"Speaking up and fighting against PSH and sexual assault is not a trend"Esmé Kenney

Content Note: This article contains discussions of public sexual assault 

As a feminist activist and English student, I couldn’t help but instinctively laugh my head off when this comment appeared on an article I wrote for a local newspaper about Public Sexual Harassment (PSH) in Cambridge.

I am a Co-President of the newly launched society, Our Streets Now Cambridge, and I was writing to share our plan to tackle PSH in Cambridge as well as talking about my own experiences, that of my friends, and our demands to Cambridge University.

“In a survey by UN Women, 96% of respondents did not report incidents despite 97% experiencing PSH”

I have had my fair share of trolling, but I must say the sheer depth, incredulity, and ridiculousness of ‘CryptoCabbie’ struck a chord. Particularly his (let’s be honest, it is a him) remark that my smile was a ‘smirk that could cut the rind off a Stilton cheese.’ Despite the farcical comic material of this comment, there are so many problematic elements that can be easily brushed over so let us start at the very beginning with: ‘the bandwagon’ I and other victims have supposedly jumped on.

Speaking up and fighting against PSH and sexual assault is not a trend. It is an incredibly taxing thing for many survivors to do. In a survey by UN Women, 96% of respondents did not report incidents despite 97% experiencing PSH. Yet, using our voices to share our experiences gives us a sense of solidarity. When I see other people share their experiences, I know I am not alone and it gives me the courage to say what women experience daily is not okay. In turn, I have so many survivors message me saying that they have been encouraged to speak out.

This troll is wrong — it is not a bandwagon. It is marginalised genders sticking together in the face of a terrifying epidemic of violence which attempts to make us feel small and isolated.

CryptoCabbie is however correct in his remark about ‘Poor little Eva Carroll’ — I am in fact quite small. The reason ‘I deemed’ the harassment to have been directed towards me was because the perpetrator looked up and down my body as though he was mentally undressing me as he said it. Everyone knows that look- the look which makes your hair stand on end and makes you feel as though your legs will give way beneath you. Why this troll insists on placing ‘sexual’ in quotation marks is beyond me —the man shouted that he would ‘like to have a go on that,’ and I am pretty sure he wasn’t talking about the teacup ride at the fair.

For the record, and not that it matters, but my editor specifically asked me to include a personal experience in Cambridge. PSH is a hard thing to relive: 90% of Our Streets Now Instagram followers said that public street harassment affected their mental health and The Young Women’s Trust found that young women who endure sexism in the UK are ‘five times more likely to suffer from clinical depression.’ The irony dripping from his interpretation of my photo in the article is astonishing. He must not have had a very busy day to be so preoccupied with blatantly sexualising a very mundane image of me, but I thank him for proving my own point for me.

“It is not about attraction, it is about power; it is about making marginalised genders feel small”

Now, for the ‘smirk that could cut the rind off a stilton cheese…’ I am an English student and this phrase thoroughly puzzled and bemused. Maybe I need to be a better cheese expert to fully comprehend it. Does it mean I have sharp teeth? Maybe a cheesy grin? It is awfully specific, isn’t it? I am fascinated he capitalised ‘Stilton’: it is clearly a very important cheese to him. I wonder if the ‘smell’ of ‘a budding modelling career’ is of stilton cheese?

In CryptoCabbie’s final piece of salient advice to me, he presumes that I don’t want to be ‘noticed.’ We all notice a lot of things every day, but he assumes there is a correlation between noticing something and harassment. Women can also ‘notice’ women they are attracted to. Funnily enough, I haven’t heard of any women who harass, objectify and intimidate other women in public spaces. It is not about attraction, it is about power; it is about making marginalised genders feel small. Goodness knows how many times we have to say it, but it does not matter what you are wearing. It is not about attraction. I have been harassed in baggy clothes, tight clothes, short skirts, longs skirts, with makeup, without makeup, in the daytime, at night time, on the street, in a bar and intersectionality illustrates that even women who choose to cover their bodies are subjected to PSH.


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The final sentence reclaims the ultimate ominous and malicious sentiment behind some humorous aspects of the comment: ′don’t go out.′ Every girl I know has changed their life in some way to avoid PSH, from taking a different route to not going out after a certain time. This impedes our right to freedom of expression and freedom of movement.

PSH exists on a pyramid of violence; the language used by men on our streets to demean women is the foundation for more serious crimes such as rape and murder higher up the pyramid. As we have seen with the death of Sarah Everard, it exists with the very real threat of escalation and we are terrified. This comment is not okay.