I was walking in Northpoint when a man, who looked to be in his 60s, brushed past me, looked blatantly down my blouse, and muttered something in my ear. It happened quickly, and – unfortunately – all I could think to do at that moment was to yell “TEEKO PEK!” at his retreating back. No one paid any attention, and I quickly walked away, too.
When I was eight, I was molested in a bookstore. Browsing alone in MPH Parkway Parade, while my grandma waited outside, I was followed by a man who kept pinching my bum. He then scratched his crotch in front of me, and told me he was very “itchy”. By the time I alerted my grandma, he was gone.
When I was 16, while waiting for a bus, my friends and I spotted a man who kept flashing his penis at us. We called the cops, went to the police station to identify him in a line up after he was caught, and eventually went to court to testify against him (in mitigation, his lawyer pointed to the offender’s pregnant wife).
When I was in my 20s, I was browsing again in a bookstore in Thomson Plaza, when a mousy-looking man began following me around and masturbating himself through his fly. I pointed at him and yelled: “HEY! That man is masturbating in public!” The bookstore was crowded. Everybody looked up and stared at me. Nobody moved. The guy zipped up and ran out of the bookstore. Nobody stopped him. A Popular bookstore employee came up to me nervously. “Are you okay?” she asked. “Is there any problem?” I told her what happened. She nodded at me and slowly backed away. (Also, when I told my then-boyfriend what happened, he laughed and said: “So? Was his dick big?”)
When I was in my 30s, a cleaner who was contracted by the town council to clean my block went out of his way to be friendly to me and my two-year-old son whenever he saw us. One day, at the end of a polite conversation, he pointed at me and gestured up and down, practically smacking his lips: “Nice. Very nice.”
I’m 40 this year. For a while now, I thought that becoming an auntie was some kind of magic privilege that turned me invisible as a sexual being. I didn’t have to contend with cat calls, molesters or stalkers anymore. Even as I type this, I can imagine some of the potential joke-y comments: “Wah, count yourself lucky that you are still attractive”, “You got big boobs what”, etc.
Sure, sure. I haven’t been and am not physically hurt. It’s easy to brush it off and get on with my life. No need to make a big deal. As far as gender equality and safety goes, Singapore not bad already. Right?
But if we think this way, know that if you are or have a daughter, a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, an aunt, or a grandmother, this is their reality. And it is a reality that makes trying to live or function in society that much unnecessarily harder.
So, the point of this post is: Sexism has nothing to do with age, race, religion, class or education levels. Sexual harassment does not just happen to nubile young things. It has nothing to do with how low-cut your top is, how short your skirt, or whether you were walking alone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Women can be ‘taught’ to dress decently or shamed into covering themselves up. Can be told not to put themselves in harm’s way or tempt fates. But, no matter what you do, some people will always be disgusting assholes, if we don’t spread the message that ALL women deserve respect.
At the very least, if you ever hear someone yelling “TEEKO PEH!” in genuine anger and distress, please stop and see if you can help. Help to make it clear that casual, everyday sexual harassment is not acceptable.