For this editor’s letter, I wanted to talk about all the joy that we can begin to look forward to again: hugging our friends, popping corks at a restaurant, dressing up. You will see that this issue is a true celebration of all the things we can start to be excited about as more and more of us are vaccinated. I’m writing this on the same day I’ve received my first needle and I am so cheered by this. It really is our ‘passport to freedom’ and after such harrowing times for us all, we have every right to feel entitled to it and the ‘new Roaring 20s’ it is sure to usher in.
But let’s examine the word ‘freedom’ for a second, because recent events have shown that for many (actually, almost all) women, even our freer world will still carry some restrictions that belong in the Dark Ages.
This week I asked my 15-year-old daughter a question I’ve previously hesitated to, because I’ve always been afraid of the answer. And as it turns out, yes, she has regularly experienced harassment on the street from men. They shout out from construction sites begging for hellos, smiles, kisses. They whiz by in cars and shout lewd, sexual comments. At a girl wearing a school uniform. Her friends all report the same and discuss it with each other, but she says it happens so often it’s never occurred to her to mention it to me or her father.
It turns out, the more you ask, the more you learn that you wish you didn’t know. A friend of mine told me that recently her daughter and friend, 12 years old, were filmed by an adult man on the train. They didn’t know what to do, besides ride out the fear and discomfort and extricate themselves from the situation as soon as they could. What is that man doing with that video footage? If he is comfortable with that brazen violation, what else might he feel fine about doing? I’m so behind Gemma and Maya Tutton, the young sisters we’re featuring in this week’s issue, who are saying ‘enough’ and looking to make all harassments, even those currently deemed ‘minor’, a crime. It’s astonishing when you learn the violations that apparently do not break any current laws.
So while I’m excited about the roll-out of the vaccine and the fact it means I’ll soon be able to meet friends for lunch and have a cheeky stroll around the shops, I’m also excited about another mood gripping the country: a long overdue stance of zero tolerance for harassment of women and girls.
We will not accept the outdated idea that a walk at night, a short skirt, a drink, is permission granted to be violated in any way. We will not agree that we should be grateful that it was ‘only’ being brushed against in a disgusting way in a crowd or a sexual comment instead of a rape, or murder. And we absolutely will not shake our heads and agree that we must accept that ‘these things just happen’. I will not tell my daughter that these things are normal, and I will continue to be furious that I don’t fully exhale every day until she is safely home.
It’s young women like Gemma and Maya who, with quiet determination, are making the world a better place. Maybe we can dare to dream that, when the world does open up again, all women are indeed actually free to walk the streets, chug the champagne and party after dark with truly no fear.
A few things I’m coveting this week