Dismantle the sexual harassment 'otherworld' — or at least recognize it exists for women

"There is an alternate reality, and I've been trying really, really hard to get the dudes in our scene to see it. Let's call it an 'otherworld,'" writes Calgarian Sarah Adams, lamenting a culture of acceptance when it comes to sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Calgary's Sarah Adams challenges people to acknowledge and end the sexual harassment in their midst

Patrons mingle at a dimly lit bar in this illustrative photo taken by Flickr user skeddy in NYC. (skeddy in NYC/Flickr)

Public Space is CBC Calgary's online portal for opinion.

Sarah Adams recently wrote a Facebook post lamenting the culture of acceptance when it comes to sexual harassment and sexual assault. Her post was widely shared. 

Sarah has adapted her Facebook post as an article for this series.

One of my favourite things ever is reading posts on social media about how amazing our community is. I love it. I'm so happy to be a small part of it all.

Community is my jam, always has been.

But there is something really toxic happening in our community. I'm gonna post something that isn't awesome. It sucks.

So fair warning: this will be a downer.

An alternate reality for women

Okay. Here's something I realized, and it kinda broke my heart: our community is a fantasy. It's a male-normative dream most of us believe in, just so we can leave the house.

There is an alternate reality, and I've been trying really, really hard to get the dudes in our scene to see it.

Let's call it an "otherworld."

It's the world every woman in our community is relegated to. We didn't choose it and we don't enjoy it, but here we are.

In our fantasy community, we go out, we see buddies. We smile and say, "Heeeey!" We watch each other succeed and fail and flirt and laugh. We chug and hug and then sleep it off the next day. So fun.

The 'otherworld' is darker

In the otherworld — and let's imagine a filter on this world, just to drill in how visceral this is for us. Let's imagine the otherworld is a bit darker, a bit sharper, and a bit louder. Okay.

In the otherworld, we go out, we see buddies. Yay! But we also see the bouncer who leered at us during that show last week.

Oh no, _____ is here. He gets touchy when he's drunk.

Oh, there's _______. He was a good friend until last month when he bought us five shots, drove us home and tried to sleep with us. We had to say no three times.

And there's everyone's best pal, good ol' _______, who has sexually assaulted at least four of our friends — and a few we don't know but have heard about. Nobody talks about it because it's "awkward" and "gossipy." He just said hi, we blanked and said hi back.

We go to the bar. We get a drink and then casually protect it. Is that our ex who tried to choke us out four years ago? Oh phew. It's someone else.

Deep breaths, everyone is having such a good time, don't make it weird. Oh, there's _______, she's great. Let's go talk to her.

Dudes, why can't you see it?

I don't know how to articulate this so it gets through, but every guy you know — every guy — is a different guy when he's around us. You are, too. It's not always a negative difference. Some of you are more empathetic. Some are funnier. Most of you are more charming.

You can choose to believe us and help us, or you can choose to brush it off ...Sarah Adams

But some of you are not good to us. Some of your best buddies do not have our best interests in their minds. And you'd never know it. How would you? You have no access into our otherworld. Some of you are very bad to us. Some have hurt us. Some have used us. We've seen sides of your good ol' pals you will never see or experience, ever. Simply because we're women. That's it.

You have choices 

Buddies: if we tell you one of your good ol' pals is a predator, or has hurt one of us, or many of us, here are your choices:

1. You can choose to believe us and help us, or

2. You can choose to brush it off, and leave it to the otherworld, where we step carefully, like hunted game. Always on guard, we're trying to enjoy your fantasy community while simultaneously crossing our fingers that we're going to make it home tonight.

If you choose number 2 — and choosing to do nothing is absolutely a choice — here's my question for you: Who are you protecting?

One more time for the folks in the back:

Who are you protecting?

In making either one of those choices, you've decided to protect someone. In the first choice, you've decided to protect the victims. You've invested yourself in dismantling the otherworld and making our community a great place for everyone. Thank you.

In the second choice, you're protecting the toxic lurkers. The predators. The broken stairs. You're complicit in keeping us relegated to the otherworld, and the wonderful community you love so much will continue to exclude us. Yes we'll still pretend it's for us too, but it isn't, really.

Sarah Adams

If you're wondering where all this is coming from — why shatter the glass now, Sarah? — it's because I'm sick of knowing what I know, what almost every woman in this community knows, and watching friends, pals and buddies do nothing.

Awkward confrontation does not trump the safety of your community's female population. We're here. We contribute. We rip our hearts out trying to make this scene a good, fun place. We deserve better. We deserve support and safe spaces.

I'm not going to tolerate it anymore. I will pull every string and use every connection at my disposal to end this. I'm done. Get on our side or f--k off.

Reaction to my Facebook rant

The post above was written on the evening of Saturday, Jan. 16. As a woman who's been a part of Calgary's arts community for about a decade, and as someone who has tried my damnedest to make my communities better, I couldn't understand why we still seemed to be hitting a wall when it came to safe spaces.

What followed has been a solid week of loud, passionate discussions, online and offline. My Facebook post has been shared widely. I've had a mountain of messages from people sharing their stories of abuse, and folks wondering what they can do to help. It's been completely overwhelming and very humbling.

Since being trusted with so many stories and hearing how completely pervasive the issue is, there's no question that our community is in a lot of pain. That said, coming out of that week-long hurricane, I feel more certain than ever that we can change things.

Women need to feel safe and we need everyone's help to make it happen

Safe space initiatives are being developed and strengthened, and most importantly, people are talking. And talking. And talking. Many who've been hurt have found their voices within the conversation, and many who were oblivious are now listening.

I can't stress enough how important it is to talk to your female or at-risk friends about their experiences, and to listen to them. Believe them. Help them.

Calgary can do better, and we're going to.

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About the Author

Sarah Adams

Sarah Adams is an arts advocate, visual artist, comedian, and gal-about-town. She's worked in and supported Calgary's creative communities for over 10 years.


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