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Time to stop normalising sexism

Time to stop normalising sexism

Originally published at the South China Morning Post on July 18, 2014.

It hits women every day, everywhere. It hit my friend when she travelled on the MTR and was groped by a man in a carriage full of people. It hit me when I went shopping in Mong Kok and a group of men began a loud and graphic discussion about my legs.

Just last month it hit me when I stopped a man for a street interview in Causeway Bay, and instead of answering my questions, he licked his lips and winked at me.

"It" is the deep-rooted culture of misogyny and sexual harassment that surrounds Hong Kong society - and it makes me feel unsafe and scared.

The Equal Opportunities Commission found that one in five women had experienced sexual harassment at work. So had more than a quarter of flight attendants, a separate poll showed. A Hong Kong investment firm recently attempted to DNA-test its female staff members to investigate menstrual bloodstains left in a restroom, while this month, the Legislative Council and other venues were added to the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong's list of public locations where women are vulnerable to peeping Toms.

These statistics and cases serve to highlight a fact that all women internalise at a young age: we are vulnerable to sexual abuse and misogyny, not necessarily because we put ourselves in high-risk situations, but because this culture of sexism exists everywhere in society, forcing us to be on guard in every aspect of our daily lives.

Yet despite the ubiquity of such uncomfortable scenarios and the damaging consequences of this relentless culture, why is the conversation about misogyny and sexual harassment near non-existent in daily discussions, and why are we not making a conscious effort to alter this reality?

It's because this culture, much like air pollution, is accepted here as an inconvenient and inexorable force - pervasive, relentless and best dealt with using reactionary rather than preventative measures.

In Hong Kong, we need to openly address this issue of sexism and everyday sexual harassment instead of treating it as an abstract concept for women's rights organisations and the government to deal with. I understand it's an uncomfortable discussion, as well as a sensitive one in Asian culture. But, by not acknowledging its existence, we're all accomplices in perpetuating the problem.

If the past is any indication, frosted glass does little to discourage peeping Toms. Similarly, sexual harassment and sexist behaviour will not go away unless people make an effort to change the way we think and act. If we care about our society, we need to teach and remind our children, friends, partners, relatives and colleagues that sexual harassment and misogyny are not only wrong, but should not be treated as a joke or tolerated as a way of life.

I wish that I could reject a man at a bar without worrying whether he might attack me, or walk down the street wearing a dress and heels without feeling scared and degraded when men stare or make inappropriate noises at me. But I can't.

I can only bear it, and implore people to change their behaviour and attitudes. I'm asking you to do the same.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Fear that lurks

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