Ever since I stopped mooching off my sister’s Netflix account and bought a joint account with my boyfriend, I’ve been spending a lot more time binge watching. Maybe it’s because I want to make the most of my subscription now that I’m paying for it, or maybe it’s because I’ve been stuck at home for the past 30 days and counting. Or both.
One of the Netflix series I love watching is “Sex Education.” It’s a British comedy-drama series where an awkward teenager named Otis, whose mother is a sex therapist, decides to open up an unofficial sex clinic in his school at an age where students are just learning about their bodies.
Both seasons are very funny while still being relatable – and no, I’m not just talking about Eric telling us “detty pigs” to wash our hands at a time like this. The show also tackles issues about sex, gender, sexuality, and love. And in a way, the show kind of acts like the sex education I never formally had.
But right now, I really want to talk about that bus arc with Aimee.
A Harrowing Commute
While on a public bus on the way to school, a random man masturbates on Aimee’s pants. Despite her distress, no one tries to help her and she gets off the bus before she reaches her stop.
When she gets to school, she mentions what happens in passing to her best friend, Maeve. Maeve tries to convince her that she was just sexually assaulted, but Aimee acts like it wasn’t a big deal. They go to a police station, and while the police take her jeans as evidence, the man was never caught. Aimee doesn’t tell her parents and acts like it doesn’t affect her.
After the incident, we see how it affects Aimee. She stops taking the bus and claims she prefers to walk long distances. In random occasions, she hallucinates seeing the man who assaulted her, making her feel unsafe. She breaks up with her boyfriend because she becomes repulsed by physical touch.
It comes to a head when, while in detention with Maeve and four other girls, she admits that the incident made it hard for her to get on the bus. All the girls then reveal that they all have their own similar stories of sexual assault: Olivia was groped in public, Maeve was blamed for being catcalled because she was wearing shorts, Viv wasn’t allowed to go to a public pool as a child because an older man flashed her; and Ola being followed by a man until she went to her father. Aimee later releases her anger at the man who made her scared and for the people on the bus who didn’t help her.
The next day, Aimee finds the other girls waiting for her at the bus stop. They ride the bus with her, telling her that “it’s just a stupid bus.” Finally, she gets the courage to get on and sit.
My Own Stupid Bus Story
When I was 18, I’d take the bus to and from Las Piñas to Taft Avenue, where I go to school. I sat on the window seat and this guy sat next to me. But I didn’t pay him any attention and dozed off. While the bus was on the expressway, I could feel the guy next to me constantly fidgeting. I thought he was just uncomfortable, but I noticed he kept elbowing this one spot at the side of my breast.
I didn’t want to cause a scene, so I kept telling myself it was just an accident.
The bus exited the expressway and dropped off a lot of passengers near the Coastal Mall and it was just me and the guy and a few others near the back of the bus. A part of me felt like I should get down at Baclaran and get on another bus, but Taft was about 15 minutes away and I told myself I shouldn’t be so paranoid.
And then I noticed him stroking his penis. I felt like I should have done something, but I didn’t.
I was terrified of what he’d do to me if I screamed. When the bus reached Baclaran, I simply stood up and left. I was so scared that I even muttered an “excuse me” as I tried to pass him.
I got down, got on the first bus heading to Taft, and texted my parents and my aunt about what happened. The moment I entered my university’s gates, I broke down. I made my way to the Discipline Office because I was a volunteer there and I needed to talk to an adult. One of the Discipline Officers told me that because I didn’t remember what the guy looked like, it was unlikely that he’d ever be found. I asked my aunt to pick me up and drive me home.
A week later, I moved into a dorm near the campus. I was scared of getting on a bus, and when I had to, I sat beside other women. And during the chance a man does sit next to me, my heart starts racing and it doesn’t stop until he leaves or I get down. I stayed in dorms until I graduated two years later.
To this day, I still get anxiety when I get on a bus or jeep. As much as possible, I take UV Expresses, P2Ps, or book a Grab.
Two-Thirds of Women
It doesn’t have to take place in a bus, but there’s a high chance you know a woman (or you yourself) who can relate to Aimee or the other girls’ sexual assault experiences in “Sex Education.”
During the detention scene, Viv mentions that 2/3 of women will experience unwanted sexual attention or contact in public spaces before they reach the age of 21. This isn’t just dialogue to make her character seem smarter: studies done around the world show that that’s roughly how many women experience unwanted sexual attention.
In the United Kingdom (where the show takes place), two-thirds of women experience unwanted sexual attention in public places; in Canada, it’s almost a third of women over the age of 15 that feel unsafe; and in the United States, 54 percent of women experience unwanted sexual advances.
The Philippines is no exception. When the United Nations piloted their Safe Cities Global Initiative program in Quezon City in 2016, a Social Weather Stations survey found that 3 in 5 Filipinas experience sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime, with 88 percent of them belonging to the 18 to 24 year old age group. With such a high statistic, it’s likely that at least one woman in your circle has been a victim of unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment.
What Can We Do?
Although there are laws like the Bawal Bastos Law of 2017 that protect women from unwanted sexual advances, it’s not enough. The SWS survey also found that, out of those women who experienced public sexual harassment, half of them did nothing about the incident; 20 percent didn’t act out of fear. Without the proper implementation and enforcement of it, more are going to keep getting their own stupid bus stories.
I wanted to share other women’s experiences – something like a round table similar to the girls in “Sex Education.” But then I realized that 1) their stories aren’t mine to ask and tell; and 2) listing other women’s stories wouldn’t really do much because the women who do read it would just see it as another casualty of being out in the public.
As I was brainstorming for this, I glanced at my younger sister and realized just how common sexual harassment was that many of us have become numb to it. She’s mentioned in the past that she doesn’t like wearing shorts or sleeveless tops in public because she gets catcalled by tricycle drivers in our village (she’s 16). I asked her about it again, and she says she would just wear earphones so that she can avoid hearing them.
It’s infuriating that my underaged sister has to experience being stared at by middle-aged men who should be arrested for their behavior. It’s even more infuriating that society has forced her to believe that she should adjust and block out their comments rather than correct those at fault. And even if we do report it, what are the chances that something will be done?
It’s not easy being a woman; many of us still can’t feel safe in public. But we shouldn’t be numb toward sexual harassment and let it pass. Because although some Filipinas can be strong and not let the incident faze them, there’s a number of Filipinas who are too scared to get on a bus.
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Justine is a Slytherin who loves cosplay, horror fiction, and puns. She is the certified favorite human of her dog, Pud.