After he read a twitter thread on sexual assault, one of my friends asked me if anything like that has ever happened to me. I laughed it off, because you know…. OF COURSE NOT MATE.
Then I found myself making excuses for the guys who had harassed and assaulted me in the past. I actually heard the words “but you know he didn’t mean it like that” come out of my mouth. A few short months ago I was one of those women who found the lines between someone fancying you and sexual harassment a bit blurry, is it assault or is he just expressing his attraction? I truly didn’t know the difference and THAT is a problem. It was difficult to admit but I realised that I am (or at least was) part of the problem.
My first instance of unwanted sexual attention was in one of my first ever jobs. Let me set the scene: I was in my second year at uni and working part-time in a hotel (can you guess what is going to happen?)
It was a posh hotel and I was actually part of the casual waiting staff. For those that don’t know ‘casual waiting staff’ means a zero hour contract, mostly event work and super flexible hours but none of the perks of being a ‘real’ employee.
Anywho; this one summer the hotel was particularly busy, I was assigned to work for a wealthy family who had booked up 2 entire floors for two weeks. One of the hotel rooms was converted into a buffet-come-dining area. Over the course of the 2nd week working in this room one of the guests became a problem. I mean at first it was a random hug (which felt odd) or a ‘friendly shoulder rub’ but it soon turned into him saying lewd things and ultimately ended in him exposing himself to me and me leaving the job. Why didn’t I say anything? (I hear you ask) Well I did. To my line manager, to the other hotel staff. To him. The weirdest thing was that not only was this kinda of behaviour trivialised, it felt as if it was almost expected. When I complained to the head of my department I was told that I was under no obligation to stay in my position, after all I was technically on a zero-hour contract. And what did Yinka do? She quietly quit and felt like an idiot.
CASA Forum defines sexual assault as any behaviour of a sexual nature that makes someone feel uncomfortable, frightened, intimidated or threatened. It is sexual behaviour that someone has not agreed to, where another person uses physical or emotional force against them.
When I read this my mind was blown (BOOM!!!)
It was like flicking through one of those picture books! Through my mind was a carousel of the multiple times this has happened to me. It kinda made me feel sick. I felt like the whole of my life I was taught that this kind of behaviour was normal, think about it; you’re in the playground and a boy lifts up your school skirt… It starts then and ends up (for me) with being at work and a hairdresser ‘fixing’ my hair whilst breathing on my neck and telling me I smell nice.
I am not gonna get all historical on you and tell you every single time I have been been made to feel uncomfortable by members of the opposite sex, we don’t have all day. If I think back to the initial conversation that prompted this blogpost; I can easily recall 3 instances in the last 4 months where I have been touched without my consent and that just isn’t ok.
My fear when I began writing this, was that it would become a rant about how ‘men are trash’ and how shit they make me feel but I really don’t want to focus on that. I want to focus on what I can do to stop this. What I don’t want to do is put the onus on women and women alone to find a solution. Do I know why this thing continues to happen to women? No. But I suspect it has something to do with education (think back to the playground) and this weird ownership a lot of men seem to think they have over our bodies.
I have realised that the way to combat this isn’t to change what I wear or to stop going out. That kinda gives an excuse don’t you think? Puts the blame and the shame on the woman. I am so sick and tired of this ‘short skirt so she is asking for trouble’ rhetoric. I mentioned it before but we have HAVE to teach our young boys that a woman’s body belongs to her and MEN need to understand that the ‘boys will be boys’ line never did and more importantly now: no-longer flies.
Do I regret leaving my job shamed and feeling like an idiot? Of course, do I wish I had spoken up the numerous times guys have grabbed me and pushed me and rubbed me? Hell yeah. In the summer I was THIS (very) close to tweeting an athlete who sexually assaulted me whilst I was DJing at a party but even then I felt stupid. Its not like he reaaaaly assaulted me is it? He didn’t put his hand up my skirt or try to undress me so I guess its not that bad right?
I have realised something very important recently: I used to think that if I dressed a certain way (and lets be honest I do kiiiinda dress in the way I’m talking about, its ok you can be honest). Well I thought that I was asking for it, that the size of my boobs somehow invited this behaviour and you know what I realise now? Regardless of what I wear, how I carry myself, where I work and every other excuse I can give; it isn’t my fault, and it isn’t the fault of any woman who has experienced behaviour like this.
And if it truly doesn’t make a difference what I do (and we all know it doesn’t) then why should I change? Why should I cover up just to not tempt someone? Think about how disgusting that is. Is there so little control or respect that you can’t refrain from touching someone because you see some of their flesh? I know things could be worse for me, I am so much more aware of it when reading all of these stories that have surfaced online over the past few weeks, you can truly see how deep this issue runs. And it’s terrifying.
Taking these pics (with my amazing sister behind the camera) was like a celebration for me, a celebration of being a young black woman who doesn’t plan on quietening down or being any less sexy to pacify anybody. And that is what I want this post to be about: I am Yinka Bokinni, I am sassy-as-hell and proud tbh so hi x
Let me know your thoughts by dropping a comment below ❤
Thank you for reading x