‘I often thought that if men could walk around in the world for one day as women, and hear the comments from other men that women hear, they would rush to us in incredulous disbelief, and help us to form safety patrols.’
The above quote, from Succulent Wild Woman by Sark, reminded me that I wanted to post about street harassment.
I often find myself talking to David about harassment and, because he’s never experienced it, I really struggle to explain to him how common it is, how most (all?) women have experienced it, and how it can be genuinely frightening.
A while ago, a male friend wrote on facebook something like “Is there anything worse than being stuck in a train carriage with a hen party?” As I read it, I thought about how being stuck with a stag party would be much worse for me. And then I remembered something an online friend tweeted about (I have her permission to include the story here):
“I was on the Tube coming back from Bristol Women’s Lit Festival & this group of about 4 men came in to my carriage. They were being deliberately loud and intimidating, then started loudly discussing whether they’d ‘give me one’ and made a football chant up about how they’d fuck me up the arse, which they all shouted repeatedly. No others passengers in the Tube did anything, and I froze and couldn’t respond.”
I’ve never experienced anything as bad as that, but it seems to be fairly common on the tube. (Please read Louise Jones’s powerful post about her experiences with sexual assault on the tube.) However, I have experienced street harassment. A lot.
When I lived in Richmond, aged 18, I remember walking home and some men shouting something from a car. It was dark, I didn’t see them, I didn’t even hear what they said, but the shouting was aggressive, it made me jump and it made me feel incredibly unsafe. I walked the rest of the way home crying.
Waiting for the bus one evening in Richmond – it was early, probably 7-ish – a man asked me if I had the time and when I looked round, he had his penis in his hand.
Walking down the steps to the Tottenham Court Road tube, a man coming up the other side reached over and squeezed my boob then carried on as if nothing had happened.
I used to pass a man on the way to work each morning. He owned the local newsagents and didn’t speak much English, so we were mostly on nodding and smiling terms. I looked forward to seeing him because he was always so happy. And then one morning, he stopped and asked me my name. I told him. He said, “I want to lick you all over.”
One New Year, the man who worked in the local takeaway reached for my hand to shake and, I assumed, wish me a happy New Year. He then pulled my arm so hard that my feet actually came off the ground and kissed me hard on the lips.
The odd thing about it is that I laughed off most of these experiences. I turned them into a funny story. Only a couple of them upset me at the time. A couple of them made me really angry in the immediate aftermath. Mostly, I just thought it was just one of those things. But why the hell should it be? Why should women have to put up with this kind of stuff just for being female in the world?
Author and journalist Holly Bourne tweeted this recently. I have her permission to include the tweets here.
This is a really excellent video answering common questions – particularly those asked by men – about street harassment (with a great answer to “But isn’t it a compliment?”).