Thousands of Mexican women are talking about sexual harassment for the first time

Every woman has a story.
Every woman has a story.
Image: Reuters/Ginnette Riquelme
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A Twitter campaign is offering an unprecedented view of sexual harassment of women in Mexico. It’s systematic, indiscriminate, and sickening.

Rarely publicly acknowledged in Mexico, sexual harassment is being surfaced via Twitter hashtag #MiPrimerAcoso, or #MyFirstHarassment, by women posting their first experiences with male bullying and by others wanting to have an open discussion. Hundreds of thousands of posts have circulated in the last three days.

The drive, started by a Colombian columnist (link in Spanish) on Saturday, is reinforcing the issue after demonstrations Sunday (April 24) in Mexico City and other major cities attracted thousands of women. The Twitter record, a poignant collection of heartfelt confidences, will probably prove more powerful.

Social media has become a venting mechanism for touchy subjects that people are reluctant to discuss face-to-face. In Brazil, Twitter hashtags #PrimeiroAssedio, or #FirstHarassment, arose in response to disturbing online comments about a teenage contestant in a TV food competition show. A similar campaign asking people to describe the clothes they were wearing when they were sexually assaulted went viral a couple of years ago. 

#MiPrimerAcoso reveals that many women first experienced harassment as girls, as young as five and six years old. The perpetrators of the abuse span a wide range, from relatives—older cousins and uncles are mentioned frequently—to policemen, to random strangers, and in one case, a therapist.

Denise Dresser, a well-known political commentator, said a priest forced her to sit on his lap to do confession.

In this tweet, a woman recounts how she had to endure an entire metro ride in Mexico City with a man touching her from behind, with an “it-wasn’t-me” look on his face. She was 12.

Another woman recalled how, when she was 13, her aquatic ski instructor thought that it was necessary “to touch me and put his penis near me” for her to learn to ski.

The bullying continues past puberty. Several women posted that they couldn’t recall the first instance they had been harassed, since it had happened so many times. The list of incidents is as long as it is infuriating. Men ejaculating on women in public transit, or using their bodies to masturbate at open-air events.  There’s flashing, obscene comments and gestures, and slapping women’s behinds as they walk on the street.

Some men have used the hashtag to show sympathy or to apologize for improper behavior. One man said on Facebook that it never occurred to him that touching his sisters’ friends or lifting their skirts might be scary for them. He knows better now, based on his post.

But others used social media to continue harassing women. “How interesting that those who feel offended by catcalls are the type of women to whom one would never say anything flirtatious. How interesting that almost all feminazis are fat and ugly,” one of them posted.