22 Jul 2014

Home(s) — what they are, and when they cease to be

I've been away from here a lot because I've been settling into a new great, big, important space of my life — my first job. It came a little out of the blue; I certainly wasn't expecting to be into permanent employment before having even graduated, but as I often am, I was at the right place at the right time, and got it.

Finding my place into this new space is an interesting journey. I spend half of my day's waking hours at work, so settling in is no small matter. I start thinking about work in my free time, making friends with my colleagues, and being handed responsibilities makes me feel a part of it.

Yet really, what makes me feel at home is the little details. The actual space; the physical proofs of my belonging there. I have my own desk, a computer that answers to my password — stapler, Sharpie, pushpins (mine). I keep humus in the fridge, soy sauce at hand's reach, and a little mess of questionably smelling gym clothes in the bottom drawer (I never said I was classy).

It's a new home away from home, so naturally, I've been thinking about all the others. I'm not the first kid that's taken off home only to realise that messes up a little with concepts of home and belonging — 3CKs have it much worse than me. As places change and add up, though, it is starting to feel like the definitions of home I hung on to are actually very flawed. Flawed, or limited, covering only a fraction of all the meanings that cohabit within these four letters.

There is a multitude of them, partial homes, places that welcome me, places I miss, places that have meant so much for so long that they will always be mine. There is the home that I am building in the incredible city that sees me to sleep every night, full of my student life and adulthood and collections of memories past and new. There is the home that really means mum-and-dad, the home that I associate with high school friends and carefreeness and splendid cooking. There is the home that has a desk and swirly chair and gets my brain to work. There is the partial home that is not really mine, not officially, that I don't want to call home, not really, a home that sticks to me because I just happen to be there a little too often and really, I like it there — your lover's place, your favourite pub, the top of the park at the end of the street.

Except there's a hidden screw that fits this all together, that makes it work, and when it snaps, everything goes to bloody shambles. You can have all the Sharpies in the world, and even highlighters and a swirly chair that doesn't hurt, but the physical can't ever be the be all of end all.

At the wise and old age of twenty and three months, I, Gaëlle Laforest-yes-like-a-forest, having lived long and bright, having moved four times, I have found that home, really, is all about the people.

So what the hell do I do when the people leave?

8 Jul 2014

Fighting back against street harassment

"Hey miss I was just wondering, what country are you from? Will you tell me over a drink?"

"You look fantastic in this dress, can I get a photo?"

"Hey babe!" (honks)

"Woahhhh look at those legs man!"

"Hey miss you got a boyfriend?"

(whistles, whistles, whistles)


(lip licking)

Dear random man on the street I have never seen before in my life, guess what's going to make me your girlfriend?

Hint: none of the above. But all happened to me.

This morning I chose to wear a dress. I left the house feeling happy to be wearing my favourite dress. The weather wasn't that great, but I figured it'd attract the sun. As usual, none of that happens; rather, since this is England, a country where sexism is a problem of the everyday and the culture more patriarchal than it admits, I got cat called.

I have talked about street harassment before, and I'm not the only one. The media has started to care. Campaigns like Hollaback, Meet Us On The Street or Stop Street Harassment are given a little bit coverage, and manage to make their own noise through social media. Women themselves are starting to realise that this type of behaviour is everything but okay, and yet frequent. More and more frequent, it feels.

It's like shedding light on street harassment has made it increase — I guess that by putting a name on it and recognising it as a major problem, we're acknowledging it's a thing with power. Personally, I'd rather that than a deluded technique à la Voldemort that avoids the problem.

Feminists are often reduced to the idea of "the angry woman", and I'm sure the same qualifier will be given to women fighting street harassment (who are likely to be part of both groups, anyway). But you know what? I am angry. I am so incredibly pissed off. It might not be smart, but I have started to express this anger. What can I say, I certainly am not perfect, and I just don't have the composure to ignore the whistles and disgusting smiles and weird invitations anymore. I talk back. I challenge. The way that I can, I'm trying to take back my space on the streets, my dignity, the respect that is due to me. It's not like anyone else is going to do it for me.

Most will say this is dangerous behaviour — but should I choose taking it in when I'm being publicly degraded over making a stand for myself? I can't. Plus, it's dangerous enough being on the streets altogether, and at least now, I'm making a point to tell these men it's not okay. I'm not theirs. And if that attracts trouble, well, I'd rather be blamed for fighting back than for what I choose to wear (since apparently, it all boils down to that, what a stupid fucking excuse).

A few months ago, one of these stories came out in France ("one of", because now they are so numerous than they don't have the privilege of being special anymore), of a woman being assaulted on a train. It's in reading the comments and this French blogger's take on the issue that the most horrifying shock came: men saying "well what can we do, girls get their bums out as soon as the sun's up, of course we get aroused, it's their fault."

No, I will not be sorry for having the audacity of picking an outfit I love, because I like how it looks on me, because it makes me feel good about myself. *

No, I will not apologise for your disgusting behaviour in the face of what is not more than skin (I personally try to keep my bottom off the streets, but even then — if you're not capable to handle another human being without harassing or assaulting them, you have a problem and should receive medical help).

And no, I will not let you make the streets a place of fear and self-hatred.

* Funny story (not): my worst street harassment experience over the past few months happened will I was on a run. I was wearing very unflattering leggings and a bright red T-shirt the same colour as my running face. I was far from attractive, wearing no revealing clothing, and was literally sweating off my face. And yet I was whistled and called at by men in a van who slowed down to drive next to me.