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.