So, I was at a housing fair today, collecting leaflets, free pens and chocolate.
It’s November, but apparently house-hunting season is already on for next July.
As I went round the stalls, I was talking to a number of different people about the options they might have for couples.
Specifically, I told them that “my partner will hopefully be coming to live with me”.
And they all, to a person, responded by referring to J as “he”.
Some people who read this will know that J – the partner – is indeed male. But I didn’t tell them that. And my hands were covered by the sleeves of my hoodie – no sign of any ring to help them in their assumptions.
It was infuriating me by the time I left the fair – and they weren’t even wrong. I don’t want to begin to think of how angry I’d be if J had been a woman.
Although, I wonder how I would have felt if they’d refered to J as “she” instead. Would it have been better or worse than if they’d called J “he”, and if J had been a woman?
They would have still assumed my sexual orientation, or the gender of my partner, or both, and they would still have got it wrong.
I don’t know. I just know that having J’s gender assumed so constantly in conversation made me very uncomfortable. Why couldn’t they have just referred to him, like I did, by saying “your partner”?
I should really go away and do some coursework, but before I do, I just wanted to share a lovely gem from a liberal concern troll I met on Sunday:
“because I, personally, have noticed that more men than women attend Laser Quest when I am there, this must mean that men, on average, are more aggressive than women.”
Rest assured, when I have time I shall dissect this comment, and the ensuing argument (during which I shouted only once, and punched only my own chair; I feel this was reasonable considering the circumstances).
Today, I feel I have been formally welcomed to Sheffield.
There I was, trying to find various pieces of paper that had somehow got lost in my tardis-esque bag, when….
A man in his forties siddles up next to me, and attempts to peer at my face.
I ignore him, as I still can’t find the bit of paper I need.
Man: “Excuse me, mumble mumble mumble?”
Me: “Um… I’m sorry, I don’t know.”
Man: “But mumble mumble mumble sing mumble”
Me: “I honestly have no idea”
Man: “mumble mumble mumble single??”
Me: “Are you asking me if I’m single?”
Man: “mumble mumble mumble I’m single“
Me: “I’m not. Sorry.”
Man: “Oh. What’s your name?”
Me: “Rachel. I have to go now.”
Man: “I’m Ali”
Me: “Good. I have to go now. Excuse me.”
He didn’t try to follow me, which is good.
I seem to have lost my touch in putting men off, which is bad.
On the other hand, I’m getting to be very good at commandeering space in lecture theatres. It’s a bit like public transport.
I mean, if I sit next to another woman, nine times out of ten she’ll be carefully taking up exactly the space that’s meant for her and not an inch more, so that’s not a problem, and the tenth will have a bag or something in the way, which she’ll move.
If I sit next to a man, around about half of them will be sitting in their own space. And the other half will be spreading their legs.
The easiest way to combat this problem is simply to act as though you can’t see their legs, and spread your own. And then not apologise when your leg bumps theirs.
This being Britain, somebody has to apologise, so if you don’t, they will. And then they move their leg, because they’ve admitted fault. Genius!
I originally posted this in March 2007, when both Kirsten and I were trying to explain the concept of creepy guys:
I am going to do something I didn’t think I ever would. Something I didn’t consider necessary.
I am going to wade into the “Creepy Men — Street Harassers” debate.
I would have been quite content to let Kirsten, in her eloquence and wisdom, deal with this, but I find I am unable to keep quiet. A problem which often afflicts me, as we all know.
In this post, and previously this one, she has very neatly summed up something which I believe affects many, many more girls that most men would have assumed.
I’m not going to bother explaining in detail what goes on; she has done an excellent job of it. I will however say that, at least in my experience, strange men approaching girls on the street is so common that they will generally not bother to mention it.
I only realised how much I didn’t mention when I told J to read those posts. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me that he wouldn’t know. But ask a few of your girl friends about it. I’d stake money on them having been approached, if not in the last week, then at least in the last fortnight.
Personally, these days I am much more likely to be approached by strange men while I’m at work. No, not when I’m working. When I’m in the staff canteen, eating. Or buying food. Or on my way down to the counter. Or on my way to House Stationary. Or in the kitchens.
