I grew up in Burlington, Ontario, a city of approximately 180 000 people, just southwest of Toronto. Growing up, I never experienced anything out of the ordinary; but that was the problem. From the age of 10, and until the day I moved from Burlington at the age of 18, I couldn’t walk anywhere in the city without older men shouting sexual comments at me from their cars. It didn’t matter if I was with a group of other girls, with a boy, or alone. I believed it to be a fact of life; men are attracted to underage girls, even prepubescent ones, and they will let girls know this.
These men were always older, most of the time they were at least 10 years older, sometimes decades older than me. There was a young man in the neighbourhood that I lived in that had the horn in his car modified so when he honked the horn it made a sound of a wolf whistle. Another time, a man driving around with a mega- phone yelled sexual things at my friend and I as we ate pizza while walking home. We learned what streets this happened on the most, and avoided walking home along them, even if other routes were longer. We believed it was up to us to change our behaviour to avoid receiving attention from these men. This is just how men are and we just need to accept it.
By the time I was 14, I had developed celebrity crushes. My friends and I would listen to Hedley all the time. They were always on the radio, and we couldn’t listen to “Old School” enough. We all loved the singer, Jacob Hoggard. We remembered him from Canadian Idol and thought he was so talented and cool. Hedley toured a lot in the Toronto area and of course, we had to go. I had never been to a concert before, and neither had my two best friends. Our moms insisted that they come with us, as they didn’t want us to go to our first concert alone. They played in Hamilton. It was only a short drive from Burlington, about half an hour. Before the show, we bought Hedley t-shirts from the merchandise table. We had heard that Hedley meets their fans after their shows, and we were determined to get our new t-shirts signed by them. The concert was amazing, we all had so much fun, even our moms. We thought Hedley was really funny especially Jacob Hoggard. Hoggard was dancing and jumping around the stage shirtless for the entire show. I took so many pictures.
Towards the end of the concert, Hoggard announced that they would meet their fans after the show, and promised to do this, no matter how famous they got. We were ecstatic. We could finally meet the band that we had been obsessed with. We rushed to get in line and waited for about an hour to meet them. Our moms waited outside for us. My friend and I had changed out of our t-shirts so they could easily be signed, but my other friend, Erica, kept hers on, and was just going to ask them to sign the back of it. When we got to the front of the line to meet them, Erica asked if they could sign the back of her t-shirt. The bassist, Tommy Mac, replied that he would “do anything we wanted him to do.” We all felt a bit uncomfortable with that response, I think it was the way he said it and the way he looked at us. But non-the less, we thanked him and told him that we enjoyed the show. Throughout our teens, we continued to be fans of Hedley and attended numerous shows in Toronto. We still felt awkward about what Tommy Mac said to us, but we thought of it more as a joke now. Erica would often send me cards and sign it with “I’ll do anything you want me to do – creepy guy from Hedley.” In grade ten, I told a girl in my class about what Tommy Mac had said to us. She was at a Hedley concert the same year as us, and she met them too. She said that Jacob Hoggard had made a sexual comment to her. She was 14. She said she dismissed the comment though, that he was clearly drunk, and that’s how men act when they are drunk. She too still went to their concerts.
I recently looked at the photographs that I took at the concert. I cannot believe how young I looked, especially because at the time I was sure that I could pass as an adult. It made me question two things: Why would a grown man ever say sexual things to an underage girl? And why did I think it was okay? I believed it was okay for men to say these things to me because it was happening all around me. Every girl my age had stories of older men harassing her, and no one seemed be doing anything about it.
In recent years, girls and women all over the world, have been speaking up loudly and boldly against sexual assault. In just one-month, Canadian women have exposed countless incidents of sexual harassment and even rape committed by members of Hedley. Finally, Hedley is experiencing the consequences of preying on young female fans.
I’m saddened that growing up I thought men saying sexual things to me was ordinary, but I’m encouraged to see women challenging the sexist status-quo, holding men accountable and pushing for social change.