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Respect Me! A poet’s call


naomi poemLast week I performed a poem I wrote about street harassment.

I’ve been feeling poetic recently. And I’ve been feeling increasingly wound up about street harassment…well from about the age of 10.

Last week the two things came together, when I performed a poem I wrote about street harassment.

Earlier this year I reported on, and was involved in a survey into street harassment carried out by Coventry Women’s Voices (CWV) and Coventry University. In April the report, ‘An Everyday Occurrence’, was published showing the results of the survey.

The survey found that 61 per cent of those asked had experienced sexual harassment in the previous 12 months; incidents which included unwanted sexual comments (37 per cent), wolf-whistling (32 per cent) and being groped (12 per cent).

The international movement Stop Street Harassment says that around the world between 70-100 per cent of women have experienced some form of harassment in public.

This harassment can include anything from leering, wolf-whistling and sexual comments to groping, masturbation and assault.

My own experiences of street harassment, like many who we spoke to in the survey, began when I was about 10 years old, and haven’t stopped since.

Being involved with the survey and hearing how many other women experience sexual harassment on a daily basis only compounded my anger about the issue.

So I put it in a poem.

My poem is called ‘Respect Me’, because simply that is what I’d like men to do, and I feel that if any of the men who have sexually harassed me – or other women – had an ounce of respect for us, they would stop it.

As I wrote the poem I recalled, not only the incidences of harassment I have experienced, but also many of the responses we got in the survey.

The types of harassment women experienced, the way women change their behaviour to avoid harassment, the emotional effect it has on women and the places women have experienced it.

All this went into the poem ‘Respect Me’ which I will leave you to watch, or read:

Respect me.
Don’t expect me
to enjoy your stare and your leer
I don’t want to hear
Your words laced with lust
While I wait for the bus
I don’t want to know what you think of my ‘ass’
or my ‘tits’
or any other bits of my body

MY  body.

Not yours to ogle or claim
or call sexy names
Not yours to grope
Not yours to touch
Not yours to assess & publicly judge

Respect me.
Don’t expect me to smile
Because you say so,
Or when you shout ‘fancy a shag’
For me to say ‘ok, let’s go’!

Stop staring
Because you’re scaring me.

“I’m fine thanks”

“Go away”

“Please leave me alone.”

“Let me be.”

Respect me.
Don’t expect me to turn around
There’s 3 of you behind me now
You whistle and whistle again
I’ve got my earphones in, head down
I pretend
I can’t hear you.
“Hey white top!” you try in vain,
that’s not my name
Have you noticed my walking has doubled in pace?
Do you have any idea how this feels,
The three of you hot on my heels,
Keen for the chase.
I’m afraid.

Respect me.
Don’t expect me to take it as a compliment
That’s not what you meant
when you yelled from your car,
rubbed against me at the bar,
followed me and smacked your lips,
tried to grab my hips,
whistled, whooped & groaned,
waited ‘til I was on my own,
hollered ‘hey baby’, ‘hey honey’, ‘hey cutie’, ‘hey sexy’,
Do you REALLY expect me
to respond to this shit?
to comply when you shout ‘show us your tits!’?
or pucker up when you murmur ‘give us a kiss’?

What is it you want?
‘cos I’ve had enough
of this stuff;
of crossing the road
and clutching my keys
of going the long way round to avoid your sleaze.
I’m sick of the feeling of fear and shame
and of fucking rape culture saying I’M to blame!

don’t expect me to shut up about this
‘Cos we will holler back
and call you out
and tell it how it is.

It is harassment.
It is assault.
It is YOURS, and NEVER my fault.

It is power play.
It is oppression.
It is treating me like I am a possession.

It is threatening.
It is disrespectful.
It is entirely neglectful
of the fact that I am much more than ‘a nice rack’

So step back.
Shut your trap.
Walk away.
Avert your gaze.
Keep your hands to yourself,
Do not touch, or obstruct, or follow or yell,
and go tell
all your mates to stop it as well.

Listen and hear.
This isn’t a request or a plea.
It’s a demand
for you
To Respect me.

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