Thursday, 6 June 2013

A rant about street harassment

So, I've not posted for a few days because I've been having a tough time with my mental health again. When your thinking is clouded it makes writing just a bit difficult. Something happened to me this morning that I want to talk about. Mainly because it's not a one off incident, and if it happens to me I'm sure it happens to other people too.

So, after a few days of hiding at home due to high levels of anxiety I made myself leave the house this morning. I went for a walk, there happens to be a nice park not far away and with the kids at school it's normally pretty empty this time of day. Perfect, I thought.

There was a guy out walking his dog, he smiled as our paths crossed and I smiled back. It shouldn't be difficult to smile a greeting at a stranger but it can be for me. I did it anyway though and nothing awful happened. He carried on his merry way and after a few seconds sniffing my leg his dog did the same. It was actually kind of nice, as even brief interactions with other people usually are when I don't let the anxiety get in the way. It made me feel a bit better so I carried on my walk.

About ten minutes later, I came across another young man. He approached me and asked if I had a light. I explained that I didn't and moved past him. He followed me which caused a jump in anxiety levels. Still, I was determined to be rational. Maybe he wasn't following me, maybe he just happened to be heading in the same direction. A few seconds later he pulled even with me.

'Where are you going lady?'

At this point, I really didn't want to engage in further conversation with him. I wanted to get away from him. But how to do so? It's entirely possible that he was just a bit lonely and looking for some innocent conversation. I didn't want to be rude. I also didn't want to antagonise him. I hate confrontation and I'd gone out for a breath of fresh air not to get into an argument with somebody. I took a deep breath and answered.

'Oh, just out. I'm in a hurry, sorry I can't stop for a chat.'

Then I sped up. So did he.

'Don't be like that, I only want to talk. You're a very pretty lady.'

At this point I was on the verge of panicking. I just wanted to be away from him. I was starting to sweat, my vision was starting to blur and I was finding it hard to think about what I should be doing. I blurted out, voice a bit trembly.

'Please just leave me alone.'

He didn't. I headed towards the exit to the park, towards the nearby high street. It has lots of shops on it and is always busy. I don't know how much of this was a concious decision and how much was based around the fact that this was the nearest exit. The man carried on following me, making more comments about how I looked. As soon as I reached the exit and headed out into the high street he stopped walking. He stood in the gateway and shouted after me that I was 'an arrogant bitch and I should watch myself.'

Needless to say, walk ruined and almost in tears I headed straight home, repeatedly checking that I wasn't still being followed.

It's been a while since this happened to me, but every time it does it not only upsets me it stirs up lots of old fears and emotions. I can't help but recall all the other times it's happened. The time a guy followed me from the post office to my house. The time a group of teenagers in  park followed me for a few minutes telling me how that if I didn't stop to talk to them they were going to rape me. The time a guy in  car followed me for several minutes calling out to me, first in a complimentary fashion and then with increasing anger as I continued to ignore his advances. I was only 15 at the time and in no way prepared for such attention. It reminded me of going clubbing and rejecting the person who's just hit on me only to be met with derision and anger.

It reminded me of the time an ex and a gang of his friends followed me to college one day, referring to me as a frigid slut and a whore. For not sleeping with my ex and then dumping him when he became too insistent. It reminded me of another time when a different ex sent his friends to follow me home explaining that if I didn't go back to him, I could expect trouble. Telling me that I was disloyal and a slut for not wanting to stay with him and warning a male friend of mine to stay away from me, because I was a mental bitch.

In short, it reminded me of all the times men have acted like they have a right to expect and demand my time and attention, because they've decided they want to give it to me. It reminded me that so many men don't see me - or any other woman - as a person, but as an object to be admired, desired and owned by men.

I remember once complaining to a friend about this and being told I should take it as a compliment. Men found me attractive and this was apparently a brilliant thing. Really? I find lots of people attractive, it doesn't mean I think it's OK to harass them or hate them for not returning my attraction. I've never once thought that I was so awesome, the mere fact of my finding them attractive was such a huge compliment they should be grateful for it. It's never occurred to me that giving some a compliment should oblige them to accept it and then do everything I ask or want.  But then, I've also had people tell me this can't have happened to me because I'm not pretty enough. Way to dismiss and insult me all at once, and to tell me that presumably I should consider myself lucky to experience harassment.

To be honest, I don't think it's even about finding someone attractive. To me it seems that like all other forms of sexual harassment, abuse and violence it's about power. The power to enforce your will over somebody else and it's never ever OK. Nor is it a 'compliment'.

I've had people tell me before that maybe these acts (or at least some of them) were innocent, that these men should at least be applauded for having the courage to talk to a girl they fancy. No. It's not about courage. I've talked to people I fancied, I've been gutted when it hasn't worked out for me. Rejection is never a comfortable feeling. I've never then felt the urge to call them names, or try to intimidate them into complying with my wishes. That's not courage, that's harassment. It's vile and it's not ever acceptable.

Nobody is 'lucky' to experience unwanted attention, particularly when it's threatening. No one has the right to follow you home (or anywhere else) uninvited, to threaten to rape you, to call you names and try to shame you, to close in on you and deliberately try to make you feel bad and uncomfortable. It's not OK and it's not a position which can be defended. It's not the same thing as asking out someone you like, it's not about that. It's about some people feeling entitled to treat any and all women as objects they can do what they want with. It's the same thinking that allows people to rape and otherwise harm women, and by trying to justify it you are telling them that's it OK to think of other people this way. It isn't.

Well then, rant over. I still feel sick and shaky but better for getting that off my chest. As ever, I hope somebody out there finds this useful in some way.

No comments:

Post a Comment