This morning on my way to work, I was rudely interrupted from my summery thoughts by a loud “OI”. Glancing to my right out of the corner of my eye, I saw a group of 19/20 year-old boys, and so adopted my default mode: ignore. A second later came the second “OI”, followed by what can only be described as an onslaught of “OI”s, which of course made me feel very uncomfortable, especially as there wasn’t really anyone else around and it was obvious that it was me the boys were aiming their shouts at, particularly when one kindly specified “YOU IN THE BLACK DRESS”. The yells became louder and louder and more aggressive, and I felt anxious yet quite proud of myself for ignoring them, until the ringleader shouted “Oi, don’t f***ing ignore me, you slut”.
WHAT. All attempts to pretend they didn’t exist went out the window as I turned round and demanded to know why they had been so rude to me. Completely disregarding my question, the main guy shouted “Have you got a mirror in your pants?”. Knowing that something unfunny and sexist would be coming next, I repeated my question, ignoring his joke. Naturally he then told me that he could see himself between my legs (lol good one eh), to rapturous laughter and applause from his pals.
I asked them why they all find being sexist so much fun, only to be greeted by more laughter, albeit slightly less this time. Enraged, I told them they all disgusted me and walked away. I don’t think I have ever been so angry in my life. I can feel cross, irritated or moody fairly easily, but it is rare for me to be teeth-grindingly angry, yet this time I walked away shaking, with my hands balled into fists. Upon telling a male acquaintance about the incident, his response was: “Well, at least you can take one positive from it: that you’re an attractive girl”.
He was trying to be kind, but this is what infuriates me so much. This awful idea that if some letchy guy in a high-vis jacket winds his window down and wolf-whistles at me, at least it means I’m lookin’ good today. I think every girl in the world can tell the difference between a man who thinks “Wow, pretty” when she walks past and a man who actively goes out of his way to leer, whistle or shout in order to make her feel intimidated or violated.
One of the reasons I dread hot weather (I’m not much of a sun-lover at the best of times) is that every time I leave the house, I know, as a female, that there will be some kind of reaction. There are some men who glance quickly at shorts-wearing girls and then feel a bit rude and look away, and others who really aren’t bothered at all. But there are also men who think that, somehow, a woman wearing a short sundress on a 30-degree day automatically equals a woman who wants to have sex with him, has dressed purely for his benefit and will appreciate his catcalls. You know the kind. And you know what? IT’S A HOT DAY. I AM HOT. I DON’T WANT TO WEAR JEANS AND A LONG-SLEEVED TOP. YES, MY LEGS ARE ON SHOW. BUT THEY’RE JUST LEGS. THEY GET ME FROM A TO B. I CAN SEE THAT YOU ALSO HAVE LEGS… WHY IS IT FINE FOR YOU TO SHOW YOURS? I don’t know how to put it any more simply.
What do these men think they will achieve? At any point in their vast history of sexual harassment, has anyone genuinely enjoyed their advances? I can’t work out whether they desperately cling onto the hope that one day, a woman will be impressed by their catalogue of sexist chat up lines and will cross the road and start a conversation with them, or whether they are well aware that women despise their methods and just actually enjoy making us feel disgusted and self conscious. And that’s the thing: they DO make us feel self conscious. I could be perfectly fine walking along the street in a pair of shorts (which takes a lot for me to do as I’m not the most body-happy girl in the world) and then BAM, a man in a van drives past, looks me up and down and shouts something, and within seconds I feel like running inside and hiding so he can’t look at me in that way and make my skin crawl again.
So what can we do? I know a lot of people would say it’s to do with how you dress, but I don’t think it is, or at least, I don’t think it should be. It’s 28 degrees at the moment – of course I want to wear an outfit that keeps me cool, and with the exception of linen trousers and maxi dresses, the chances are that will include something short or small. But hot weather aside, why should I have to cover my body up, wear baggy clothes or actively make less of myself than I want to, in an effort to thwart these idiots? I don’t think I should, and nor should anyone else.
My next plan is to carry on questioning these men that say or do things that make me feel uncomfortable. Every time I walk past a man who wolf-whistles and looks me up and down, I give him a you repulse me look, but I never quite feel like it’s enough. I always walk away thinking “Why did he even do that?”, and so next time, that is a question I am going to ask him, rather than myself. Given that most women ignore or give looks of disdain/embarrassment/fear to this man, to actually be stopped and questioned by one is sure to leave him taken aback. If his efforts are always ignored, you’d have thought he’d have given up, but here he is, still going strong at 45 years old. So maybe it’s time we start questioning his actions, asking him why he acts this way, and giving a voice to the women he views only as legs and boobs and frightened faces.