Monday, 6 August 2012

Welcome to Brussels, capital of Europe.

Many of my friends and some members of my family don't understand this but I don't like going to Brussels town centre or taking public transport in Brussels especially the underground transportation. They tell me I'm being unreasonable, paranoid and weird.

A few days ago, Sofie Peeters, a Belgian film student released her short movie/documentary that raised a lot of debate. The film, "femme de la rue" depicts sexism in the centre of the capital.

I don't consider myself to dress in a provocative way, it is not my style, I don't like women that do not because it is (they do what they wanna do)  but because in my humble opinion it is vulgar, I don't want to see a girl's chest on the same account that I don't like low cut jeans that show off men's asses (and often women too) because I don't need nor do I want to see people's attributes other than in an intimate context.

Many people say that victims of sexual harassment in the street have it coming because of the way they dress and sometimes walk. Even if a woman was wearing a short skirt, she shouldn't have to suffer from men's lack of respect, education, and self-control. But truth is, whether a woman is wearing a short skirt or a pair of baggy trousers she has high "chances" to be called a bitch, a whore, a slut or to be invited to take it up the ass (pardon my French, it's not me, it's them). It often starts as an invitation to go grab a cup of coffee or a request for a phone number, if you refuse politely they will insist, if you refuse more firmly you become a whore, if you deny their existence you are a whore.

And if it were true that these facts occurred because women dress a certain way, we should educate the men not take a woman's freedom of dressing the way she wants to dress.

I remember being chased a few years back and walking into the first shop that I passed. I remember being spat at for not acknowledging someone's invitations, I remember being called weak and a slut because I took a guy's hand of my bag that he grabbed to stop me in the streets after I ignored him. I remember being spat at in the metro, being stared at insistently as if I were naked and an object of fantasy.

This, women in the centre of Brussels endure constantly, whatever the time, day or night. The subject is a big taboo in our society, people would like women not to speak up, the matter is seen as entirely accepted or described as courtesy or flattery. Personally, I do not think it flattering to be called a whore.

"Ignore it", "if it didn't happen you would feel unwanted", "it's nothing", "it's not as if they physically abused you" are but a few of the responses women get if they dare speak up. I don't want me or anyone to ignore it, I don't know about you but I don't need this to feel wanted, and verbal abuse is still abuse.

From September, verbal abuse, sexist insults and sexual harassment happening in the streets will be punishable by law. I am sorry but as good as it sounds, I find it laughable. How on Earth will the system work? I am awfully sceptic about this and I am pretty sure not 5% of cases will see "justice" ("justice" because I don't know how a fine paid to the government is justice to a victim of abuse).


I duly encourage women to speak up and defend themselves, we are not weak, I will not lower my glaze or avoid certain places because of this (I still take the metro and go to town). If everyone did then they would win.

Further reading:
http://leplus.nouvelobs.com/contribution/602891-machisme-ordinaire-non-le-harcelement-de-rue-n-est-pas-de-la-drague.html# (French)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/03/belgium-film-street-harassment-sofie-peeters

3 comments:

  1. I never had any major issues in Belgium, was actually called a whore twice in London but that's about it. In Belgium it was the "Hi, you're pretty" and often they'd leave me alone after that...or if not I'd say "sorry, am not single" and it'd be good. I agree about the new law though, it's hilariously flawed, besides a lot of girls may abuse it, but nothing's sure yet. We'll wait till September and see :p

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    1. You are then incredibly lucky may I say. I lived in Brussels most of my life and I have been harassed/attacked so many times I cannot count them on my fingertips... That one time a passer-by asked for directions, I assumed he was walking so indicated to him the best way to walk to where he was going his reply to me "juste parce que je suis arabe tu crois que je suis pauvre et que j'ai pas de voiture ? Salope (or pute I cannot recall)" he then went on to insult me several times. Stories like that, I have a plethora and it would take me a whole book to tell them.
      Gratuitous insults with no form of provocation, there's just too many. But I am happy if you have had a good experience in Brussels!

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  2. Go you! I love this! I know exactly where you are coming from, I think it is disgusting that people think they have the right to intimidate women!
    It has happened to me on several occasions however I have never been spat at, that would terrify me! I couldn't imagine living in a society where that was acceptable although England may not be far behind that these days!

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