“It is not flattering. Its scary, and sometimes your safety feels compromised. You don’t know how far these men will go if they felt like it was okay to say something sexual to a young lady.”
By Gabby Mix, Julia McAlonan, Nicole Pon and Ty Hudson
Photos by Ty Hudson
A big crowd of marchers gathered behind a procession of Tohono O’odham women with toka sticks. Dressed in traditional regalia, the indigenous women stamped their sticks on the pavement. The sound echoed across Jácome Plaza in downtown Tucson as a remonstration against silence.
The crowd, composed mostly of women, congregated in Tucson on a Sunday in late January for the annual Women’s March. The march began as a protest against misogynistic rhetoric in politics, and has turned into an annual worldwide event to address women’s issues.
One of the issues addressed at the march was sexual harassment.
Women in the UA community have to deal with inappropriate attention from some men, including catcalling and unwanted advances in public spaces, on and off campus, as well as online sexual harassment.
Kristen Bustillos, a recent UA graduate, said she was cautious throughout her college experience. “You have to be observant all the time because if you’re not, someone could do something bad to you and you wouldn’t have even seen it coming,” she said.
Joki Potkonjak, a chemical engineering student, said she has sometimes found herself confused and fearful of retaliation if she responded to catcalls and stares from men.
“If it’s not daily, it’s weekly. Women just learn to deal with it because men are never going to stop. What are we supposed to do? Yell back? That can be scary when they’re strange men,” she said.
Sarah Workman, a journalism major, said that the possibility of men physically overpowering women is uncomfortable to consider. Workman and her girlfriends went to a bar last September when a man touched her inappropriately. Instead of confronting the man, she called her boyfriend to pick her up.
“It’s only after the fact that it happened that you realize that you had so much right and justification to just go off on them and tell them to f*** off, but you don’t because that’s not what you’re taught to do,” she said.
Sexual harassment is not limited to physical spaces. Women have to deal with sexual harassment on the Internet.
“I see it worse on social media. I get the most vulgar things said to me from strangers on social media. All girls do,” said Georgia Dunkerly, an engineering student.
While the Me Too movement has made women more aware of the inequalities and harassment, people on and off campus are doing their part to address the issues and encourage women.
Keely Davis is co-director of Feminists Organized to Resist, Create, and Empower (FORCE), is a feminist internship program through the Women and Gender Resource Center. FORCE establishes a community for feminists, and advocates for culture change on campus.
“FORCE works to create space where women and people of all identities can feel safe and welcome. We do this by offering resources and support,” Davis said.
Men are also involved. Ryan Kelly participated in the Women’s March to show his support of the Me Too movement and to support his wife, one of the organizers of the Tucson march. Men need to step up to thwart sexual harassment and tackle the problem of toxic masculinity, he said.
“You talk about rape culture. It’s a real thing. Maybe someone who’s catcalling isn’t a rapist. When people project that, accept that in spaces, it makes bigger problems more likely. It’s something we need to improve on and eradicate,” Kelly said.
“I think that because of the attention this movement, and others like it, have received, more spaces are trying to accommodate survivors by providing support in any way they can,” Davis said. “In addition, I would say that people may feel more comfortable coming forward, talking about their experiences knowing that they have communal support.”
Here in more detail are some of those women’s voices:
Joki Potkonjak — “When I think about it, this has been happening to me for years. It had to start around freshman year of high school. On campus, college men rarely call at girls. I have never experienced it on campus. Around campus is where it is more common — from older men.”
Georgia Dunkerly “It is all the time. At first I would feel uncomfortable and disturbed by strange men hollering at me walking down the street. Now I’m used to it and laugh in my head. What else are you supposed to do when it is all of the time?
“I do not get the point. What do these men think they are going to get out of it? I don’t know a single girl that has given someone who has hollered at them the time of day. If anything, it makes us ignore them even harder than we already were. Do they think it is going to make us interested? I just don’t understand.
“It is not flattering. Its scary, and sometimes your safety feels compromised. You don’t know how far these men will go if they felt like it was okay to say something sexual to a young lady. Sometimes the comments are more harmless, but they can also be vulgar.
“I see it the worst on social media. It will never get the same attention as the ‘Me Too’ issues, but it is so frequent. I get the most vulgar things said to me from strangers on social media. All girls do. Just because we are women, does that mean men have an open invitation to harass and degrade us?”
Keely Davis –– “I think that because of the attention this movement and others like it have received, more spaces are trying to accommodate survivors by providing support in any way they can.
“Unfortunately, harassment on campus, or very close to it, is much more common than people may think. It discourages me that I have to suggest what women should do to protect themselves, versus suggesting that people just don’t harass each other. Regardless, I encourage women to have a companion if they are walking alone at night or when it’s dark.
“I think harassment is common on college campuses because it is a hot spot for power imbalance. It is important that we keep working to create safer space by educating people about intersectional topics.”
Sarah Workman — “The harassment I see on the UA campus is more subtle, but it definitely happens every single day. You just get uncomfortably stared at, no matter what you’re wearing. I think what’s really unfortunate for us as women is that we’ve almost been taught that there’s nothing we can do about it.
“Physically, [male harassers] could overpower you, and so a lot of girls get in situations like that where they feel uncomfortable but they feel like if it came down to it, they would lose.
“This summer I was in LA and I lived really close to my internship building. There was a few times where I was walking to or from work and men would just stop me, not college-age guys, clearly much older, and they would stop me and some were very nice about it. But then there were other times where guys would say ‘Oh, where do you work? Where are you going right now?’ and it was a short walk, but sometimes when that would happen I would have to go into a random store because I didn’t want them to follow me to work or to my apartment
“Women have really good intuition when it comes to feeling unsafe, and its almost like we can pick up things that men don’t even know they’re communicating to us
“I had a friend get locked in a bathroom [at a fraternity party] and she was so close to being raped or sexually abused, and we had to go in there and find her, and the guy had actually punched her.
Kristen Bustillos — “I had this guy my freshman year who knew my boyfriend and he came up to me at a party and was telling me how much he liked me and my boyfriend and how cute we were together. By the end of the conversation his hand was on my butt.
“At a club in Barcelona, I was walking through a crowd and I had a guy stick his hand up my romper and basically cup my vagina. I grabbed his wrist and tried to twist it but then he pushed me and I fell onto one of my friends in my group and was scared for the rest of the night and had to stay in the middle of my entire friend- group being protected.
“You have to be observant all the time like at the gym, in class, just walking home, driving home, because if you’re not someone could do something bad to you at any time and you wouldn’t have even seen it coming.”