I'm Not Your "Baby": An Australian woman's tortured life of sexual harassment and assault

By Joy Jennings

Biography & memoir, General non-fiction

Paperback, eBook

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517
3 mins

Excerpt from Chapter 5

The disadvantage of being an Aussie beach chick was that when I did go out anywhere alone, I became vulnerable to the onslaught of street harassment from every Australian male who passed me by. It didn’t matter where I went or what I wore, from light summer clothing through to baggy T-shirts and sweat pants, it was as though I had no right to walk the streets without being a target of sexually charged harassment.
It didn’t only happen on the coast. I remember being harassed back in Melbourne starting at around the age of thirteen. The odd car would honk as it drove past, and some bloke would whistle at me, which I didn’t like. If I said anything to either one of my sisters, I was just told to take as a compliment. I tried to at first, but the car toots and whistles increased in both frequency and intensity with every year, and it really started to wear me down.
When I turned seventeen and first moved to the coast, the harassment increased tremendously, and I soon had all manner of men, of all ages, whistling, tooting and yelling out at me. Their comments were sexist, lewd and really quite vile.
“Hey baby, show us your pink bits!”
“Hey baby, wiggle that hot ass. You’re getting us hard!”
The invidious comments weren’t exclusive to Australian men, but they certainly were responsible for the crudest of them. Men anywhere from sixteen to seventy-six were all taking part in objectifying not only me, but many other women, my friends included. The very worst of it would usually come from the young Aussie men in their late teens and early twenties, who had absolutely no idea how to behave in public, especially in front of a lady.
There were also the physical assaults. If I was standing in a busy store or crowded place, especially on public transport, I would have my bottom pinched, my breasts groped, crotches rubbed against me, and propositions for sex and other lewd and vile remarks whispered in my ear. When I was at work, I had guys leaping over the counter to kiss my cheek or smell my neck, and I was hit on continually.
Quite often, I was followed by males who would make disgusting remarks.
“Ooh, baby, ya look like ya need big cock in ya!”
“Come on, baby. Flash us your tits!”
“Oh, baby, I’d like some of your tail!”
“You get me horny!”
“How about a head job?”
“Come on, baby. Suck it for me!”
“Ooh, baby, nice ass!”
“Show us your tits!”
“Hey baby, how much?”
“Bend over, sugar. I’ll give you a ride!”
“You get my cock hard!”
These so-called compliments were never something I found cute, funny or complimentary, but rather insulting, intimidating, abusive, rude, insensitive and vulgar. No woman deserves it, and it wasn’t something I should have expected because I was born female.
Many leered and snickered and called me over like a dog. Some would grab their crotches and ask me if I wanted some. They whistled, hooted and hollered and made sexual gestures with their hands, fingers, mouths and tongues.
Driving a car often became dangerous because of the aggressive and risky manoeuvres males would make trying to catch my attention. They sped up, slowed down, blocked me in and hung out of their windows, whistling and hollering out at me, weaving their cars into my path. I was in constant fear of being driven off the road and crashing into something.
I never did anything to encourage their behaviour or attention. I did not wear anything too tight or too revealing. I didn’t wiggle anything, fall out of anything or show off in any way. I didn’t even toss my hair in anybody’s direction. None of this mistreatment was because of anything I did to attract it. My only crime was simply developing into a young woman.
Whenever I walked out onto the street, I felt objectified, degraded and humiliated in public, as if my intellect, my capabilities as a person or anything I might accomplish in life didn’t matter. Nor did any of my hopes, my dreams or my plans for my future. What only seemed to be important to them was how my appearance or sex appeal rated on their scales. They showed no concern about my feelings or whether what they yelled out hurt me. It seemed they expected me to be empty inside, to be the grateful recipient of their male lust.
It was exhausting being continually reminded that I was under constant observation and scrutiny, being evaluated and judged on my appearance. Despite what they thought, being attractive was not the sole purpose for my existence, and my secret wish was to yell at every single one of them, I am not your dog that you whistle for; I’m not a stray animal you call over, and I am not, I never have been, nor will I ever be, your “baby”!
My formative years never included any instruction on how to deal with harassment. It just wasn’t something anybody discussed or worried about. We were largely left to our own devices and told just to ignore it or accept it as part of our Australian, male-dominated culture.


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