Over the last ten years of my life I have lived in New Zealand, Australia, New York and Mexico City and every city change was like taking a step up the harassment ladder.
Living as a woman in Mexico means enduring deep-rooted machismo, where some men consider it their right to not only catcall or whistle but also to grope, follow, abuse and even kill, just for being a woman. Studies show 63 percent of Mexican women and girls aged 15 and over have suffered some sort of violence.
The metro in the capital city reserves the first three carriages for women only—a measure to try and make travelling on public transport less traumatising for women. The idea that men cannot physically control themselves in a public space and therefore have to be separated like naughty children is absurd. This is not a long-term solution and it is certainly not contributing towards educating men on how to actually respect and treat the opposite sex.
Changing the way I dressed to diminish the likelihood of being harassed in the street was not a deliberate decision, it was something that took me a while to realise I was even doing. I almost completely lost touch with my feminine side. From rarely wearing dresses or skirts, I stopped using any kind of "excess" make-up, I gave up putting on red lipstick to avoid stares and comments, I forgot about wearing shorts. I dressed down, using jeans and t-shirts most days.
When I did realise I was changing how I dressed, I asked my friends if they do the same thing. Almost everyone said yes, at least to some degree. Even my male friends experienced persecution and aggravation from other men in the streets.
These portraits show a selection of people living in Mexico City wearing an outfit that they use any day to go out, and a second of what they actually desire to wear, what they wish they could use out on the streets. Yet they do not.
"Once a guy who was sitting next to me on the bus bent over and took a photo up my skirt, so I grabbed his phone and threw it out the window. People on the bus yelled at me, saying I was crazy and over-exaggerating!"
"I've been harassed two times on public transport in Mexico City by other men. Once when I was young, I told the metro security but they didn't believe me. The second time I was asleep on a bus, I made a scene and everyone complained that I had overreacted; I had to get off the bus. But when I compare those two times, to my female friends or cousins, who could tell stories like that almost everyday—everyday they get harassed on the metro."
"If people call things out in the street, I ignore it. It's just a part of the noise on the street to me. I put these pink knickers on today to match my shoes because I wanted to wear this shirt-dress. At least if people are going to try and look, it'll match!"
"When a guy saw me coming towards him on my bike and I was wearing a skirt, he actually threw his keys onto the ground just so he could bend over to pick them up and look up my skirt as I biked past! Seriously?! But I am not going to let them change the way I dress."
"The worst situation that has happened to me was with a guy who started talking to me while I was on the bus home, I dismissed his attempts at a conversation. What surprised me the most was that no one else said anything, although it was obvious I was uncomfortable and that I didn't know the guy. Then he got off at my stop and followed me. I had to hide in a store until he eventually left so I could get another bus the rest of the way home."
"I haven't worn this skirt since I bought it, but I want to! I wish I could wear it outside today it's so hot. I don't really stop using the clothes that I want to, but sometimes I can't just because I know that for sure someone is going to say something, and obviously that attention is not positive."
"Twice while in public transport I have had to punch and push a guy just so they would back away from me. One time I was helped by by-standers, and the second time no one helped, no one said or did anything. Despite the fact I yelled, and pushed the guy, everyone looked the other way. So in that case, not only did I suffer the aggression of the guy, I suffered the aggression of everyone else – choosing to look away."
"As a guy I know I am privileged to be able to wear what I want. That's also why I want to dress like that. In a way, it becomes a fight to change people's attitudes. I wear these kinds of things to parties more than out everyday, but I wish everyone could wear whatever they like."
See more photos by Erin Lee Holland.