I spent my formative years travelling around London. You’d think I’d be used to agressive men metaphorically (or indeed literally) dick-flailing in public. But.
- I haven’t had to deal with this sort of nonsense on a regular basis since I left our wonderful capital over a year ago.
- It’s fucking scary.
The train last night was basically Dick-Flailing Central. There was one drugged-up bloke screaming “we hate Rotherham” and yelling about football results and the miners’ strike (which, since it happened in ’84, he probably wasn’t even born for) and another six guys (boys, really) being drunk and loud. And there was yelling, and homophobia, and racism, and sexism, and all of the usual things that makes me stabitty. And the guy sitting next to me was laughing. Not shit-I’m-a-bit-scared laughing, but outright isn’t-this-hillarious laughing. I nearly punched him. Except, you know, that I might have ended up a little bit dead.
Anyway. Eventually the boys goaded each other into a fight. Involving a glass bottle. Which luckily didn’t get used, or broken. And I wasn’t too sad to see them getting kicked. It was a bit like a fight between UKIP and the BNP – you wanted them both to lose.
But glass bottles and drunken angry boy-men are a danger to everyone, sadly, not just themselves. And it wouldn’t have taken much to set Bottle-Guy off again. Like, say, someone looking at him in a funny way.
So with the carriage totally silent, and – no shit – every single person in the carriage looking at me, I walked out. Out of the carriage, past Bottle-Guy, Miner-Guy and all of their little friends, past every other fucker who’d done nothing, and down to the other end of the train. Where I found the conductors, tried to tell them what was happening and – burst into tears. Shaking, crying, the works.
How humilliating. And how fucking terrifying.
The good news is that this persuaded them to get the police out.
The other good news is that at least one of them will be charged for fare evasion.
The bad news is that nothing’s likely to happen about the guy who was waving the bottle around.
But. They were trying to get to Sheffield. They got arrested a stop down the line. The last thing the conductor said to me was that he sincerely hoped the police would keep them nicked until the last train had gone. And at least one of them will be fined for it. So. The moral of the story is: don’t be a pillock on the train. Otherwise, I’ll do my best to get you arrested.
Since moving to Sheffield, I have experienced an immediate, and vast, reduction in the number of unsavoury attention I recieve. By “unsavoury”, I mean the street harassment that plays a part in the lives of most urban women, along with its counterparts, harassment in social spaces like pubs, and harassment at work.
Some of the reasons for this are clear: I’ve gone from full-time work in London, necessitating two bus rides per day, into the city centre and out again, to full-time study in Sheffield, for which I rarely need to visit the city centre and for which I have no reason to use public transport other than abject laziness.
My work now is performed either alone, in the student library, in lecture theatres with one lecturer and around 200 students, or in tutorials, with one tutor, one PhD student and around 40 undergraduate students. Although it would be naive to assume that none of the young men I interact with ever harass women, I can say for certain that they have never harassed me. And, although of course it does not always follow, I would imagine that for the majority of my male lecturers and tutors the risks of reprisals are too severe for them to contemplate harassing a female undergraduate.
These observations are not what I found disconcerting, however. These observations merely are.
What is disconcerting, though, is what I have come to realise:
I cannot give up that way of thinking.
Or, rather, I would find it incredibly hard to do so.
What I mean is this: that I have lived for so long – a whole decade, which is just under half of my age – with the knowledge that, at intervals that remain largely unpredictable within certain parameters, I will be harassed by men, that I find it very difficult to relinquish the coping mechanisms that I developed in response to that knowledge.
Today, on my way to my afternoon’s work, I passed by two men, probably in their forties, wearing work clothes, who were sitting on a wall. I did all of the things I would normally do – I made eye contact, I made sure that I didn’t walk within a couple of feet of them, I didn’t change my pace… all of those things that I have trained myself to do, over a decade of having men leer at me, and shout at me, and make me aware of my own physical presence.
Those men didn’t do anything. They didn’t even look like they were going to do anything. They were sitting out in the sunshine during what was presumably their tea-break, having a chat. The only warning signal that they set off for me (and believe me, I have many different kinds of warning signal, ranging from the merely-annoying vibe to the get-the-fuck-away-from-this-man) was that they were men, and older than me.
That’s all it takes. To be a man, and to be older than me, in public, in a space where I am obliged to walk past you.
Never mind that I’ve only had one really nasty experience with a man in public, in Sheffield, and then only because he was bothering other young women and I intervened.
