Friday, 7 September 2012

What Women Deal With

An incident happened a couple of months back which I considered blogging about, but instead decided to let it go. That is, until a friend shared someone else's story with me - one that made me realise this is happening all the time, and that perhaps more of us need to share our stories.

This blogger told a tale of regular harassment on LA public transport - hassled for no other reason than because she is female, and alone. At the time of my own incident I shared what had happened on Twitter, and received stories from other women of similar incidents. This public harassment happens regularly, globally, in different settings... but the one constant is that the victim is a female on her own.

It's not a case of a lone female in a dark alley being physically attacked - this is a different kind of assault. It's psychological. It's power play. It works to make a woman feel small, powerless, ashamed.
And for what?

A couple of months back I was walking down the Strand after work, heading to get an eye test. It was a sunny evening and the Strand was packed, but I quickly realised a man was walking a little too closely behind me. There are things which, as a woman, I am always in tune to: I am aware of my personal space, and when it is being breached. The man started muttering things into my ear as we walked, making kissing noises and murmuring "Ooh baby, I like it, keep walking like that", and other, suggestive things. These were said quietly - but so that I could hear them. Being in broad daylight I was feeling particularly bold and thought nothing of spinning around and confronting him. "Excuse me? What did you just say to me?"

Without hesitation or thought he immediately leaned right into my face, and screamed, in a threatening manner, "I wasn't talking to YOU, you ugly bitch! What an ugly bitch! Get out of my face!" Boom. Suddenly he was turning this around, and making it my fault.

The man was shorter, and a little younger, than me, but his body language was aggressive. I looked him up and down, and said "What a disgusting little man", then turned and walked on quickly, inwardly shaken, but trying with all my might to project body language which said I wasn't bothered by such nonsense.

The man, however, followed me down the street, calling for people to take note of me, shouting obscene things about me to everyone else in the street - things of a very sexual nature, peppered with how disgusting and ugly I was. Eventually I stepped into opticians where I was due for my eye test, and the man stood in the doorway, where he shouted, with the full force of his body, "UGLY BITCH!". Then he stormed off down the street. The staff in the shop all looked at me, but nobody asked if I was alright. I smiled wanely, and shrugged, as if I had no idea what that was about. To be honest, I really didn't.

I sat through my eye test in a blur; robotic, trying not to let any of what had just happened get under my skin. None of what this guy said bothered me - he was just using cruel words as a weapon - it was the attack itself that left me shaken. An unpredictable and aggressive person had just made me feel unsafe. Vulnerable in a crowd. It is not a nice feeling. And I did not deserve it. For the next hour or so I kept looking over my shoulder, in case he had waited around to follow me.

It's not fair that this should happen to anyone, to any woman, and yet it clearly happens far too often. I don't regret confronting this guy, but it is sad that my options were to listen to his sexual ideas, or face a verbal attack. Next time you see something like this happening, please don't pretend you don't see it. Men like this need to be brought down, and put back in their place. This is not our fault.