Over the weekend, this initiative gathered thousands of women who put forward their stories of verbal and physical abuse they’ve experienced in public places.
In just a few days over 1000 women shared over 1000 stories on social networks on how they’ve encountered various forms of sexual harassment and abuse from men in public transport, workplaces and many other situations. These posts reached over two million people in the region.
I usually comment on these current events with the help of our friends from Mediatoolkit who also helped me today, but this time it’s not about a subject with a fast growing search term such as coronavirus at the start of the pandemic. It’s about a problem pointed out by numerous women, first on Twitter, then on other social network platforms, such as the Facebook page Platform for reproductive justice, in the format of short, uncomfortable and terrible stories of situations they’ve experienced.
After this subject was first mentioned by Marinella Matejčić, it took off after a series of tweets by Marija Trcol, whose Twitter name is Yoko Hummus Kraljica. Therefore, this weekend women tweeted, posted, recorded stories and in various other ways brought attention to the awful way they’re often treated mainly by men in society.
Hashtag #womeninpublicspaces encompasses stories of all women who at one point in their life have been objectified or harassed. Even though these stories are numerous, here we are talking about inappropriate touching during taxi rides, requests to sit on the lap of an older boss and various other acts of sexual harassment, but also of the fear that women and girls experience during seemingly harmless situations such as walking through the city or using public transportation.
The original thread of tweets is about horrible comments made by a group of older men:
Yoko Hummus Kraljica
On the terrace of a bar there’s a group of 4-5 men about 70-80+ years old. They were very offended by my legs. Clearly related to their own erectile dysfunction due to old age. One of them shouted: “Look at this one! But look at her from the front!”
After this there was another shout: “No one can get it up to this one anymore!” and after that the laughter of the crowd. I stopped. I felt attacked and disgusting. I felt dirty.
Other tweets concern creepy comments on the streets:
The other day a strange man grabbed my hand in the middle of the street and lifted my dress. He told me to watch how I dress because someone could easily rape me. He said he wouldn’t because he’s not like that, but others are. How to better protect women from sexual harassment than by sexually harassing them?
This bizarre personal experience is actually one of the more mild versions of what #womeninpublicspaces face every day as long as we live in a society that encourages a patriarchal conception of the female body as “public goods” that’s available for everyone to consume and make decisions on – except women themselves.
…and comments towards women by various men:
#womeninpublicspaces I used to work for a large pharmaceutical company, the new boss was 37 (a little older than me, you can tell he’s a real asshole). First week on the job he creates a hypothetical list with the security guard on which one of us girls he would f*** in which order and how. I reported it and nothing – a male conference room.
If you believe it’s ok to say this to someone or act this way I have to simply and directly say that it is absolutely not because everything more than that you won’t even acknowledge, or maybe you will but you’ll just wave your hand and say it’s all a big conspiracy:
What’s more probable, that a group of women who don’t know each other conspired to make up a bunch of disgusting lies about men who sexually abused them or that they’ve finally, encouraged by stories of other women, decided to bring forward something that they’ve kept quiet about for years?
Most probable is that a manipulative marketing person came up with a campaign of paranoia, fear and distrust to affect political and ideological values with victim psychology. All seen in America already, so our own manipulative rats are copying it…
Posts were also shared by the author Marina Mlinarević who is sadly known for the irrationally large amount of hatred she receives, enough to even warrant having her character burned at the stake:
So – Dear Martina, we invite you to use the hashtag #womeninpublicspaces and join our fight.
Where do I start?
Hold my beer…
It’s interesting how some women partially, either intentionally or accidentally, missed the point, such as Dalija Orešković who used the hashtag to honor Mirna Mrčela, a woman who saved a man from a sinking car during the Zagreb flooding:
Women in public spaces: Mirna Mrčela.
Recognize violence, punish the perpetrators
We asked Marija Trcol, whose tweets largely helped this initiative to grow, to briefly analyze the data we collected via Mediatoolkit and she admits that she had no idea that her tweets would reach 200 000 people since she only has about 1000 followers on Twitter:
Women became aware of how afraid they are and how many similar verbal and physical attacks they’ve gone through in their lives, how normal it is for us to carry pepper sprays, plan our trip home according to street lighting and neighborhoods and how many of us pick up the pace as soon as we hear men’s breathing or steps getting closer.
Women started telling stories they’ve kept hidden for a very long time, support and comfort each other, men started messaging us because they’ve realized they can be part of the solution and just like us they need to work on bringing awareness and finding a systemic solution to the problem. Tweet by tweet, post by post, media outlet by media outlet and we’ve reached this number. I think we can conclude that this is a topic of interest to a wide public audience and precisely because of that it’s spreading with this intensity.
Also, Marija says that the main word that’s being presented here as a solution to all these problems is “education”. Unfortunately, some people see this initiative as a fight between men and women or feminists and the rest of the world, but this is about the fight between the informed part of society and injustice:
Individuals started understanding that we are solely responsible for this fight and they want to actively get involved and participate in creating a better future. The initiative is already being reflected in the public space and public opinion and it’s precisely what lets us know that we need education, but not just education of school staff, children and young people but also those who are in the system that need to recognize violence, stop it and punish the perpetrators.
Over two million impressions
We were told from Mediatoolkit that even though there’s about 1100 posts on social networks (95% of them on Twitter), there’s also a tremendous amount of impressions. These 1100 posts were seen over two million times across the region and the reason for that has been a very quick and thorough coverage by the media as well as certain influencers and women from all public spheres.
The hashtag has resonated in other countries of the region, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and what’s interesting is that the number of posts from Serbia and Croatia is almost equal.
Nevertheless, one of the most significant findings in this whole story is the so-called “word cloud” that is generated from the most commonly used expressions in those 1100 tweets and posts. Absolutely the most common one (other than the hashtag itself) is the word fear, which pretty directly points out how women in our society truly often feel. Still, it’s nice to see how some of the women overcame their fear and told their stories, even though there is no doubt that talking about this subject would be stressful for anyone.
Of course, there are women who hadn’t had problems of this kind, which is great, but I believe that approaching this topic with the notion “it never happened to me, it doesn’t exist” is not accurate. Even though women and girls could say that “direct and clear communication solves these problems”, I don’t believe that women who are being groped in trams or who have their skirt lifted up in the street can “communicate clearly”.
As Marija said, this shouldn’t stay only on social networks, but should also encourage further discussion on education and I believe that every step towards a more honest society is the right step. Just because it never happened to you does not mean that it’s not happening – each of these 1000 stories involves a living person, therefore do not divide women into groups but rather simply listen to what they have to say.