Never mind that I could see that they were likely to be employed, either directly or indirectly, by the university, and were therefore unlikely to do or say anything to me that could vaguely be construed as improper. (I have a sneaking suspicion that the university makes it very clear that it doesn’t want any negative publicity, because not once have I ever had any nasty shouts from any of the builders who work for them, though I have had the standard wolf-whistle from builders nearby who were not affiliated with the university.)
Those things don’t matter. The reactions I have now are the results of experience gained over a long period of time, and they continue to manifest themselves even when I believe that the actual chance of the men in question doing anything are slim. Since I find myself now working under the assumption that, however many men don’t harass me, the next one probably will, I suspect that these reactions will not be going anywhere, at least for the time being.
And this is the sad part. It’s all very well giving out leaflets, and campaigning on feminist issues, and blogging, and promoting events like Million Women Rise and Reclaim The Night and all those things I do just because, but when I still can’t walk past two men in broad daylight without immediately reverting to my how-to-minimise-street-harassment strategies, how much have I ever achieved?
How can I ever claim to accept men as equals, when I can’t walk past them without feeling afraid?
And how can I ever begin to make it better?
I moved up to the grim North just so I could play in snow come winter, and now I have been gleefully informed by J that down South, it’s effectively snowed everybody in. Humph. Of course, this is partly because the merest hint of rain upsets every Southern rail network. But it is too snowy for people to drive, apparently. He’s promised to send me photographs, and no doubt I shall post these later with a touch of jealousy for good measure. It makes me wish I were in London, because my parents and presumably my brother will have the day off, and it would be snowball fights and hot chocolate all round.
ETA: The promised photo is here. It’s a big file, annoyingly, so I’m only posting one. And it’s started snowing again in Sheffield. Happy days. I’m glad I always go nuts with food-storing. I think I’m just a big squirrel really.
After Peter commented on yesterday’s irate post about the TV licensing people, I ambled over to his blog to check it out. And then had a bit of a think, and I got a bit more angry. If they were only trying to intimidate me, that wouldn’t be so bad. But they’re not. It’s a form letter they’ve set me – it doesn’t even have my name on, for goodness’ sake – and I discovered this morning that one of my flatmates had thrown an identical letter straight into the bin. So they’ve sent this abusive pile of crap to every student they can get hold of, is my guess. So I’m writing a letter. And it looks a litte bit like this:
“To whom it may concern,
Today I recieved my third unsolicited letter from your company. I would like to register my anger at being contacted in this way from a company with whom I have no intention of doing business, and my displeasure at feeling pressured into contacting you.
Allow me to state clearly here: I do not own any form of “television receiving equipment”.
I have found all correspondence from you to be unnecessarily intimidating in both language and format, and also misleading. I refer primarily to the top page of my most recent letter, which prominently displays figures in such a manner as to suggest that I owe the sum of £139.50 in unpaid fees. Clearly, this is not true, and I resent the implication.
On recipt of this letter, I called the telephone number provided in the hopes of ceasing all further correspondence. However, I was informed that I may receive not only another unsolicited letter, but also a visit from your employees. I was also addressed in that conversation as “Miss”, despite requesting otherwise. While I have no complaint to make against the woman who handled my call, who was courteous and helpful, I would like to recommend that your database be updated to provide at least the option of using the title “Ms”. I can understand a need to have a title to address me by, but feel that there can be no reason for my marital status to be any concern of yours.
Your letter informs me that I can stop the investigation into my address by letting you know that I do not need a television license. This being the case, I do not expect to be disturbed by any visits from your staff, and, other than a confirmation of recipt of this letter, I do not wish to receive any further mail.”
I was very angry last night.
In other, slightly more pleasant news, I will also be writing a thank-you letter to the bus company. Earlier this week, my bus was delayed to the extent that despite leaving plenty of time, I was 10 minutes late to my exam. I asked the bus driver if I could take his name, in case the university asked me to prove why I was late, and he gave me not only his full name, but the number of the bus, the timetable it was meant to run to, and a statement to the effect that the bus was 20 minutes late and there was no way that I could have done anything about it.
So I’m going to write a nice letter to his company, and hope he gets a bonus for being lovely!
I have the lurgy. Possibly even Freshers’ Flu. But probably just a bad cold.
I’m making sure I eat, drink, and dose up on lemsip, and feel a little better after eating a stir-fry laced liberally with chilli sauce.
In the meantime, this is what I posted after the Creepy Guy thing kicked off.
I have kept a diary, sporadically, since the age of eleven.
