Wednesday, 27 February 2013

In which it's still not a compliment

It’s not a new phenomenon, and I’ve written about it before, but it’s ongoing and I imagine I’ll write about it again until something changes. Because being harangued in the street when you’re going about your daily business was not, is not, and never will be okay.

It’s not a subject that’s tackled an awful lot in the leading mainstream press (blogs and online feminist mags, yes. Mainstream press, no) probably, I think, because it’s not seen by most people as a particularly serious issue. So it was deeply refreshing yesterday morning to hear the subject of harassment being discussed on Today, a flagship news programme and agenda-setter.

I’m well aware of the arguments on the other side: that women need to lighten up; that’s it’s a compliment; and that it’s just not that big a deal. And I’d have some sympathy for those arguments if a leer, or a whistle, or a shouted comment happened as a once off. But it doesn’t. It might – if you’re lucky – happen once a month. But it’s more likely to happen once or twice a week, if not every day.

And once you’re subjected to it every week, or every day, it’s not a compliment, and it is a big deal. Because the insidious comments and catcalls and whistles seep into your consciousness.

Take a moment, whether you’re male or female, to imagine a man you don’t know yelling at you in the street: he’s commenting on your bum, or your smile. Happening once, you’d brush it off, you might even laugh at it. But then imagine it happens over and over again – all men you don’t know, commenting publicly that you’re “sexy” or what they’d like to do to you. Throw in a guy letting his hand rest against you on the tube. And then a man on a building site whistling as you walk down the street to work. And then, as you’re walking home alone quite late at night, when there are few other people around, a man yelling after you, asking what your name is.

In isolation, the events might seem harmless. In conjunction, they’re an epidemic, and they’re deeply, deeply unpleasant. They make women change their clothes, their hair, their route to work.

Yesterday morning, I was walking to the tube station at about 8.15am. A guy yelled, “yeah, yeah, yeah, baby” after me. Bored of the behaviour, tired, and in a rush, I turned on my heel, snarled at him and gave him the finger. Not sophisticated, not clever, not articulating my point – and, most would argue, an overreaction.

But he was the second guy on that short walk between my flat and the tube station to do something like that. They followed a man asking me my name as I walked home, alone, in the dark at 9.30pm on Monday evening. And they followed three separate incidents on Saturday morning when I was buying the paper and then vegetables in the market.

I refuse to believe that I shouldn’t be able to leave the house with my hair worn loose, or wearing red lipstick (both of which, I’ve noticed, correlate with an uptick in Neanderthal behaviour). I don’t think I should need to be with my boyfriend at all times when in public to discourage this kind of inanity.

And the more it’s talked about, written about, discussed in the mainstream media, on Today, in the papers, online, the more that people who previously just didn’t realise what it’s like read about it and think about it, the closer we might come to being able to walk around and not think about where the next idiot might be waiting.


Rennbird said...

Amen. I resent this culture so much. After getting sexually assaulted on my doorstep I started going out looking as rough as possible to stop getting male attention. We shouldn't have to take such measures! x

nycdeb said...

So well put and so well explained. As a friend of mine (who walked past endless Manhattan construction sites on the way to work daily) "It's like being an animal in a zoo but with less feeling of security."

Jamie Klingler said...

On Saturday night I dared to wear a low cut dress at a fancy restaurant with my friends. I went up to the bar to get a drink, and looks are one thing, but a man less than 3 feet from me pointed at my breasts and commented. Given the previous drinks, I went a bit apeshit at him and yelled he was a cretin and should get back in his cave and grow the fuck up. But just over the constant abuse. The bar tender agreed with me and told them it was inappropriate and to leave me alone, but is that actually necessary in this day and age. Apparently so.

Blonde said...

Renn: Exactly. It's NOT down to us to be responsible for other people's behaviour. Why shouldn't I wear what I like? SO, SO infuriating.

NYCDeb: Thank you. That's an enormously accurate description. I just don't think some men get it - the scale of the problem, and that it's incessant. And it takes a toll.

Jamie: That's just disgraceful. Good for you for saying something. The more we fight back, hopefully, the more it'll sink in that IT'S NOT ALLOWABLE. said...


It drives me mad than in order for this to get any form of recognition, women have to get angry about it, which in turn leads some less pleasant strata of society to go "Oh look at the cross women going over the top and hysterical over getting some nice compliments in the street, it's feminism gone mad."

Well, I don't like feeling unsafe in the street. Or badgered in the street. Or - I agree - wearing lipstick, even when every inch of my body bar my face is covered up, is some invitation.

There is a word for this, and that word is "gah."

Blonde said...

Kat: Exactly. It should be enough to be able to explain what it's like. Still, if I have to get all shrieking harridan about it to make my point, I shall. Gah, gah, gah indeed.

Foodycat said...

The thing that gets me about this is that I have never in my life had as many comments as when I was still at school. In uniform. And I have seen other very young girls in school uniforms get the same "compliments" so no wonder women grow up feeling insecure.

Brennig said...

*blood boils*

A few days ago a friend of mine got touched up at her local bus station by someone who obviously has a letch for heavily pregnant women. But can you imagine what this has done to her? Jesus. What the hell is going on?

And now reading this?


Best Mate said...

I was on the last train home once which was, of course, packed with drunk people. A man who was a good 20- 25 years my senior sat opposite me and stretched out his legs. Now, inital contact on your legs on a crowded train is an accident I will allow, persistent and increasing pressure is nothing short of inappropriate and I will not tolerate it. I gave him the death stare which was, fortunately, sufficient in that case.

Made for an awkward rest of journey though and left me wanting to wipe the smug smile off his face.

Blonde said...

Foodycat: That's just vile. Picking on women is revolting enough, but on girls is just unforgivable.

Brennig: Yuck. Hope she's ok. Has she reported it? x

BM: Ewwww. That's gross. And on a crowded train where you can't get away, seriously intimidating. Thank god the stare was enough.

Brennig said...

@Blonde: yes she has. And the police have been quick and helpful. But using a bus station is clever, they said, because he could live anywhere. *blood boils again*

Rennbird said...

Wow. That is horrible.

c said...

Yep, and that's before they start masturbating against you. I told a friend I didn't like travelling by tube in the rush hour because of that and he said 'that doesn't happen on the tube'. Brilliant. To be fair, it's far worse on the paris metro. I cut all my hair off after one summer working in Paris having noticed the abuse got worse when my hair was down rather than up.

pinklea said...

I once tried to explain to my boyfriend how it feels as a woman to be constantly scrutinized and harassed and verbally assaulted (and sometimes worse!) by men. I ended up in tears. He listened quietly and although he says he doesn't do that and never has, I hope he got the message loud and clear.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you're one step ahead of the NY Times and in solidarity with this woman.


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