We use this space to discuss our artist endeavours, however our triumvirate is powered by our politics to that end I want to discuss a widespread phenomenon.
I have been harassed by men physically and verbally in public since I was fourteen.
That is ten years of being harassed.
Moving to Manchester increased the frequency of these incidents. If asked I would estimate that it happens on average several times a week. I personally define harassment in these circumstances as any kind of unwanted attention be this a comment about my appearance, intrusive questions about where I am going, jumping in front of me shouting ”ooooh” and waving their hands about, touching me without permission or following me home. All those things have happened to me more than once.
To give you some kind of context, I am five foot seven, have had since I was fourteen, long blonde hair and have been all dress sizes from 6-16. My dress sense skews towards new romantic and I wear relatively outlandish things on a regular basis, I have no visible tattoos or piercings. I have received harassment in all kinds of clothes, with and without make up, clean and unwashed. What I am pointing out is that I appear conventionally feminine and have certain signifiers of attractive feminity and there is no dissonance with my biological sex and appearance.
All the women that I know have stories of being harassed.
All the women.
No matter what their age, race, style of dress or their gender presentation is.
I personally think that is horrific, that all the women I know have been frightened or upset by men. Of course women are capable of harassment in general I think it is fair to say men do harass women most frequently. This does curtail our lives: we get buses because we know we shouldn’t walk alone in the dark, we worry about going places alone, we impose curfews on ourselves for example. We live in fear.
I was walking home from the bus a few months ago and heard footsteps behind me, it was late and dark. I turned around, if it was a man I would let him pass me as I always do so I can see what he is doing. It was a boy, a very young teenage boy, and I suddenly felt so upset with myself for being frightened of him, and wondered how upset his mother would be if she knew I was scared by her son simply because of his gender.
Women do not always talk about the daily harassments we endure. I forget the man on the bus who leered ”nice legs” as they got off the bus when I get home and lock the door, I diminish these incidents. In many cases they don’t even get close enough to touch me, we tell ourselves the police can do nothing. I barely even remember the man’s face, just a twisted lascivious mouth. In most cases I do not react, I have to hide my grimace while I thank a man for a ”compliment” about my body/appearance that I did not invite.
I had to do that earlier, I was walking through Piccadilly Gardens at eleven pm, on the well lit wide open side of course. A young man in the middle of what looked like a drug deal commented that I was looking good with ”nice long legs” and ”nice long blonde hair” this was said in a lewd manner, I felt uncomfortable.
I had spent all day nursing a nasty hangover on a friend’s sofa, my hair was a mess, I had about one third of last night’s make up remaining, I had on a large raggedy fake fur coat that came down to my knees and high heels on. I have had an inordinate amount of attention in what I thought was an unflattering coat. I have even been stroked by an ex member of black grape in it and no he didn’t ask first. Such is the lure of fur, fake though it may be. I seem to remember reading that men’s love of women in furs is because makes them think of pubic hair.
I felt unsafe I wanted to get home, so I thanked him and ran to my stop, he kept talking and saying things about my appearance and asking what I was doing as I continued walking.
I had been running a poem idea in my head but as I got on the bus (home and dry I thought) I thought over the incident and considered writing this post in an attempt to feel less powerless.
A man sat next to me on a quite empty bus, he was drunk, looked at my shoes a lot and generally did a few things that made me suspicious. I was a few stops away, anxiety still bubbling but feeling cautiously optimistic about getting home soon without incident. He turned to me and asked me to smile. I was I admit annoyed at having to thank the lewd guy earlier, I said no and that it was rude to ask. He took exception to this. I snapped and pointed out that he wouldn’t ask a man that question and asked him to leave me alone. He didn’t. ”You’ve got a problemo” he said with derision. I told him to stop talking to me again, this went on for a while (he was very angry) before I said ”if you don’t stop I will make a scene” I started shouting and swearing at him. I pointed out that he was an idiot and I was now shouting at him in a public place because of this. I said had asked him to leave me alone and this was harassment and that he may not agree but that it is, a man opposite nodded and agreed with me. I got off at my stop.
Yes I could simply have smiled and placated the drunk. However I am fed up of some men assuming that my sole function in life is to act as an ornament for their amusement. Like the old man last week who sat next to me on the bus and started talking at me about how he didn’t wash his clothes and who wouldn’t let me get off when I said I needed to get off this bus and complained when he finally did that ”he was only making conversation”.
They assume when they ask ”give us a smile love” that me as a woman owes them a smile, and when a man decides to start a conversation that I didn’t want to enter into that I owe it to them to continue it, that when they say something about my body I did not ask them to say I am supposed to be pleased. It is because of these assumptions that I encounter all the time that I told the man on the bus that it was rude to ask.
Many people would say this was a stupid move, the onus is always on me as a woman to do everything I can to make myself safe from men rather than challenging the behaviour of men.
Men very rarely do these kind of things if you are escorted by a man unless they perceive the man to be unmanly, for example, short men in my experience are sadly lumped in this category. My point being is men do this to lone or small groups of women. In many cases it is just not safe enough to point out that their behaviour is upsetting, meaning like badly disciplined children they get nothing but positive reinforcement for their bad behaviour.
Which also means they do not expect me to shout and swear and shame them. I have found very loudly saying what they are doing so others can hear will usually find you a sympathetic person and will at the very least embarrass the harasser. I only do this when it is safe. Ideally I would like some kind of public campaign pointing the frequency of these incidents and their effects on women’s lives. I also know that is not going to happen.
This is a poem of mine dedicated to the kind of men who harass women:
I don’t owe you anything
I don’t owe you a smile
I only smile when I want, not when you decree,
or when you comment on my body
which is not yours to comment on
I don’t owe you conversation
It is not my duty to serve you,
to make you comfortable in social situations
I don’t owe you self censorship
If my words offend your sensibilities don’t listen
I am owed free speech, foul words if I want
I don’t owe you sex
My being kind doesn’t mean I want to fuck you
I’ll tell you I want to fuck you if I do
This body doesn’t owe you anything
I don’t owe it to you to cover it if it offends
I don’t owe it to you if you like the look of it
Your chromosomes do not imply ownership
I do not owe it you to act as property,
Being single doesn’t mean I am waiting for an ‘if lost return to’ tag
I am a Ms because I do want to indicate whether I am owned or not
It is a political act, Mr Banker.
Here some resources for harassment:
this comic has a great history of showing harassment and fear of it: http://www.octopuspie.com/2011-01-06/428-white-winter-catcall/
This is a website where women share their stories of harassment and help make maps of incident levels:
Includes an informative flow chart about harassment: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/feb/09/transgender-women-femininity