“The first time I was touched without consent was at the age of 13,” remembers feminist activist, Amarna Miller. “I remember because I was wearing my green and yellow uniform, with a wool skirt that made my thighs itch when I stood against the Metro walls. An elderly man stood before me, so close that I felt his breathing. Taking advantage of the crowded Metro carriage, he reached for my hand and began to caress my fingers, sliding his hand under my jacket until our wrists touched. Nobody did anything. When I got to my stop, I got out of the Metro, feeling as if my hand had been burned.”
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, social media has been rife with assertions of ‘Me Too’: two simple syllables that have served as a battle cry in shaming sexual harassment and assault.
Miller’s is a story not uncommon amongst Spanish women. Madrid-based graduate, Cristina Suarez Vega recalls an almost identical incident as a student, in which a stranger slid his hand up her leg amid a crowded Metro train. “I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to do at first. Luckily a woman confronted him and so I reacted too. I shouted at him, and he just ran away,” she recalls. “Still, I didn’t tell my parents. [For many women] it is a normal reaction to keep these stories to ourselves. Society makes us see them as something of which we should be ashamed or even guilty.”
If there is one topic that has been glued to the lips of women over the last few weeks, it has been that of sexual harassment. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, social media has been rife with assertions of ‘Me Too’: two simple syllables that have served as a battle cry in shaming sexual harassment and assault. Powerfully endorsed by Miller, the Spanish ‘Yo También’ has followed suit, garnering support from across the Hispanic world.
“Every morning I’m accosted at least four times within ten minutes of my house, and I’ve had it up to here. #YoTambién”, tweeted Mexican journalist, Mireya González, joining scores of women from across Spain, Central and South America in denouncing the Hispanic ‘machismo’.
Defined as “an attitude or way of thinking that asserts men’s superiority over women”’, for many critics, ‘machismo’ remains a deeply entrenched phenomenon within Spain. Speaking with The New York Times, the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, denounced the “normalisation” of sexism in Spain. Meanwhile, Miguel Lorente, an expert on gender violence, has asserted that “[Spanish] men have reacted badly” to women’s growing emancipation.
Yet, from where does the reputation spring? In contrast with its Latino brothers, Spain is traditionally seen as one of the safest countries for women. According to a report last year by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights, Spain reported one of the lowest figures for sexual harassment in Europe. It is currently 15th in the UN’s Gender Inequality Index Rank. Furthermore in the last four years, governmental measures have surged in aiming to eradicate violence against women.
for many critics, ‘machismo’ remains a deeply entrenched phenomenon within Spain.
Yet still, the stories are insidious.
In the cobbled heart of Pamplona – a Renaissance town in which the ghost of Ernest Hemingway lingers alongside the flamboyant annual bull-run – sexual violence has been quick to sour its reputation.
Speaking to The Guardian last year, local waitress Analía Solis condemned the bull-run festival, stating that the situation is worsening: “I just don’t go out… There literally aren’t enough police. You can be out in the street for three hours and you’ll only see two policemen. If you’re nice to someone then they’re all over you, touching your arse.”
Meanwhile, reports over the last three years have confirmed that – although allegedly lower than its European counterparts – sexual violence in Spain is still a tangible phenomenon. One in five Spanish women have experienced sexual assault, while one in three female students have been sexually harassed.
“All of my female friends have stories of sexual harassment, and there are some really serious ones,” affirms Cristina. “Sexual harassment occurs here because women are – unconsciously most of the times – differentiated from men, not seen as equal, in many areas of life. Women get a lower wage than men, they receive catcalls, they are questioned on what they were wearing when they involved in a dangerous situation… To me, [the ‘Yo También’ hashtag] is a good campaign because it uses one of the most powerful characteristics of social media: its ability to reach people. By simply using a hashtag, women can open up about their stories of sexual harassment without feeling judged. However, the issue needs to be addressed by other powerful institutions such as the government, schools, and universities for it to start disappearing. ‘Yo También’ will help for sure, but it can’t work alone.”
Sexual harassment is a serious issue and needs to become a fixture in political discourse. We urge anyone who has experienced these issues to seek support. Those in Exeter, get in touch with the Student Guild’s #NeverOK movement (https://www.exeterguild.org/neverok/) or alternatively contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission for Sexual Harassment at 0845 604 6610.