On the 4th of February, Júlia Velo and her friend were having a drink at Quitandinha bar, in a bohemian neighbourhood of Sao Paulo, Brazil, when they were harassed by two men. The latter sat at the women’s table uninvited, refused to leave when asked, and even drank their beer. The two women called the bartender but were ignored. Then one of the guys touched Júlia’s arm and when she protested he started insulting her and her friend. Finally the manager of the bar came but instead of sending the two men away he had the two women escorted out by security. He then went to speak to Júlia and her friend but failed to listen to their protest. Instead, he said that the two men were regular customers and the accusations against them were unacceptable. Meanwhile the harassers were still sitting at the bar drinking and laughing. Police came only to reinforce that nothing could be done before going to have a friendly chat with the guys, who pointed at the two women and called them “hysterical”.
Had this happened a decade or more ago, there was little that could have been done, the girls would just have had to take the humiliation and try to forget this had ever happened. But fortunately we are in the era of social media, so Júlia related the episode on her Facebook page with a link to the bar page and the hashtag #vamosfazerumescândalo (let’s create a scandal). What followed was unbelievable: within a few hours more than 20,000 men and women inundated the Quitandinha Bar’s Facebook page with angry comments and the original post has now more than 100,000 likes and nearly 40,000 shares.The bar’s attempt to defend itself only made things worse. On a first post they tried to discredit the victim, provoking even more indignation including among some witnesses to the incident, who confirmed that the story was true. Then they focused on their 25-year activity and tradition and assured that they will do what they can to ascertain what has happened that night. All to no avail, the negative comments kept flowing in. A public apology and an attempt to make things right with the victims might have minimised the damage but this was not done and the bar has now lost both his clients and his reputation.
This overwhelming reaction is a clear sign that times have changed. In the past men could regularly harass and abuse women and get away with it. I think all of us has experienced that at some point our lives and have kept quiet for fear of being ignored or even blamed. But now we have the means to tell our stories to the world and to let everybody know that we have had enough. There will inevitably be people who call us hysterical and say that we are blowing things out of proportion but there is also an army of women and men out there ready to take our side in the fight against injustice and sexism.
Through the power of social media we have seen campaigns such as #Everydaysexism #GirlsnotBrides #Itsnotok #Indiasdaughter to name but a few, who have not only highlighted inequality and injustice faced by women but also worked to unite everyone to stand together in solidarity. We know there is still much more that needs to be done to end harmful practices but through platforms such as this, we can ensure that voices which have previously been silenced are heard to make a real and lasting difference