On Thursday morning, model and TV personality Gigi Hadid was doing nothing more than walking on a crowded street of Milan, hand in hand with her younger sister Bella Hadid, after a Max Mara fashion show. Cameras were flashing, fans were snapping pictures of her, and everything seemed to be going normally. That is, until an unknown man ran up behind her, threw his arms around her body, and literally lifted her up off the ground.
Hadid then did what most people in that situation would do: she defended herself. She elbowed the random, creepy attacker in the face and pulled away from him as fast as she could. Her sister helped remove her from the situation and Hadid reportedly yelled, "Let go of me! Who the f*ck are you? You piece of sh*t!" I have a feeling that those are pretty much the first words that would come out of any of our mouths were we placed in that situation.
Pictures surfaced of Hadid escaping the nasty situation, which she clearly handled like the badass that she is. You can see the mixture of shock and terror on her face in some of the shots, while the last few photos show her looking back at the man in complete disgust. It all happened within a matter of seconds, but the visual evidence of it seems to stretch on for ages.
Although the majority of us look at this incident and immediately see a woman who was bravely defending herself, the headlines painted a very different story, and a disgusting one at that.
The Daily Mail released an update that read, "Furious Gigi Hadid LASHES OUT at man who tries to physically pick her up." Mirror claimed, "Frantic Gigi Hadid lashes out with her elbow after being picked up by overzealous fan in Milan." Worse of all, the UK Sun posted, "NOT MODEL BEHAVIOUR: Gigi Hadid aggressively lashes out and ELBOWS fan in the FACE after he tries to pick her up." Right, because fighting off an attacker isn't model behavior.
Pretty much every sane person on the Internet is infuriated with this news coverage, and rightfully so.
Gigi Hadid didn't waste any time to speak out against the outrageous headlines that appeared after she was grabbed by that guy. "I'm a HUMAN BEING — and had EVERY RIGHT to defend myself," she tweeted. "How dare that idiot thinks he has the right to man-handle a complete stranger."
As upsetting as it is to witness our society react to this event in such an insensitive way that only perpetuates rape culture — specifically victim-blaming — nothing about this surprises me. Girls have been taught from a young age that they're supposed to act perfectly and dress perfectly and never ruffle anyone's feathers — even when there's a dude assailing them from behind.
I learned this lesson at a very young age. In second grade, there was a boy in my class named Paul*. He had spiky blonde hair and light brown freckles under his eyes. Our moms knew each other from school events, and he even lived in my neighborhood. On a crisp winter day, when the whole class was outside on the playground, clad in boots and scarves, Paul and his friends approached me. I can't remember what was said, but I do know there were three of them in total.
The next thing I know, each Paul's friends had grabbed my arms from behind me so that he could stand in front of me and essentially taunt me. Always being the shortest one in my class, I didn't stand a chance against these two boys who were much bigger than me. They weren't physically hurting me — there were no bruises or marks on my wrists afterwards — but I clearly recall feeling trapped. Nervous. Downright scared.
Paul was the only person or thing I could visibly see, and he wasn't that far away from me. I can't be sure if he was trying to hug me, tickle me, or push me, but as soon as he leaned in closer, I leaned my head forward and did the only thing I could with my arms held behind my back —I bit his shoulder.
This landed me in the principal's office. My mom was called into the school for a teacher meeting, where two grown-ass adults scolded me for my apparent misconduct. "You can't go biting people's shoulders like that, honey," one of them said to me. The other said some lame variation of, "He was only doing that because he likes you." Luckily, my mom was pretty cool about it and didn't punish me for my actions. I think she knew that I was defending myself, even if the teachers at school couldn't see that. All they could focus on was the fact that I bit Paul so hard that my teeth went through his winter jacket and broke skin. They couldn't seem to see that this was simply proof of how threatened I felt for my safety.
I couldn't have been a day over seven years old at the time, but that's one of my sharpest childhood memories. I learned then that not only was it OK for boys to manhandle me in such a way, but that fighting back wasn't something I had permission to do. I was supposed to take it gracefully and silently, no matter how fearful I might be for my safety.
I wish there were at least one adult around me who would have assured me that it was OK to defend myself against Paul and his cronies. I wish there were at least one adult who turned to Paul and told him that he wasn't allowed to torment girls like that. I wish there were someone who stood up for me like Hadid stood up for herself, because I was too young to know that was even an option.
Thinking back on this Paul encounter, the thing that frustrates me most is how the teachers spoke about him in the meeting with my mother. They called him a "nice boy" who "just likes Gina, that's all." Similarly, the media outlets that were covering this story kept referring to Hadid's attacker as a "fan," "prankster," and "excited stranger." In reality, though, this guy is an attacker who has a history of physically throwing himself at Hollywood stars. Vitalii Sediuk was on a three-year probation for crashing the Grammys in 2013, and has taken responsibility for Hadid incident, telling The Hollywood Reporter,
"While I consider Gigi Hadid beautiful, she and her friend Kendall Jenner have nothing to do with high fashion. By doing this, I encourage the fashion industry to put true talents on the runway and Vogue covers instead of well-connected cute girls from Instagram. You can call it a manifest or a protest. This is also a wake-up call for Anna Wintour, who turned Vogue into a tabloid by putting Kardashians and other similar celebrities on a cover of a well-respected magazine." .
What a noble cause. Yet the media would rather paint Gigi Hadid as "aggressive" than shed light on this man's past run-ins with the authorities.
More than anything else, this incident is a strong reminder that women are far too often victim-blamed — when their attacker is the one who should be held responsible for their actions. I hope all women out there can learn from this debacle that we always have the right to defend ourselves, no matter how people around us may judge us for the way we do it. More importantly, I hope the next time a young girl bites the shoulder of a boy who is physically frightening her at school, all the teachers and adults present will handle the situation the right way — and not for one second make her think that she is in the wrong.
*Name has been changed