This month, in celebration of International Women's Day which happened on the 8th, I've been featuring only the ladies on YOUTH DOIN THANGS to highlight how valuable it is for women (and young girls, especially) to be able to look towards other women for inspiration and guidance as they work hard towards their dreams and goals. I'm a firm believer in girl power; supporting each other in hardships and triumphs. This week I'm taking the whole thing a step further by featuring even more talented and influential women but instead of the usual Q&A, the focus will be on women's rights and feminist issues and so on. Starting out, I made sure to avoid heavy topics as I wanted to keep it light and positive, and I definitely didn't want the feature to turn into some sort of serious political debate. That was never my intention. But it's hard to discuss women's rights without it turning into something serious or political. Really hard. 

One thing I asked nearly everyone who got involved in this feature was - what one change would you like to see happen in the future? For me, without any hesitation, I can say I want to see women being taken more seriously when it comes to cases of harassment, assault and abuse. I want to see the entire rape culture - including slut shaming, victim blaming, sexual objectification and the trivialising rape - come to an end.

With four younger sisters, maybe I'm a little over-protective, but I think I have to be! Maybe not as often in cases of rape, but definitely in cases of assault, it is so often written off as something that nothing can be done about. Tina Fey once said, "Almost everyone first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude did something nasty to them. It was mostly men yelling shit from cars. Are they a patrol sent out to let girls know they've crossed into puberty? If so, it's working." Shocked, grossed out, embarrassed, worried, disturbed, intimidated, scared, irritated, furious. I think it's safe to say that's how most feel when they've been catcalled or honked at. I can't even really remember a time before catcalls. Some might say that in the grand scheme of things, it's only a small matter, nothing to really worry about but that's not true at all. We - women -  have to worry about a lot in these 'small matter' cases. Like, if there's somewhere we can run to if things escalate or if there's anyone around to witness it and possibly help us. We also have to worry about what we're wearing even when we're not dressed "attractive". I mean, I've been catcalled while bundled up in a parka, walking my dog and looking like an unidentifiable blob. It's gross and weird. I mean, what gives these men the right to pass comment on women they don't even know? Or do know? What gives them the right to pass comment on anyone

During my A-levels (my last two years of highschool, for American readers), I was asked out by a guy I had some classes with. I said no. I didn't like him like that. When I went to school the next morning, my locker had been broken open and all my books had been ripped apart. According to my classmates, great bunch of kids, I was an idiot and a loser and I didn't know what was good for me and I had ruined this one guy's life... because apparently I didn't have the right to say no. The teachers ended up getting involved but I quickly told them to drop it and just let me deal with it after hearing, "Maybe you should just apologise?" for the hundreth time. For the rest of that year, I was ostracised by everyone and pretty much lived in isolation in the library until I could transfer to a place in South London to finish my exams. Looking back, I do feel sorry for myself but it was that experience that opened up my eyes to... reality, I guess, and the unfairness and unjust that women often face. Why would I have ever apologised to the guy I rejected? Did I owe it to him? Did I owe it to any of those jerks? Certainly not. Guys like him and his friends, grow up to be the misogynistic assholes who speak out against women running for president. They're the ones who tend not to get any further in life than their local pub, possibly the only place where their rape jokes are accepted and laughed at. But it's not only boys ruled by raging hormones and being influenced by idiotic friends - recently a male teacher at university threatened me with "It would be wise of you to remember... I'm the one who decides what you're final grade will be". I could just laugh about it with my friends and carry on with my life. Instead, I'll actually be reporting him. 

But, I can't help wondering - if I report it, will anything actually be done about it? Will anyone actually care? As mentioned previously, harassment and assault aren't made big enough issues and are often chalked up to 'boys will be boys' or if they're over 40 as they so often are 'men will be men', and in some cases, if it can't be easily written off then it must have been the woman's fault. What was she wearing? Was she alone? Often in rape cases, the blame is put on the victim. I understand that women should try to move safely in certain circumstances like, if you know you're going to be coming out of a club drunk later... you should pre-book a cab and plan to leave with a friend. That's common sense, right? Rapists are predatory opportunists so if they see a someone who looks vulnerable and lost, they will most likely take advantage of the situation. But forget about rape for a second. You could fall off the pavement and get hit by a car! Don't put yourself in an unnecessarily dangerous situation. With that said, sometimes things happen in the most unlikely of places and there's nothing you can do to protect yourself. You might be riding the train and some creep standing behind you says something or touches you (gross). How do you deal with that? It's hard to know how to react. You might panic and freeze or you might not feel safe to say something to the perpetrator, and in some cases when you do speak up, the situation can suddenly turn threatening, even dangerous. It's a depressing notion but I don't believe anything is going to change anytime soon so here are some strategies for dealing with catcalls/street assault/creeps on trains/etc - 

Always be aware of your surroundings and be ready to strike back. 

Be loud and speak out (especially in public places). Something along the lines of "YOU ARE ASSAULTING ME! LEAVE ME ALONE!" will usually work.

Be ready to run if the situation calls for it. Run towards a woman with children, a public park, a mall, a house with the lights on at night, just get yourself to somewhere you aren't alone. 

Try record anything that happens or take their picture. If the situation isn't dangerous, you can tell them you're taking it to the police. 

If you see it happening to someone else, say something. If it looks like an harassment-type situation - be confident and brave. Walk straight over there and clearly say, "Is everything OK, here?" You can even pretend to be a friend or a cousin, just get the other person out of there. I understand people tend to try and avoid sketchy situations but imagine if it was a younger sister, a cousin, someone you know. Imagine if it was you! We need to look out for each other. 

If the case is more serious - I'm talking physical assault, sexual assault - if it's already happened and you are now in a safe place. As soon as you can, tell someone you know immediately. A parent, a friend, a teacher and call the police. Because guess what? That kind of behaviour? It's illegal. Teachers are also legally required to report anything that happens in school including bullying. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself. 

Also, take note from Tina Fey - 

“I experienced car creepery at thirteen. I was walking home from middle school past a place called the World’s Largest Aquarium—which, legally, I don’t know how they could call it that, because it was obviously an average-sized aquarium. Maybe I should start referring to myself as the World’s Tallest Man and see how that goes? Anyway, I was walking home alone from school and I was wearing a dress. A dude drove by and yelled, “Nice tits.” Embarrassed and enraged, I screamed after him, “Suck my dick.” Sure, it didn’t make any sense, but at least I don’t hold in my anger.”

*Note: I am completely aware that not only women are affected by this sort of disgusting behaviour, and that not all men are assholes/creeps/rapists. I hope anyone who reads this understands that this essay was written in the most general manner because I lack essay skills, and that the message I've hoped to convey is: humans who don't condone abuse - both physical and mental - against others, need to stand together and fight against those who commit these terrible crimes and against those who don't care to do anything about it. 

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