While I am on the subject of harrassment – which I am, I seem to be thinking about it a lot these days – I think just seeing some of these comments of mine, accumulated over that period of time, is a little on the disturbing side…
at age 13 -…. “it was pouring with rain and I had to walk home and I was coming up M__ RD with someone behind me. Normally there’s no one there, you see, so I looked round quickly and it was a boy just a bit taller than me… He crossed the road… but then I noticed that he was watching me… and at the top of the road he crossed over again to ask what year I was in…”
at age 16 -… “And after Tom, a host of annoying guys. Bibi (20 … ‘happened to mention’ he gets free cinema tickets. How interesting – but I’m not going to go out with you for them, idiot!). John – no, Jhon, the guy that sat down next to me on the train and told me I was beautiful. He also mumbled. And was 22. The guy at the bus stop by the cemetry who wanted to talk to me, but I didn’t stop walking. The one that whistled at me in Lewisham and wanted to buy me a drink…. he told me he was ‘in his twenties’… come on, why would you think I’d waste my time on you? And Henry, the nigerian guy – 19 – who wanted me to ring him. Maybe not….. Plus assorted idiots who leer from vans – builders conforming to type but also a lot of other people who won’t ever get anyone if they carry on like that.”
at age 17 -… ” TWO people today! The first one conformed to type by being a well-built black guy with a round face that I couldn’t understand, and whose name – being unpronouncable – I promptly forgot. The first time I saw him, he was waiting at the bus stop just after the Post office and the dodgy roundabout with a dangerous turning, when he tried – and failed! – to get my number or anything else out of me, except my name, and the second time was on bus going the other way, when he tried – and failed yet again! – to even talk to me properly.
Anyway, while this was going on, I couldn’t help being aware that a guy opposite was watching the whole thing, and when I got off the bus, one stop after sending Mr. Unpronounceable on his way, he followed me.”
” there’s this really, really annoying, ugly little git of a boy. I’m not sure how old he is, but he’s definitely younger than me, so maybe 14 or 15. When he’s with his friends, he always has to make some insult or something, which isn’t the least scary, but very annoying. But when he’s on his own, he never says anything – typical! Today he waited till he was nearly out of earshot before saying something, and I got that it wasn’t particularly nice, even though I couldn’t really hear. So I stopped, and turned around, really deliberately, and looked back at him, at which point he made a face at me. So I made a face back, as you do (!), and stuck a finger up at him. Very, very obviously. I was really pissed off. So having made my point – literally! – I carried on walking. I think he said something else, but I didn’t turn round again, just walked away, in a real temper.”
” Oh, and the man kissed my hand, for some reason, and complemented L on having such a gorgeous girlfriend!” [I have never, for the record, been L’s girlfriend]
” So I talked to Mickey and his random mates for a while, and sat with them on his invitation, punched one of them for attempting to grope me,…”
” I was vaguely aware of a guy who’d watched me walk past, and when the bus pulled up minutes later and I said “shit” under my breath because my travelcard had run out, I wasn’t surprised that he took that as an invitation to talk to me.”
” [the pub] was disturbingly full of very tall, very drunk Irishmen, who by virtue of being very drunk Irishmen decided that complimenting me – or at the very least, eyeing me up – was the sensible thing to do”
” Anyway, it’s just something I’m deeply uncomfortable with – and that’s without all of the scary, bordering-on-the-lecherous men who call me ‘sir’ and talk about how much I’ve grown since we last met (well, of course I’ve bloody grown!)”
And do you know something?
Please, restrain yourself from answering, as I generally do, yes, many things – but not what you’re going to tell me…
Those are only the times that I have considered”worth” mentioning. I’d even forgotten about a few of these ones. Just think how many I’ll have forgotten in general, by now. My memory’s crap at the best of times, and I just don’t bother thinking about this kind of thing as a general rule. Maybe I should.
I think that the next time I post it will be on a different subject. But I’m not sure.
The man who wrote a four hundred word column entitled My Girlfriend Didn’t Like Porn.
Sadly, I threw the paper away in a fit of extreme irritation, mixed with thoughts about porn that probably would’ve got me thrown off the bus for indecency had anybody else known about them. If only he could have heard them, however, he might never have had the foolishness to write that column.
Because lots of women don’t like porn. In fact, lots of men don’t like porn. It’s just that, like so many things, porn has long been classified as a kind of “boy’s toy”, something that every man should enjoy, yet unnatainable for us weak little hysterical women.
And there are many different reasons why many different people don’t like many different types of porn.