The latest was a man I have nothing to do with in a professional capacity; he’s an information person who stands around telling tourists where they are. To my knowledge, it was the first time any man had attempted to chat me up in French. For the record, it was not any more sexy or welcome than it would have been had he been talking in English, or Spanish, or both, as I was. I was fairly irritable. I wanted to eat. And yes, it was less than a fortnight ago. But not much, so I’m probably due another cretin trying to get my attention fairly soon.
There was one comment that frustrated me beyond all reason. Hence the post title.
“But you’re an attractive woman; what do you expect?”
Before I rant, I would like to point out that I know it is not simply the fault of the individual. I do believe that it is our society that has created this problem. I don’t think this excuses their behaviour, however. Disclaimer aside…..
I expect to be able to walk down a street quietly, with no interruptions.
I expect to be able to do my work and take my breaks peacefully.
I expect the same amount of privacy any man would take for granted.
I expect to be able to feel safe when I am out alone.
I expect equality.
But instead I have had to learn how to react. What not to say, or do. Like the list below, which is by no means complete.
- Any answer that prompts further questioning. One word, yes or no answers are best.
- Any blatant rudeness. Because you can never tell what they’ll do about it.
- Any obvious sarcasm. If they get it, see ‘blatant rudeness’. If they don’t – you have to explain it.
- Any answer that suggests you are “available”. Kirsten’s creepy guy is not the only one to back off only on being told she is another man’s “property”, as it were.
- Any answer that suggests a cliched fantasy. For example, even if it is true, never tell a creepy guy that you are a lesbian. He will at best not believe you and at worst find it a turn on, and either way you will end up arguing with him about it. The same goes for being under the age of consent and/or still being at school. By the way – this really happened to me. I had only just turned sixteen and had hoped that saying “I’m fifteen”, as I was wearing a deeply unflattering school uniform at the time, would put him off. The way his eyes lit up made me promise myself I’d never try that one again.
- Stopping to talk. Never, ever stop. It gets harder and harder to stop arguing, and gives them your attention – exactly what they want. Very irritating.
- Explaining that you have a boyfriend/ girlfriend/ partner/ overbearing father. Yes, I know, it sometimes works. But it’s not always worth it. I’ve learned to judge the situation. The most irritating response – “but I just want to be your friend”. Yeah, sure. That’s why you’ve followed me, complimented me on my looks, asked for my number. That’s a normal, healthy way to make friends. And the compulsion to say this, to mock, is so great that I try to avoid it.
- Obviously blanking them. It’s wearing on the nerves and tends to antagonise them.
Would any man know these tactics? Would they be able to see the intention before any real contact was made? Would they know when to look down and avoid eye contact, and when to hold it? Would they know how to walk, to discourage attempts? Would they know what tone of voice to use? Would they know when to keep their face expressionless, and when to look annoyed? Would they know when to speed up, and when to continue exactly as before, pretending that the person attempting to attract their attention has had no effect on their behaviour? Would they know when to feel scared, and how not to show it? Would they know that how to react to a strange dog and how to react to a strange person are remarkably similar, if you want to avoid confrontation?
Would any man know just how often it goes on? Would they notice it if it were happening around them? Would they care? Would they intervene?
I have had to deal with unwanted male attention since I started secondary school at the age of eleven, first from boys around my own age, and, gradually, from older teenagers, men, older men, as I grew older myself. And in that time, only one person has ever intervened. I never knew her name but I remember her still, and I am profoundly grateful to her. I hope she does well, wherever she is.
It was so simple, what she did. She could see that some boys were bothering me. I hadn’t yet learned how to deal with it effectively. I was thirteen, they would have been a couple of years older. She must have been around their age. Would a man have been able to tell the difference between a group of guys and their female friend as opposed to a group of guys hassling a girl? I don’t know. I don’t think so. But she did. She walked straight up to me, saying “Becky! There you are! Come on, we need to be at this end of the train today…” and stunned the boys into silence, walking away with me. I was shaky and thanked her profusely. I never saw her again. I’ve learned a lot since then. I can get rid of men on my own, now. I just wish I didn’t have to think about it.
I am far too cynical to hope that it might change. I know it still goes on. I see it. I experience it. I just want other people to know that it happens. I want men – the “good guys”, the ones who wouldn’t do that kind of thing – to know that it happens. I want them to know that it doesn’t matter if the creepy guys ‘mean well’, or ‘don’t think of it like that’. It affects girls the same way, regardless. I want them to know that my physical appearance, or any girls’, is never a justification for what creepy guys do.
