Editors Note: This article contains discussions of sexual harassment and assault. Reader discretion is advised.
After two Halloweens that never really happened during the pandemic, October felt more exciting this year; people were not just celebrating Halloween, but a freedom of restrictions. Practically all of my friends decided to wear costumes, myself included, and I opted for a cheerleader, the classic feminine icon of American pop culture.
I was ready to leave my house with my navy, quilted bomber jacket when I was handed a vintage, long, violet coat to wear instead. The jacket I had chosen was too short, my costume presented risks. I felt more exposed wearing the long coat over my costume than just my costume. I was deeply conscious of how I was not covering myself for warmth, but hiding my body, as if my appearance had to be hidden.This perception is wrong, it unfairly places the accountability for any negative attention, harassment or assault on the victim, but this view is not held without reason.
When I finally reached the warmth of our student bar, I left my coat at the table. Later, I noticed a young man leering at me, he was sneering and nodding to his friend while his eyes were fixed on me. I understood my actions that followed were dangerous; he could have reacted aggressively for all I knew, but the alternative meant he could continue to leer. Frustrated, I decided to confront him and walked up to his table. “Sorry, do I know you?” I asked innocently, I was careful not to sound aggressive. “No” he replied and I noticed his expression dropped, he looked surprised – yes, boys, we can talk back.
On Halloween, my friend invited me to a party at his house in Killiney. While walking along my usual route to my local DART station, I noticed a white car as it drove by me but, I assured myself, it must only have been a parent looking for houses where their children could go trick-or-treating. After the car drove by again, my suspicion flared, and I told myself not to overreact. After the third time, I decided to go into the nearest house if there was a fourth time. A woman with her three daughters appeared on the street and I warned her of the car. Upon reaching the station, I met a sixteen year-old girl who described a similar experience and we were both met by the woman from earlier. She decided to leave her daughters with her husband and to come to the station. I thanked her, and I was genuinely grateful, but I was frustrated by her feeling the need to check if I was safe, she must have experienced this before. Every woman has.
At the party, the events of my weekend came up during conversation. I asked my friends, where is the Feminist Society? Where is Femsoc? They laughed knowingly. There have been previous attempts to establish such a society, but none of these were ever approved to be officially recognised by UCD. This is not new, innovative, or a strange idea. Upon further research, I found feminist societies at Dublin City University, University College Cork, Maynooth University, National University of Ireland Galway, University of Limerick, and there is a Dublin University Gender Equality Society at Trinity College Dublin.
I did not walk back to Killiney DART station or the nearest bus-stop after the party. I felt that there are too many risks associated with a woman travelling by public transport at night, which meant the maximum amount of €10.00 that I should have spent on bus fares during the weekend became €75.20 that I actually spent on taxis. The economic disadvantages that women face under sexism must also be accounted for.
Has sexism become worse during the pandemic? I have carried this question in my mind for a while and repeatedly examining the evidence that I have found has always suggested, yes. I remembered Sarah Everard, how I was given a travel size bottle of Elnett hairspray to keep in my bag after her body was found and the murder of Sabina Nessa months later. Hairspray, because mace is illegal, is just one example of how there is a demand for the reform of Irish legislation on self-defence. For many women, being groped on a night out is not just a risk, but an expectation.
According to the Sexual Experiences Survey (2020), 51.9% of 3,928 females surveyed described at least one experience of “unwanted sexual touching, completed or attempted penetration”. When a woman is assaulted solely on the basis of being a woman; every woman may not be a victim, but every woman is a target.
The establishment of a feminist society could be controversial; there has been a clear warning of this, but a feminist society would be against sexism and misogyny, which are so prevelant and harmful that it is not controversial to suggestion for change arises. An argument brought against the establishment of a feminist society has been that the society would be too political. This is unsubstantial on a campus where Fianna Fáil, Fíne Gael, Sinn Féin, Labour, Green Party, Social Democrats and People Before Profit have established a presence through societies.
We already operate within a silent sisterhood, letting each other use our phones, walking each other to bus-stops and pretending to know each other when a stranger does.