Unsafe In A Safe Space
For too long, we have watched women being harassed in public spaces and have done nothing. Our fear of "stepping into someone else's business" leads to serious ramifications for women and perpetuates entitlement over women's spaces. Read Shyla's story about the time where she was harassed and no one stood up for her.
I love going to the gym. I usually go by myself as a way to disconnect and let go of the stress from the day.
I never thought it would be a place where I wouldn’t feel safe.
One night after a gym session, I noticed a man that I did not know waving at me at a nearby table. Not wanting to be rude, I approached him and we had a small conversation. He asked for my Snapchat login, but I countered by giving him my Instagram account to create some social distance. Later in the week, he messaged me multiple times, and after asking him politely to stop, he sent me a rude comment and I blocked him on the network. I didn’t think much of this after that.
A couple of weeks later, I saw the same man at the gym and tried to ignore him. While I was working out on one of the machines, he started circling the machine I was working on until finally, I acknowledged him. He proceeded to aggressively question me about why I blocked him on social media and if I thought I was above him. I started yelling at him repeatably to leave me alone. Eventually, he left, but I was left feeling shaken and alone.
At no point did anyone at the gym step in, even once I started yelling at this man. No one asked if I was alright once he left. He even made fun of me loudly to his friend, trying to get at a reaction from me.
I left immediately after I finished working out. This man invaded my personal space in a way that I struggle to explain with words. I felt completely trapped in this situation. Looking around the room, I saw people looking at me and whispering, but no one was there to help me. Finding no sort of aid from the people at the gym, I tried to reach out to my university.The school took no notice of my situation and quickly turned me down because I didn’t know the personal information of the man.
In this situation and any similar situation, I would have liked for someone to have interfered when they saw the man circling me or when I was yelling at him to leave me alone. I do, however, acknowledge that this can be intimidating for most people. In this case, simply reaching out to me once the man left would have helped me build the level of security I needed to return to my safe space. When we as bystanders choose not to call out this kind of behaviour, it becomes a normalized part of society.
I want to share this story to highlight the importance of practicing allyship, and its impact on situations.
Shyla is in her fourth year of International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa. She currently works at Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs in Negotiations. When not working on projects in her community, she enjoys cuddling with her cat and watching movies.