Content note: sexual harassment, reference to rape
At around 9:30 am yesterday, making it two days after the UK learned that our “boys’ club sexist culture” is such a serious problem the UN will step in to criticise it, I was walking past Macclesfield’s war memorial. Two men whose car had stopped at the traffic lights yelled “Oy oy!” at me out of the window, in that voice – you know the one, the voice with a thin layer of lads-together amusement stretched over a bottomless clamour of contempt for me and everything I wanted from my life, including going to the post office in peace.
My thoughts were as follows:
“Wait, did they seriously just say that? Am I sure they were talking to me? God, I don’t need to make excuses for them, I’m such an idiot. Of course they were.
I should say something! I shouldn’t take it lying down! Wait, there was that great article about funny responses to sexual harassment – that I now can’t remember a word of. The lights are turning green…
Turns out my witty and bold comeback that forced them to reconsider their objectification of women was to… mutter ‘Fuck you’ at their car’s exhaust pipe as they drove off and make a V-sign. They didn’t even notice.
That old lady did, though.
So hey, it’s true! I always feel weird when I read feminist blogs that talk about street harassment like it’s a universal and every day experience – obviously for a lot of the women contributing to projects like Everyday Sexism it is, and I feel weirdly and irrationally like I’m failing to show solidarity by not sharing that experience. Why, this is the first time I’ve been cat-called since that pre-pubescent boy muttered ‘Tits’ loudly as I walked past! That was three years ago! That boy must be a no doubt delightful teenager by now! And that’s pretty much my only street harassment experience, since those boys who did things like stand over my shoulder and say loudly to each other “Yeah, that’s Rosemary, she likes anal, she likes that it hurts” when I was fifteen weren’t on the street, silly, they were in my school’s computer room. Oh, yeah, and those four months I lived in Ghana, where European women can’t leave the house without being constantly cat-called by men in a way that runs the gauntlet from funny to annoying to scary.
Right, so I’ve established that street harassment is real! Ooh, you know what else they talk about that’s real? The feeling that what was a nice day out has turned into the jigsaw puzzle of your world being smashed up around you. The feeling that, while obviously some guys making incoherent noises at you isn’t in the same category as actual rape, you’re not safe on the streets of this town, and you can’t predict with certainty what else you’re vulnerable to. The boiling rage that I have no outlet for, since I missed my window on making a joke or even yelling ‘Fuck you’ to their faces, and consequently the beginnings of letting that rage turn sourly inwards.
So, yeah – there are some guys whose idea of a great laugh is aggressively humiliating a random woman for no reason other than that it’s a great laugh, and being that woman feels exactly as terrible as you might expect. I am so glad I learned that lesson.”
Those are my thoughts immediately after being cat-called. If you’re reading this and feel you’d like to share similar experiences, please add a comment below.