So, to any good guys, I’d say this:
Do you ever worry about what you’re wearing, thinking that it might be percieved as “slutty” and that you might therefore attract a lot more nutcases?
Do you ever feel tense, alone, thinking that you might be percieved as an “easy target”?
Do you ever deliberately make yourself ‘less attractive’ – baggy jumpers, ill-fitting clothes, scruffy hair – just to try to be certain that you won’t be approached?
Do you ever feel furious that you think or do those things at all?
Do you ever do things that you are warned are “dangerous”, just to prove to yourself that you’re not scared?
And if, as I suspect, you don’t, then spare a minute to appreciate that some girls do. Me, for one.
I feel all ranted out. Thankfully. For the moment.
When asked what societies you’ve joined over freshers’ week, tell them that you’ve joined the feminists and the LGBT soc.
Then procede as appropriate:
a) If they give you funny looks, run away, or start their next sentence with “…. I joined the Christian Union…” you may as well filter them now.
b) If they say “oh, are you a lesbian/ feminist then?” or “well, that’s not really my thing, but each to their own…” treat them with extreme caution; they will most likely say something you don’t like later on, or be boring as fuck.
c) If they look interested, or start their next sentence with “wow, cool” you’re probably ok. For now.
I’m going cautious generally anyway, mainly on the grounds that everybody I speak to seems to be of the opinion that the people you make friends with in your first term are usually the ones you spend the rest of the year avoiding.
Also, on a completely different note, I’ve found HellOnHairyLegs.
She is awesome. I’ve been going through her archives (as one does…!) and I just found this. Can’t only be me that goes “YEAH! What she said!! I would have written that myself, if only I could’ve been so articulate!!”
“I’d trade the power of SEXAAY for respect.
I’d trade the ability to wear skirts AND pants for the ability to feel safe while wearing them. I’d like to feel safe in just one place, whether it be school, the street or at home.
I’d trade your payment for my meal for the right to my own uterus. I’d like the right to control my reproductive health, no matter where I happen to live.
… In which to find and regurgitate posts like this from the infinite reaches of the blogosphere.
I have a sad feeling that the blog is no longer active, as they haven’t posted much (and not at all since February of this year) so I’m going to do something I don’t ususally do, and copy the whole thing here.
Just in case the blog disappears. Which happens sometimes.
“The comments upon self-identified feminist blogs tend to follow a typical pattern. In fact, any blog post that identifies the routine sexism of Western civilization seems likely to generate the same pattern of responses.
- I am female. Your post describes my experience also. Thanks.
- I am male. I feel threatened by your words.
- I am male. I feel extremely threatened by your words.
- I am male. I don’t get it.
- I am male. I don’t get it, but I do feel threatened.
- I am male. Won’t you please say something nice about men?
- I am male. I command you to say something nice about men.
- I am male. If you don’t say something nice about men, I may stop reading your blog.
- I am male. If you don’t say something nice about men, I may stop reading your blog. I really mean it!
- I am male. If you don’t say something nice about men, I definitely will stop reading your blog. Ha! So there! See if I don’t!
- I am male. Have you acknowledged my superior intellect yet?
- How about now?
- I wish to debate with you about something you’ve written.
- I wish to debate with you about something I assume you’ve written.
- I wish to debate with you about something I assume you believe.
- I wish to debate with you about something I believe.
- I wish to debate with you about how smart I am. Feel my rhetorical wrath!
- I wish to debate with you about … anything! I just like to debate. Call me Mr. Devil’s Advocate.
- Spam, spam, spam, spam…“
From time to time, when I can commandeer J’s cool, brilliant-for-playing-violent-games PC, I hop online to play World of Warcraft.
WoW is a multi-player, role-playing, first person shooting kind of a game. So I get the pleasure of knowing that whilst I’m running around in my little virtual world, shooting at virtual boars with a (really shiny) virtual crossbow, about 4 million other people are doing the same thing (and, quite often, killing the last boar, which was the one I needed to finish that quest, dammit!)
Anyway, I was chatting to J about things I wanted to do to really drive home to people what it can mean to be a woman.
And it struck me that you can choose, in WoW, whether the character that you play will be male or female.
So here’s a suggestion:
Let’s give anybody who creates a female character on average 75% of the rewards you get for doing quests. You know, just like how in the real world, women in the UK earn about 75% of what men do. Just because they’re ladies. With simple lady minds.
And then let’s see how long it takes the WoW gamers to figure out what’s going on.
And how long it takes them to change it.
I personally think that this idea is truly fucking brilliant, so please – if you want to use it – quote me, okay?!
As though my early-morning commute isn’t frustating enough as it is, I found myself this morning confronted with a scene designed to fry the brain of any feminist. Especially this feminist, who had not yet had her tea.
Remember the not-quite-there advertising campaign by Coca Cola for their genius scheme, Coke Zero? The way that even though there didn’t seem to be much hype, suddenly it was there and everybody knew they were meant to call it “Bloke Coke”. Because real men wouldn’t be seen dead holding a bottle of diet coke (which is for girls, because only girls would diet!), but nevertheless need a brand of coke that has no calories. For body-building purposes, naturally.
Well, this morning the not-quite-there advertising suddenly turned in-your-face.
A big cool-bin full of bottles of Coke Zero. A big, burly, masculine black man in promotional uniform. And….
A young, tall, slim, big-breasted blonde woman wearing a tight, form-fitting promotional T-shirt, tight black hotpants and, as the icing on the cake, knee high white socks.
What. The. Fuck?
At quarter to eight in the fucking morning? I don’t want to have to think about all the ways in which that kind of advertising is wrong, not before eight in the morning and especially not before I’ve had my breakfast!
I’m guessing the not-so-subtle message behind it is that, by drinking Bloke Coke, you too could become a big, burly, masculine black man, with a hot blonde woman as your sidekick. Not that there’s a whole heap of pornographic stereotypes about “blacks on blondes” or anything. Not that there’s that lovely racial stereotype about black men having huge cocks. No, I bet the good people at Coca-Cola never had those thoughts cross their minds, as they sent out that particular team.
Oh, and the thought about how a hot, big-breasted blonde woman in hotpants would look as she bent over a conveniently sized bin to get more free samples…. yeah, I bet that never crossed their minds either.
It must’ve just been my filthy mind that leapt to those kinds of conclusions.
And don’t even get me started on the way she was offering all the men the coke by shifting her posture to look up at them, calling them all “sir” whilst in knee-highs….
Yep, sex sells. Especially thin, female, big-breasted, blonde, submissive sex.
That woman? I don’t know how she felt about what she was doing, and I’m not going to speculate. I could see that she was making the effort, though. Making an impression. Fair enough; it’s a job, it must pay. There’s always the satisfaction of doing a job well.
I just wish it wasn’t this way. Wish that it wasn’t all about Teh Sex. And worse, that it’s so…. male-orientated. That sounds daft, but what I mean is – that Coke Zero was being linked inextricably to sex. The kind of sex that’s advertised as good sex – for men. Really good sex. But only for men.
And it’s always that way.
If food is advertised for men, it’s packaged in a way that links it to good, male-dominant, heterosexual sex. Socially approved hunger, both for food and sex. All tied up in a fizzy drink, or a beer, or whatever.
Whereas, if food is advertised for women, it’s packaged in a way that links it to the fall of Eve*. It’s always, always about the sin of it all. Chocolate. Sweets. Naughtiness. Knowing you shouldn’t. Knowing you will. It’s about submitting. About surrendering control. About not being able to help yourself.
It’s no wonder we’ve got so many hang-ups about food. And sex. The two just link. All the time. And that’s not what I wanted to think about before I’d even started my day.
Of course, I wasn’t the demographic that Coke was targetting. So I was safe from being accosted, and walked past, unnoticed, and bought a chocolate croissant instead. And I didn’t link it to sex, not even a little bit. The crumbs would get everywhere.
*Also, I object to the phrase “the fall”. I rather think she jumped.
My sister is 18 – only 19 months younger than me. And, whilst I grew up tomboyish and vain, she grew up feminine and vain. So we make quite a good combination, all things considered, and never have to compete for being ‘the best’, because we’re so very different there’s nothing to compete for – I’ll be best at wearing skanky jeans, she’ll be best at wearing frilly skirts. It’s fine.
It also means that whilst I get quite animated about feminism, and LGBTQ rights, and fat acceptance, and so on and so forth, she…. doesn’t.
So when, a few days ago, she told me about this, it made me hurt inside. Because although I’ve read a fair amount about it, she hasn’t – and for her it’s personal.
My sister’s friend, V, is anorexic. Severely, can’t-leave-the-house-she’s-so-weak anorexic.
She had all her lessons at school rearranged for the morning so that she could get through her A-levels and not collapse and die. So far, she lives.
But she wasn’t the “fat” girl in their friendship group. Not by a long shot. That was my sister. Not that my sister was fat, of course, but when everybody around you is 4’6″ and wearing child clothes and you’re 5’3″ and wearing adult clothes, then you feel fat. And she did. But she didn’t diet, other than the odd half-hearted cutting-out-chocolate-for-a-month type diets, and eventually the tiny thin girls that she was friends with got taller and filled out a bit.
It’s just that when V filled out a bit, she took it badly.
And my sister got very upset.
It could so easily have been her, she told me. She read the same magazines, she saw the same adverts, she watched the same programmes – and everything told her that she needed to diet. It’s just that she never did. It wasn’t, she said, that she was any stronger willed, or any more clever – she just got lucky. It just didn’t affect her in the same way.
But it could have done.
The girl lying listlessly in her bed, refusing to eat, terrified of being “fat” whilst wasting away before her friends’ eyes – that could have been my sister. It could have been me.
And, she said, it made a real difference to the way she felt about food.
She and V have a male friend who is very close to them both. They’ve both known him for years. And he, seeing V wasting away, is now terrified that every female friend he has will do the same. Which means that my sister is faced with a dilemma whenever she goes out with him – because he wants to see her eating “normally”.
“I can’t eat salads in front of him now,” she told me, sadly, “he thinks it means I’m dieting, just like how V started out. He always wants me to eat burgers and stuff, and I don’t always want to. And I know he’s only scared but I’m scared for her too, and it’s hard enough as it is to not get funny about food without him watching what I’m eating all the time.”
My sister knows. She didn’t have to read Shapely Prose to learn about fat acceptance – she worked it out on her own, growing up. She didn’t have to read a few hundred articles about the pervasive messages of self-hatred that the patriarchy throws at us – she can see them in every magazine she picks up.
My sister is 18. And she’s a brilliant feminine feminist.
Sometimes I start doubting myself. Not often, because as we all know, I am a genius and entirely modest with it, but sometimes, when I haven’t had enough tea, or food, or outlets for my prattling mind.
Sometimes I start to wonder whether I’m right, believing what I do. Whether my particular brand of voluble feminism is accurate. Whether I’m just being a bit paranoid, after all.
And then I get conversations in which the following conclusions are reached by my all-seeing, all-knowing colleagues:
I hate men. Because I am no longer pleasant to Creepy Guys. Duh.
Therefore, I am frigid, and incapable of passion.
And they’re not quite sure why my boyfriend would want to be with me, due to the aforementioned hating of Teh Sex.
Because he is a man, and that is all he wants. (Sorry, J)
And I am frustrated, sexually, because even though I think I don’t want sex, I do really, and this spills over into my entire mindset.
Which is why I do things like point at the head of the bank of England when he’s interviewed on the news and say “I want his job!”
Therefore, feminism is evil.
And it wants to take over the world.*
I remember this when the “hahaha you’re craaaaazy” thoughts rear their ugly heads. And this teaches me that I will fucking well be paranoid if I want to be, because I’m quite often right. And modest, too.
Also, on a related note, whilst having a slightly bemused conversation with a couple of other women about the pros and cons of letting relative strangers rip your eyebrows out, one hair at a time, and debating whether letting a relative stranger near your eyebrows with a razor blade is any better (it isnt; apparently, you bleed if they do it wrong**)…. well, I had to add to the debate in my own special way.
“Oh, but my way’s so much easier – I just run around, free and hairy!”
And I refused to feel ashamed when the head chef made it clear he’d heard every word.
Well, fuck you, funny man***, because I don’t think you would have let us know you’d been evesdropping if we’d stuck to knowing our feminine places in the world. Obviously, looking like a child to gain points in the fuckable category is our calling.
But that is a post for a different time, because it’s just a whole different breed of sick, twisted and wrong.
Happy, happy, happy – that’s your resident genius’s state of mind!
*This line is the only one that has been exaggerated
**A shocker brought to you by the University of the Bleeding Obvious
***My thanks to Dan for this expletive, which amuses me greatly