Thursday, 19 July 2012

In which harassment needs to be talked about

On the face of it, there’s a lot written about harassment of women. It’s rare a day goes by on Twitter when someone doesn’t report that they’ve been on the receiving end of some sort of verbal or physical delight from an unreconstructed moronic Neanderthal. Sometimes it’s the focus of whole sites, and sometimes it’s just mentioned in passing as part of life.

But despite the apparent deluge, it’s not yet enough.

The very lovely owner of possibly the best name on the planet ever, Jamie Thunder, recently wrote that his friend was subjected to harassment on a bus. She laughed it off, as many of us do, but the story clearly struck a chord with Jamie:

If it had been me sat on a coach journey with a stranger trying to feel me up I’d have screamed the place down… Why would I make a fuss? Because it’s unusual and very unpleasant. But would I have if this sort of experience was part of my daily life? …it’s quite a shock, as a guy, to realise how pervasive this sort of thing is.

Jamie’s not stupid, and he’s not oblivious to the world around him: he’s a journalist at a major newspaper. If you’re going to paint someone with the clued-up brush, it’s Jamie. But if, up till now, he’s not been aware of the scale of the issue, then how are other men expected to be?

I single men out because I’d be willing to bet that 99 out of 100 women who are reading this are well aware that this goes on with horrid and alarming regularity and have been subjected to it at least once. Talk to any woman you know – friend, girlfriend, flatmate, colleague, sister: they’ll all have a story to tell you about their experience of harassment, whether it’s “only” that they were hollered at from a car or, in more sinister vein, that they were followed around on the tube.

And it’s not that we’re getting our knickers in a twist about nothing; it’s not that women everywhere need to lighten up and learn to take a compliment. None of these instances of harassment are compliments: they don’t make us feel good about ourselves, and they’re not designed to.

What woman do you know enjoys being treated as nothing more than meat? Are you sure that there’s a woman in your life who subscribes to the view that her body isn’t her own but instead public property, to be commented on in public as people see fit? Do you ever think the response to an incident like this would be for the woman in question to turn round and proffer her number and next available Thursday evening for dinner and drinks? No. Because that’s not the aim.

At its least damaging, public harassment is disrespectful and annoying. At its worst, it’s intimidating and threatening, preventing people from being able to go about their day-to-day business in a public space without fear. Which, I’d argue, is a pretty fundamental requirement for life.


elliebloom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mud said...

Totally agree. It wasn't until my recent incident (the man wanking at me in the street I wrote about...) that I actually sat down and counted up all the proper times I've been harassed (and I don't mean having had a builder call "nice arse" harassment) and came up with a shockingly high number running the whole spectrum of harassment. And that's me, a perfectly independent, average sort of a girl.

When I've raised the subject with my nice male friends they have been utterly aghast.

(And don't even start me on the use of language when talking about women/sex. I've been explaining to a lovely male friend that the phrase "he smashed her" used as a way of saying "they had sex" is horrendous/degrading/violent imagery - but he just doesn't see it....)

Blonde said...

Mud: And that's the thing, isn't it? Harassment is endemic, and such a part of day to day life that we don't really think twice about it. It's not ok, and it shouldn't be that way.

photogirl said...

Two years ago someone tried to attack me on the tube and when I was asking strangers for help, he said I was his girlfriend and then everyone looked away. I didn't know him and was trying to defend myself and no one helped. We all need to look out for each other and come to the defence of those who need it. Every female I know has been flashed (usually on more than one occasion) followed or physically groped against her will. It's unacceptable. We read stories about other countries in horror, but this shit happens every day here and in the states.

nuttycow said...

Great post, Blonde. Think I should offer the thought that the same right goes for men too. Ok, so it doesn't happen as often, but it *does* happen... *no one* should have to put up with that kind of behaviour.

Blonde said...

PG: Oh god, I remember that. Such horrific behaviour that shouldn't happen to ANYONE. Did the police catch the guy in the end? You're right: we all need to stand up for each other - it's the only way things will change. x

NC: Oh, absolutely. But I do wonder how often it happens to men: I imagine it's nothing like the same scale. But you're right - everyone should step out of their house knowing that they'll be able to walk around without fear of intimidation and harassment.

justine-time said...

I've been an occasional practising transvestite for around 20 years now & have lost count of the number of times I've been groped, or been the butt of overly suggestive comments, or just been plain freaked out by being followed around. Initially I thought it was just something 'we' had to put up with from the kind of weirdos 'the scene' attracts, but I've encountered it in all kinds of places.

I've also had prejudice to deal with but by far & away by biggest complaint is about 'men' who aren't capable of behaving in a manner befitting the 21st century.

Yes in an ideal world I'd always have the luxury of a gaggle of friends to go nightclubbing with, and I'd be accompanied everywhere I go - but that's not always possible.

I've ranted about this in person, on online forums & on blogs within the transgendered community. Generally speaking, there hasn't been much sympathy for my complaints. Others saying "it goes with the territory I'm afraid", "What do you expect, going to that venue?", or "I bet your dress was short" in response to me did nothing but frustrate & anger me further.

There was a time not long ago where I had to wait for a taxi. I took a seat & was minding my own business when a man sat down next to me. I became aware of him putting an arm around me so I turned to face him & the next thing I knew he was trying to kiss me. I stood up, objected profusely etc & he couldn't even see how he was in the wrong. The taxi office staff intervened & ejected him but at no point did it cross anybody's mind (even mine) that what had just happened constituted an assault. I told my wife about the incident the next day & was told to my horror it's happened to her on more than one occasion.

To the people who say we should 'lighten up' or claim we should 'expect it' I say this: WAKE UP. It is not acceptable.

To the people who are on the receiving end who just accept it as part of life I say this: Stop accepting it as 'one of those things'. I've been as guilty of this in the past as anybody else but I don't let anything lie these days.

We all deserve better than this.

modelofamodernmajorgeneral said...

Nutty - the biggest danger to males is unprovoked violence by another male (especially if you are under the age of 30). A possibly different situation, but again one that shouldn't exist.

As for the harassment - I've led a very sheltered life, and I've never seen anything you've described. I can only apologise for the fuckwits who believe that it is appropriate.

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