In time, besides the lessons at school and work, you will learn to stay silent. You will learn to ignore, to put up with it, to live with guilt. And although your inner being will be deeply hurt every time, you will choose silence, because who could you speak to?
Elementary school, high school, university, doctoral studies, your first job… whatever your circumstance, if you are a woman in the Balkans, you will have experienced one of many kinds of sexual harassment, without even knowing what it’s called.
While boys ran around you in elementary school, trying to touch you inappropriately, everyone around you most often stayed silent. Your friends and teachers stayed silent, and it was only your own discomfort that screamed, trying to tell you something is wrong. Your feelings screamed, and everyone around you laughed because – they’re only children.
A while later, your high school professor will ask you where you’re headed exposing your tits like that, or something along those lines, but as the discomfort starts screaming, it’s followed by ‘that’s just him, don’t pay him any attention’.
Many years later, in one of your job interviews, you will get the same feeling when a future boss asks you inappropriate personal questions, or comments on your appearance in an inappropriate way, or sends you a million text messages trying to get something from you which you didn’t agree to when you said yes to the job.
Sometimes you will get the chills while reading a sexist comment underneath your photo telling you you are less worthy for wearing a short shirt, or for having dated this guy or another. And then, just like every other time, you will wonder if you deserve it or if you even have the right to complain because you did wear skirts, and you did have a boyfriend…Sometimes every fiber of your being will rebel when a passer-by on the street casually tells you what he would like to do to you, but your friend will tell you to ignore it – he’s just an idiot.
In these cases, and many others, everyone will stay silent, tell you not to be dramatic – it’s just boys being boys, or ‘him’ being him, all the while your gut tells you it’s wrong, that it disturbs you and you don’t want to go through it.
n time, besides the lessons at school and work, you will learn to stay silent. You will learn to ignore, to put up with it, to live with guilt. And although your inner being will be deeply hurt every time, you will choose silence, because who could you speak to?
Unfortunately, some will learn to thicken their skin so it doesn’t bother them at all, and some will learn to silence the voice telling them it’s wrong, forever.
Ten, twenty, thirty years later, the media is on fire, our society has risen up. The entire region has been moved by the terrible experience of young women, and we are now questioning our own experiences, our behavior, our employees. So many questions – how did this happen, why were they silent for so long, how we have not noticed, for God’s sake why did they not speak up sooner?! Whose fault is this?!
In a world where you are constantly told to keep quiet, to ignore, to find justification for a pushy boss, colleague, friend, professor, and to find the blame in yourself, what else could we have expected?
Did we really think that in the world where generations are raised with sticks, and our asses are being grabbed for decades – starting with elementary school, there are no sick minds who take those ‘small’ terrors to the next level?
Are we that naïve to believe there aren’t those who will take advantage of the silence and ignorance in the worst ways?
We can’t be so gullible as to believe that there are no minds who will add up all the silence, the ignoring, and multiply it by the most important ingredient – the fact that we choose which victim of sexual harassment to stand by, depending on the length of her skirt, number of partners, or the work she does?
And while you are searching for an answer to these questions, ask yourselves another one… how many more are there?
And yes… we are all to blame.
Ana Mihajlovski, television journalist and host