Catcalling. Street harassment. Whatever you call it, it happens to us girls, and it’s crap. However yesterday was somewhat of a record for me in terms of volume of catcalls in one day… And I’m going to talk about it, because a) I need to get it off my chest and b) I have seen quite a few posts of late from friends that were v vocal during the whole ‘women only tube carriage’ discussion the other week, which led to lots of ‘I don’t truly believe that stuff goes on’ posts. I feel perhaps those people are slightly disconnected to the reality of being a female day-to-day, so for their enlightenment, I’d like to describe every single situation I encountered yesterday. Now some of these you might deem ‘harmless’ – and the words themselves are. But the intention behind them is another thing altogether. Other ones were more sinister, and of course, this was just in one day. As usual, the strength of the call-out varies, and it’s often much worse in the evening.
So without further ado, in order of my day yesterday…
I get on an unusually quiet tube, on my way to work (I don’t believe it should be relevant but for the sake of argument I will mention that I was wearing a very ‘comfortable’ outfit; huge baggy jumper, boots and leggings, with an old parka on top. Not my most eye catching or attractive look. Hair left curly and unkempt and minimal makeup on) and as I walk down the carriage, a man, respectably dressed in a suit, old enough to be my father, says to me ‘You have beautiful eyes… Let me see them… show me your face, pet’. I carried on walking, and as I passed I heard a hissed ‘bitch’. Alrighty then. I see him keep trying to look over at me and when I see he goes to get up and walk towards me, I hop off at the next stop. I’m now running slightly late for work, but rather safe than sorry.
I’m walking up Moorgate to get to work, and I see a man in a high vis jacket. It feels a bit odd because there aren’t others around, no building works, and so I just assumed he was having a smoke break. I’d like to add at this point that yes, I was judging and assessing what was seemingly a normal labourer on his fag break – unfortunately, this is part of being a woman – making quick assessments like this when a lone male is out of place or the atmosphere feels weird. But this comes from experience. It comes from being female and doing it automatically. And, I was right to have an odd feeling, because as I turned on the corner he was standing on towards my work, he said, at perfectly normal speaking volume ‘I really wanna FUCK you’.
Normally, I would ignore, and hope not to invite further such statements, but I was a bit rattled. I looked him dead in the eye and said ‘Where? Here? How? Come on then, let’s go, I don’t have long before work’ – his smile dropped and he turned around and speed-walked away from me, tossing his cigarette in my general direction. That was a particularly horrible one. It’s the intention, forcing his way into my life like that with that kind sexual aggression, getting his kicks by being shocking. By making girls shudder. Horrible. Anyway, off to work I go.
I’m having lunch with a male friend outside. A group of workmen come by, and as they pass, one of them decides to interrupt our catch-up by catching my eye and going ‘OHHHH BLONDIE!!!’. That’s it. Nothing more. Confusing, no? Here, in this case, it’s the intention that causes discomfort, rather than the language. One minute, you are in your own bubble, having a lovely time, and then you are yanked out because you have been clocked. Suddenly you aren’t anonymous anymore, you’re on show. Suddenly my scruffy blonde hair is a beacon, calling out to be commented on, and in that moment I just wanted to cut it off. Cut it off and go without comment, to continue being anonymous. Continue to enjoy my day, uncommented upon.
Also here is a further strange dynamic, because my male friend is sat taking it in, and it’s an awkward moment for both of us. Is it his place to say something? Is it not? Should he stand, beat his chest and cry ‘YES LADS! I am having lunch with the BLONDIE!! Her golden hair is a coveted prize and you must bow down to my male prowess!! Leave now because this woman is TAKEN today! LAAAAADS!!’. Surely by their caveman standards, his very presence should be enough to deter cat-calling. Time was, having a male escort rendered you safe from attention from wandering males. Why is he invisible? I don’t understand, anymore. We laugh nervously, even jokingly discuss the correct way for them to have struck up conversation, and we continue our lunch.
I’m on my way home from work. I’ve exited the tube station, it’s quiet, and there’s a man standing in the dark space between the exit and the wall outside. I’ve never seen him before – he’s not the usual beggar I recognize. He calls to me from his dark corner and makes me jump. ‘Excuse me, miss’. My heart is already pounding. ‘Have you got any spare change so I can get home?’. I shake my head, adrenaline closing my throat. ‘No change? But you’re got your purse in your hand. You’ve got nothing in it for me? Why don’t you open it and we’ll take a little look?’. At this point, my mind is racing through the options: Throw my purse at his head and run, or hold it tighter, slip my hand into my pocket for my keys, and prepare for struggle. I continue walking – he follows. ‘You got nothing, no? How about your number then?’ I find the words to speak, I tell him, firmly, ‘I’m married’. ‘I don’t believe you, you ain’t married, you’re just lying to me’.
His voice turns darker, and he’s fallen in step with me. I hold my left hand up, with my ring, as I’m grabbing my keys with the other. He answers this with ‘Yeah well I can show you a better time than your husband’ and grabs his crotch. I take a good look at his face, and from the corner of my eye, notice the corner supermarket is still open. He’s blocking my entrance, but it seems my best bet without him following me home and knowing where I live. I use my body weight and quickly shove past him, to bring myself inside. My thoughts are rushed, in double time, and my main one is that there is always safety in fluorescent light. For the second time that day, I am called a bitch. I am also called some other choice words, including ‘cock tease’ and ‘cunt’. I wait inside for fifteen minutes to compose myself, browse the shelves and buy items I don’t need, I flick on my phone ready to dial, and I walk out. It’s clear. I walk the last two minutes to my home, flick open Facebook and see that a friend had her crotch grabbed on the tube. I make dinner and I watch a cartoon. I chat with my husband. Whilst it’s true that this was more than the usual amount of harassment for one day – those events individually are totally unremarkable to me. Water off a duck’s back. I sleep, I wake up. I take the same route to work.
This is the reality of being a women. How can anyone deny that we need more safety, more areas where women can enjoy the same privilege of man, not having to even think about assessing each lone man we encounter? Not having to be rated on the street? I really like men. I find most to be really great humans. I hate judging them. I hate that I instinctively listen to the footsteps behind me, hoping they belong to a woman. I hate keeping my head down on an empty tube, less I catch the eye of a man who sees me as fair game. I hate being 5’2”, and smaller and considered weaker than men.
What we need is to stop ignoring this behaviour. Call people out for it. It’s not ok. Actively show that we are taking measures to keep women safe, which shows those who lurk or leer, that what is going on is NOT ok. That we are cracking down on it and they are no longer free to do as they please. We need to protect women whilst we reeducate, until we don’t need to do either anymore. Anyway, thanks for listening, internet, that was cathartic. Stay safe, it’s a dark world out there…
|Charlie Bond, when she’s not dealing with street harassment, is an actress, writer and presenter, best known for her work in the British art-house and independent movie scene. She resides in West London with her husband, filmmaker Peter Ford, and is passionate about urban gardening, coffee, and inspiring confidence through self-defence.
You can follow Charlie on Twitter – @misscharliebond
Photo Credit: Shirlie Kemp
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum