Increasingly I feel awkward and embarrassed when walking around my city. Most mornings, upon leaving my house, I attract the attention of at least one lecherous motorist, or a pair of wayward builders. When I step out into the open, I am stepping into a man’s world, where I must be reserved yet sexual, demure yet demanding, and attractive, without allowing myself to become an exhibit.
But what women have accepted as the norm for a lifetime – some of my friends even find it “flattering” – is now attracting retaliation. Blogger London Feminist launched a twitter hash-tag encouraging people to share experiences of street harassment and sexual abuse that they had never reported.
The response to #Ididnotreport was extraordinary, demonstrating the overwhelming social stigma that still exists around “low-level” gender-based abuse. Some tweeted: “#Ididnotreport because reporting the first time ruined my life,” and others: “#Ididnotreport because some ‘friends’ think that you shouldn’t cause a scene when a stranger puts his hand between your legs.”
The ‘taboo’ subject attracted the attention of public figures. Brave and moving was Laurie Penny’s contribution: “#Ididnotreport the man who date-raped me when I was 19. I did tell mutual friends, who called me a liar.”
Out of solidarity, I felt moved to offer my own experience – a possessive and jealous ex-boyfriend who manipulated me until I felt so worthless that I didn’t know I deserved better.
Some criticise the modern dependence on social media as a dangerous move away from accountability and interaction, to anonymity. But #Ididnotreport has given new levels of depth to Virginia Woolf’s belief that: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” Anonymous is still a woman, but now faceless interaction has allowed us to share and assimilate in a way never before possible.