Jessica Vander Leahy has a powerful message for women. Photo: Instagram
Jessica Vander Leahy has a powerful message for women. Photo: Instagram

'Why I did nothing when a man put his hand up my skirt'

It's time to stop raising girls to always be 'nice'.

The other day I was driving on a busy freeway when I noticed a car near me trying to get my attention.

We were driving fast and this driver seemed desperate for me to notice him. I was worried: "Are my lights on? Is fluid spilling out of my car? What the hell is he trying to tell me?"

As his car pulled in line to me, I looked at him - a middle-aged guy with glasses and a goatee.

Next minute, with aggressive hand gestures, I immediately understood his message.

Cupping his chest he was using the universal sign for breasts, and then following that up with a thumbs up. Yup. So Gross. 

Of course, he did it a few times just to be sure I had seen what he was trying to say, then, he sped off.


It's been a few days since this disturbing incident but I can't let the rage go - and not just because of his dangerous driving.

No, what makes my blood boil is the thought that this guy has managed to get to about 40 years of age and has likely spent a lot of that time being a creep. And what annoys me further is that I know many people reading this are going to roll their eyes and think I should get over it rather than chastise him.

I'm fully aware Creepy Driver Man (CDM) did not murder anyone in this scenario, but he is guilty of sexually harassing a complete stranger and that's not okay.

And I'm not being dramatic when I say that this kind of entitled, predatory attitude towards women escalates to more serious things like rape.

A global problem

I should point out that the recent driving incident happened in America but casual sexual harassment is a global problem that I personally have experienced in every country I've been to, and some of the worst of it at home in Australia.

Not so fun fact: Australia has some of the highest rates of reported sexual assault in the world, according to the United Nations, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 1 in 5 women in Australia will experience sexual assault at some time in their life.

For me, it happened on a train in broad daylight where a stranger forced his hand up my skirt and grabbed at my "pussy," as one world leader might say.

Perhaps more shocking was the fact that I did nothing.

I made no attempt to attract attention, I had no desire to make a fuss. The train doors opened and I rushed out onto the platform without looking back. Why?

Because of our cultural obsession with raising girls to be "good".

Socialised this way

From birth, we are told not to be rude, or bossy, or difficult and above all, not to be a bitch. And it's this obsession with "being nice" that is getting good girls into bad trouble.

Now, in my late 20s, I'm less of a "good girl" and more of a "nasty woman" becoming more and more incapable of pretending to smile when a man does something slimy.

And it seems it might be a right of passage for females approaching a certain age.


~when I see a puppy~

A post shared by jëssica vandër lëahy (@jessicavanderleahy) on

In a January episode of her Women of the Hour podcast, Lena Dunham, 31, was in conversation with author Mary Karr when they discussed this very phenomenon. 

As the "sweet" and "nice" girl grows up, Karr said, "everything she's thinking and not saying is going to rush to the front of her face and she will not be able to stop herself".

Lena agreed, adding: "The things I would tolerate coming out of male mouths specifically, but human mouths generally, when I was 18, 19, 20, even until I was 28, I was just kind of like ready to let anyone say anything to me and then all this rage flooded to the surface."

I can totally relate to that. Nowadays, I will happily tell strangers to "get f-ked" when they disrespect me.

Making a change

But as women, when it comes to casual sexual harassment we do pick our battles.

Going back to CDM, I have his number plate. I could shame him on the Internet, or try and find his wife and tell her she unfortunately married a grade A-creepasaurus, but I don't want to engage in that because I don't think the outcome will reward the effort.

Instead I'm going to change my battle cry - we need to change the way we raise boys.

I know not all men are handsy-creeps but there are some members of their sex severely letting the team down.

Too many men are silent bystanders to sexual harassment which is too often seen as a women's issue, when it's clearly a human issue.

I firmly believe empowering men to call out harassment when they see it from fellow blokes is one of the best weapons we have of ending this epidemic of sickos who think they can do what they want to women.

My new challenge is to ask the fellas to call out blokes who are guilty of "locker room talk" that objectifies women and reduces them to beings that only exist for sexual gratification.

And if that happened perhaps the ladies mightn't feel they have to pick and choose their sexual harassment battles but have allies in decent guys raised to be equally invested in making bacon out of chauvinist pigs.