Living in a society of sexual harassment, an open letter by Diem CEO, Emma Bates

Gina Martin Upskirting Ted Talk

(TW: Sexual Harassment & Assault)

Last week was supposed to be a week of great celebration for women, from IWD to (UK) Mother's Day. But like many of you, I spent most of my week reflecting on the Sarah Everard news and the extensive list of learned behaviours we have developed as women, all to navigate a society laced with misogyny. The behaviours that are so deeply engrained it took the most tragic of instances (aka. our collective worst nightmare) to bring them to the forefront of public discussion. We should not have to dim our presence out of the sheer fear of shining too bright. My biggest motivation in life is to have a positive social impact on the lives of women. This initially sparked during my time at university. I wrote my thesis on gender and sexual-based violence perpetrated by UN Peacekeeping missions (read: male peacekeepers) around the world, with a specific focus on the missions to Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. To cut 10,000 words short – when male peacekeepers were deployed by the UN, many used their power (in this instant access to food, water & protection) to sexually assault women (and girls) in their protection, often cultivating entire sex industries in their wake. As you can likely imagine the case studies and interviews I conducted were harrowing, to say the least. 7 years later, they still motivate me every single day to do something, literally anything, that can have an impact on changing this. I’ll preface all of the following with, I am an incredibly privileged woman... from the colour of my skin, to my appearance, my education, upbringing, access to opportunity, and my free will to move countries. I’m very lucky. In acknowledging my fortunes and (academic) knowledge, it is immensely hard for me to sit by and not utilize every avenue I have at my fingertips to speak about the instances of sexual harassment we all experience on a daily basis. Starting with sharing a handful of my own, with all of you here. You may have seen the statistic floating around that 97% of women in the UK have been sexually harassed. As a woman who grew up in the UK, I hold my hand up as one of them. The below are only happenings that have occurred to me in public spaces, they don’t begin to touch upon ones I’ve experienced with men I have known or been “involved” with.

I’ve been upskirted, twice.

I’ve been groped in the street.

I’ve been groped on a rush-hour tube, multiple times.

I’ve been flashed.

I’ve had a man try to wank over me on a relatively empty subway (shout out to the stranger who alerted me and offered me a safe seat next to her).

I’ve been scared on almost every walk home.

I’ve been followed home.

I’ve been cat-called almost every day for what feels like my whole life.

I’ve carried keys between my fingers, I’ve psyched myself up to use them.

I’ve run home.

I’ve had men DM me messages alluding to sexual assault, followed by DMs that they know where I live.

I’ve experienced non-consensual sexual advances and luckily escaped them.

What’s upsetting to me is not that I’ve experienced these instances, it's not even that I've normalized most of them in my mind - it's that the majority of us have experienced this, at a minimum, and many of you may have experienced much worse. As part of my week of reflection, I re-watched Gina Martin’s phenomenal Ted Talk from last year where she spoke about her campaign to make Upskirting illegal in the UK. One quote that continues to stick with me is from this talk is the following...

"Women and marginalized genders shut their mouths because we make it harder for them when it’s open.” – Gina Martin, Feb 2020.

We must all acknowledge that misogyny, harassment & sexual violence is interconnected. That especially includes you, that’s right you ~ man in the minority ~ reading this blog post. We know it’s #notallmen but instead of shouting about how you’re not at fault, engaging in pseudo-intellectual debates about women’s rights, sitting quietly as your friend makes a sexist remark or speaking to a woman as you’d never talk to a man... prove you’re not the problem with actions that move the needle and not just in the direction of clearing your name. We live in a sexist society in which men feel entitled to women’s bodies, when any instance of sexual harassment, misogyny, or violence (no matter how big or small) plays out unchecked, it perpetuates the cycle and culture of violence towards women. Another thing I realized is the fact that platforms like Diem – these digital “third spaces” for women – wouldn’t need to exist in such a desperate manner if equality and respect for all women existed in societies, the world over. And while don’t get me wrong, it’s an absolute joy and privilege to be building such a space for us all, it’s a very sad reality to recognize this in tandem. I have a lot more to say on this in the coming weeks, months and years but for today I’ll end with a note to every woman whose life was ended as a result of a world that perpetuates violence against women – everyone from Sarah, to Blessing Olusegun, to the rise of femicides in Mexico.

I am so sorry. I am so angry.

It is not on the ‘oppressed’ in society to do the heavy lifting alone. When we come together as a community, as humans of all genders, of all races...

we can move mountains.

Have the conversation. Ask the questions. Share your story. Get angry. Turn your anger into action. Whenever you can, stand up for those that can’t. I’ll be right there with you, Emma


For anyone that is seeking support on anything pertaining to the above, you can always message me in Diem.