Joining a Facebook campaign is only the first step

Elsa Maishman 24 March 2015

The Gardies Boycott has been suspended, and we now inhabit that precarious time between campaign and action when we run the very real risk of allowing the passion which summoned 1000 likes in under a day to flicker, fade and burn out in the face of promises of ‘change’.

All too often in allegations of sexual assault and harassment the matter is addressed with this same initial explosion of solidarity, only to be followed by the familiar spiel of ‘independent investigations’ which somehow always seems to coax us into submission. By treating sexual assault simply as a legal matter we allow it to enter a neat box of criminality where we can wash our hands of it all — passing it on to the police and out of our conscience.

But sexual assault and harassment aren’t just crimes — they are a real part of the everyday life of women. A glance at the Everyday Sexism page provides a wealth of stories from the ‘pinging’ of bras in the workplace, the catcalling of girls barely out of primary school, and the groping of women on the way to work. I myself have lost count of the times I have been made a victim of acts which are legally sexual crimes, but which I have brushed off because society tells me such behaviour is ‘normal’.

Those cynical of the Boycott Gardies campaign may ask — well, if this kind of behaviour has been common knowledge for so long, why have we continued to trudge our way, post-Cindies, for a fix of cheesy chips? Why have we remained silent? Why has our supposedly intelligent  and socially conscious community refused to speak out, to scream against this injustice?

The truth: society does not want to hear it.

The normalisation of sexual crimes, perpetuated by the ‘she was asking for it’ culture, has silenced our voices. Our platform to speak out is torn from under our feet with denunciations of ‘nonsensical woman babble’ when we raise our voices about the injustices, prejudices, and violence that women encounter on a daily basis.  

So, you can like a Facebook campaign, post a charged status targeting ‘the man’, and throw out a couple of tweets condemning an establishment, but ultimately a few shares of ‘Medieval Reactions’ or photos from your weekend will eclipse these attempts to raise awareness. No matter how sincere your efforts, they become lost in the sea of social media; and whilst you may feel you have satiated your guilty conscience, and ‘done your bit’, the abuse of women continues in our town, on our streets, and even in our colleges.

Nothing changes.

Nothing changes because it is everywhere — the plague of sexual harassment is not invading our streets, it owns our streets, and owns us, telling us which roads are just a bit too dark or a bit too narrow to walk down alone as a woman. Nothing will ever change if the ‘post’ button remains our primary form of social activism: the internet is a cruel infinity in which our voices are easily lost. We need to raise our collective voice across all platforms, shouting from our social media, our streets, our colleges, calling to our friends, our foes, our government to recognise the need for action to eradicate the fear which dominates our daily lives.