Personally, I harbour mixed feelings.
I don’t mind the idea of porn per se, but the way that porn is produced and packaged means that I don’t really want to go near it, although I have seen some.
It makes me very uncomfortable wondering just how much coersion was used, how much force, how much blackmail. I feel sick at the thought that I might be witnessing a rape – and worse, enjoying it. Especially since venturing onto literotica, which is a site dedicated to erotic literature, funnily enough. Some of the fantasies I read about there – stories of professional rapists, an entire section entitled “nonconsent/reluctance” (I’m impressed by the euphamisms, but really, if you don’t consent, then that is rape) – have shown me that it’s a frighteningly common thought. And I know that rape fantasties don’t always equal wanting to rape or be raped, but even so, it’s not something I like to find so frequently.
And there’s another problem.
It’s all designed to be watched by a certain type of man.
“I went into one shop,” one of my friends told me recently, “and there was a small stand in the corner for ‘gay sex’ – where all of the video covers featured men – and a whole wall full of covers showing blonde hair and big breasts.”
It’s so common. I hate it.
I hate it that the existance of real lesbians is completely denied, because of course they’re just doing it for the man’s enjoyment. As though his cock is the most important thing in the world.
I hate it that every woman is assumed to be bisexual, and that the man who wrote this stupid, stupid column pouted that his girlfriend didn’t want to watch two women, although he point-blank refused to watch two men.
I hate it that all ‘mainstream’ porn is about Teh Menz.
And I hate it that the most sought-after scenes in ‘mainstream’ porn seem to be:
a) a blowjob, which is, by nature, intended for the sole pleasure of the man
b) anal sex – the man penatrating the woman – which is unlikely to give the woman any pleasure, since our G-spot is nowhere near (and ok, I wouldn’t normally pander to stereotypes, but guys, have you ever thought to ask for directions?)
c) the ‘money shot’ – watching the man come, usually over the woman.
I for one don’t find it at all sexy thinking of having a guy shoving something into an orifice of mine that’s only designed to have waste food come out, or indeed getting his come all over my nose.
There. Done. Now if only I could reduce that down to 400 words, and convince the editors of The London Paper that they wanted to print my vitriol, sarcasm and general rage, I would be a woman triumphant. At least until the readers voted on whether they liked me….
Yep, the cold weather approaches, and evidently Creepy Guy and his Creepy associates are in need of a little warmth in their beds….
I am walking down the station platform at just after ten on a Saturday night. There is a man who, for some reason, makes me feel uncomfortable. It could be the way he has looked at me – as though, in this most urban of places, where nobody looks at anybody else, he has noticed me. So I carry on past him, towards the front of the platform. I stand closer to a couple who take no notice of me whatsoever, because they are probably safer.
And so the train pulls in. I look up from my book, board the train. Funnily enough (as though I hadn’t been predicting it), Creepy Guy takes it upon himself to get on behind me.
I have many bags, and these I spread out all over the seat next to me, as if to say, attempt to sit here and you die.
He sits opposite me. *sigh*.
Now, I have a book. The Queen’s Fool, actually, by Phillipa Gregory – it is rather good, and I would quite like to sit quietly and read. Just as I picked it up, however, Creepy Guy took it upon himself to strike up a conversation. To which my responses were:
“It’s late. This is not the time to be talking to strange women on the train.”
“This is not appropriate. Stop it.”
“I couldn’t care less what you think of my body.” (This last one was immensely satisfying to say, by the way; I hope to use it more often!)
So he stopped, and I continued to read, thinking that perhaps he had got it into his thick skull that his advances were not welcome. But, no – it got worse.
“But I am Bulgarian….”
“I don’t care. It is inappropriate for you to be talking to me. I am going to move. Do not follow me.”
And so I did. I gathered up all my bags, and books, and strode off down the carriage. As I did so, a young man who’d been blatantly eavesdropping, stood halfway up out of his seat, to ask me, very kindly, “is that guy bothering you?”
“Not anymore,” I said, “but thank you.”
And the young man, who was a nice, reasonable human being, said only “ok, if you’re sure” and sat back down, pausing only to glare at Creepy Guy.
I conclude three things from this.
- If somebody makes me feel uncomfortable, they are likely to turn out to be creepy
- Glaring and telling them off makes me feel a hell of a lot better than just sitting there meekly, hoping they will understand through telekenisis that I want them to fuck off
- Contrary to popular belief, there are also nice people left in the world, ready to give a helping hand (or glare) if you ask them.