“When I was 6 years old I gave my first blow job”.
This is just one of thousands of #LifeInLeggings stories that have taken social media by storm.
Triggered by personal stories and aiming to create a safe space for women to speak up, #LifeInLeggings was born. Ronelle King and Allyson Benn, two Bajans, came together with a group of like-minded women and started the hashtag #LifeInLeggings. Women could use it to share their experiences and their daily harassment as well as hurtful abuse that women have faced in the past and every day. What the hashtag has grown to represent is an ongoing collection of stories from cat calling or public harassment to emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
As recently as December 9th, at the Billboard’s Women In Music 2016, Madonna spoke out bluntly on eerily similar issues. She was being honoured as Woman of the Year and while she was grateful for the first few seconds of her acceptance speech, she made it clear that she made it to this point in her career “in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse”.
The superstar continued with stories of how she made it in the industry from her first apartment in NY where she was raped to the endless barrage of trolling on social media.
No matter your background, age, career choice or where you stand in life, it is an ongoing battle women have to face and there is an urgent need for change. If you didn’t know things were this serious then it’s time to tune in. If you’re aware of it but didn’t understand the severity of the issue then it’s time to start stepping up your game.
Male reactions have touched both ends of a spectrum. One Facebook user stated “#LifeInLeggings kind of getting tired scrolling through my timeline and seeing all these made up fake stories under this hashtag”.
On the other hand, another man wrote “These #LifeInLeggings stories of horror are disturbing and heart-breaking. I don’t know or can never understand the pain you have been through and apologies on behalf of my species falls woefully short. But you ladies who have been and continue to face this abuse, rest assure you will always have my love protection compassion and support”.
As with most things, there is a spectrum of just how obscured from society this daily abuse really is. How is it that some are so stubborn that they hardly have it in them to believe any of it is true? How is it that others know that it’s going on but have never understood the extent of the damage?
It starts at home
Online blogger Kristina Kuzmic posted a long article on how much she hates the saying “Boys will be boys”. She stressed that it implies that “boys cannot help what they say, how they think or how they act. It also implies that they have no self-control”. It’s easily used as an excuse by women to other women rationalising men’s behaviour but since when was there ever a need to rationalise it? There is no excuse for men to be demeaning, degrading or offensive. None.
Kuzmic goes on to explain the smallest changes that can have a positive impact. When raising your sons, “instead of asking [your] young boys if he thinks a girl in his class is cute, ask him if he thinks she is kind, funny or smart. Let’s not brainwash our boys from a young age to focus on just how a girl looks. […] Make sure our kids never have to hear us judge another person based on looks”.
In a recent interview with The Morning Brew, Mandy Cummins, Secretary & Treasurer of #LifeInLeggings, expressed that she was not surprised or shocked by the speed at which this hashtag has taken off but, instead, what stunned her was the number of interactions one woman could go through yet still remain standing.
Ronelle, Director of #LifeInLeggings, wasn’t shocked by the explosion of the trend either. She was confident that there would be many but she could never have predicted the sheer number of women willing to share.
If we follow the journey, the hashtag started right here in Barbados in November. There was some buzz on Facebook and Twitter and within weeks it sparked a reaction from Independent Member of Parliament in Barbados, Dr. Maria Agard. She shared her own experiences and reached out to women on social media. Just a hop away, Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister, Ayanna Webster-Roy in Trinidad also joined the conversation. Tanya Stephens, the Jamaican artist, poured her heart out on her Facebook page and shared her tragic rape stories – yes there were more than one.
By December, #LifeInLeggings jumped from regional to global. It reached the BBC who interviewed Allyson Benn, the Social Media Manager, before she started a campaign that tracked sexual harassment worldwide over 72 hours. Women from 43 cities, spanning 29 countries posted their experiences of sexual harassment via various social media platforms.
More people are aware now. The audience continues to expand. What can be done? What are the next steps?
Know your rights. You are protected by the law.
Section: 2, F of the minor Offences Act of Barbados 1998.
2. Any person who…
(f) in any street, highway or public place, including a beach, without lawful authority or excuse (the proof whereof shall lie on the person accused), accosts, molests, threatens or harasses any person or follows him about;
“(2) For the purposes of this section ”harass” means to (a) use words, gestures and actions that annoy, alarm or abuse a person; (b) insult, taunt or challenge a person in a manner likely to offend; (c) use obscene and profane language to intimidate a person; or (d) disturb or irritate especially by continued and repeated acts.”
#LifeInLeggings encourages women to screenshot this and show this to any and everyone, even the police. Some law enforcements officials are not even aware of these basic rights.
In one of the stories shared, a young girl was beaten by a man she didn’t know. When he asked her for her number, she said she had a boyfriend and things went downhill from there. He started to follow her then one day he physically assaulted her and when this matter was brought to the police, they insisted that this man HAD to be her boyfriend because “Nobody don’t just beat up somebody just so.”
If you read the news at all you will certainly have read stories of people who have gone to the police to simply be inexcusably turned away. Do not allow the police to turn you away. Be prepared, know your rights.
This movement continues to grow and the stories just keep pouring in. There is now an official Facebook page which has created a single space for sharing and interacting with each other.