it is a privilege, it is something that should be earnt.
But this is not an ideal world, and the unfortunate truth is that in a world where sexism is still rife, page 3 till exists and women are still objectified in even the subtlest of ways then women will have to learn self defence and avoid dark streets and walking alone.
But hopefully small changes will get us there, and I for one will never use the words ‘I have a boyfriend’ as an excuse.
Happy Easter Everyone.