Intimidation should not be a normal part of a woman’s daily routine.

As far as days go, today was a pretty shitty one for me. I won’t go into the details, mostly because they are boring and financial-related (the joys of unfunded-PhD life) and they will sort themselves out. That’s not what I’m writing about here, but I’m just setting the mood, as all good writers do. So I am sent home from work early at 3pm (part of the problem stated previously) and I ponder what to do with my night. Initially I go home, get my pyjamas on and watch Secret of our Living Planet on BBC iPlayer and generally feel sorry for myself (by the way, that is an absolutely splendid show so do check it out, but it’s just not how I wanted my Saturday night to go…). Via Twitter I heard about a free comedy night that was happening in town and I thought… Ach ok, why not. It will at least get me out the house for a while and I like comedy! Excellent. I knew one of the acts that was going to be performing, but apart from that I was basically going on my own, but I’m fine with that. I’m a social primate, I like meeting new people. All is good.

So I make myself an omelette, pour a glass of wine and get ready to go out. At 6.45pm I leave the house, having consumed said omelette and single glass of wine. A few seconds after leaving the house, a car full of young men goes past and peeps the horn vigorously as they all shout at me out of the rolled-down windows. Let me again remind you that it is 6.45 in the evening. It is still very much broad daylight and there are lots of people about. Naturally this pisses me off and so I do what I always do in these situations: I give them the finger and move on. This is often considered by my friends to be an unwise move, but it makes me feel better so I don’t care.

I feel it appropriate to tell you at this point what I was wearing, although I hate myself for doing so. I know (or at least sincerely hope) that most of you who read my blog are not of the opinion that a woman deserves to be verbally/physically/sexually abused because of the clothes she chooses to wear, but there will no doubt be some stragglers who stumble upon this site and think “YEAH BUT U WER PROBABLY ASKIN 4 THAT SORT OF ATTENTION”. Not that I ever feel I have to answer to these types of morons, but I’ll tell you anyway, just so we’ve all got a clear picture in our heads. I was (still am) wearing 80 dernier black tights with shorts, a baggy t-shirt, a knee-length black cardigan and biker boots. Not that it matters, I could be wearing a fucking pair of knickers and a crop-top saying “I ❤ COCK” and I should still feel comfortable walking around on my own before dark.

5 minutes later, as I begin to walk down a hill, I notice a 40(ish) year old man pushing his bicycle up the hill in my direction. I feel his eyes on me but think little of it. As he gets closer I can’t really ignore the fact he is staring at me anymore, and so I meet his gaze (which, it turns out, is combined with the sleaziest half-smile I have ever seen) and I try to make the least impressed facial expression I can (you know, that one that says “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU STARING AT?”) But he clearly misreads my signals and his creepy half-smile turns into a full blown horrifying grin and he says “hello baby” in a foreign accent. I glare at him briefly, put my head down and continue walking.

I stroll on, with my headphones on in my own oblivious world for about 30 minutes until I arrive at the comedy venue. I have one beer, have a good laugh, talk to some lovely people, then decide at 10pm that it’s time to go home. So I get the headphones back on and off I trot.

So it’s now 10pm and it’s not fully dark but it’s certainly getting there. People always either consider me brave or stupid or a combination of both because I have absolutely no problem walking home on my own at such an hour. I can take care of myself and I’ll be damned if anyone is going to make me feel like I have to pay for a taxi out of sheer fear. Speaking of which, I got to a set of traffic lights (at which I was the only pedestrian waiting to cross) and a taxi was sitting waiting at a red light beside me. I saw the driver staring at me but, again, I ignored it. People stare at people all the time, human nature innit? Stop flattering yourself, Lauren! Then as the light turned amber and then to green, he tooted his horn and winked at me. If it’s a choice of getting in a car with that guy or walking on my own, I’ll take the latter thanks.

About 5 minutes later, as I’m walking through the centre of town, a group of guys in their 20s are fooling around as guys in their 20s do. As I walk past (with my headphones on but turned down), I hear them shout at me. “Alright darlin’?” When I keep walking without turning around or missing a beat, their calls become more aggressive. “Oi. OI!” When I still don’t react, they respond with “fooking slut” and then they all laugh. I can’t help but feel like I’ve missed the joke.

I’m not complaining that tonight all these awful things happened to me. Quite the opposite actually. I have heard stories of women who have been followed home, physically attacked, and had to go through so much more than this. Like I say, I really try not to let these stupid little things get to me. But this is really just an average Saturday night for a woman walking around alone. Most of the things I have described here, many women would just shrug off and not even see as a problem. And that is my problem. All of these things are acts of intimidation. They are not compliments. I hate that being a woman by default means that you are probably going to be subject to these sorts of things on a very regular basis. And I am sick of it.

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8 thoughts on “Intimidation should not be a normal part of a woman’s daily routine.

  1. This! It’s exactly that shitty ubiquity that’s the problem.

    I do human rights work and occasionally help out fellow researchers with their surveys. In the last five years I’ve had people interview me about my experiences of harassment as a disabled person and as an intersex person. On each occasion the (male) researcher made a comment about how distressing it must be when people stare and make comments in the street, and I found myself having to explain that I hadn’t even noticed it in that context because I look female and consequently that happens to me all the time anyway. It’s like those well-intentioned men were living in a different universe. It wasn’t until then that I began to wonder what life might be like if one could wander around without that kind of negative attention. I guess it hadn’t really occurred to me (as somebody who, back when I could walk independently, went out and did my own thing regardless) that some people don’t experience the world in that continually low-level-hostile way.

  2. protohedgehog says:

    Jesus fucking Christ, this is awful. Next time you’re in London, I’m not letting you walk off anywhere alone.. ¬_¬

  3. Maija says:

    Agreed. I’m a young woman who often walks around town alone, and this sort of stuff is not uncommon. A drunk 40-year-old trying to crawl on my lap in a bus is just one of them.

    Though I think it’s not as frequent where I live, since here talking to strangers is considered weird and meddlesome to begin with: I suppose the treshold is higher.

  4. Lizzie says:

    Having lived in the same area you currently live in, I’m not at all surprised by anything you’ve written here. I’ve had wolf-whistles, horns tooted, lewd comments, drunk men approaching me and on one occasion a strange man trying to force his way into my flat.

    In regards to that last point I will say though that the police were incredibly helpful, even to the point of coming to take fingerprints the morning after. (I know I shouldn’t be surprised by that, but I still think it’s worth giving them kudos and for being so kind to me.)

    Although I will also add that sometimes it’s not even just being a woman, sometimes it’s just being different. One of my male best friends who I used to live with in that area had very long hair and was beaten up more than once on his way back home for ‘looking like a girl’ as well as having to deal with men grabbing his ass in clubs.

    But yeah, I’m pretty sick of it too.

  5. […] today I read another similar post by Lauren Reid, who whilst wearing “80 dernier black tights with shorts, a baggy t-shirt, a […]

  6. tinahristina says:

    I just discovered your blog and browsing around I came across this post. I hear everything you say! I have lived in many countries in Europe and I have experienced this kind of attitude everywhere no matter which city or neighbourhood I lived in. The worst thing about it is that whatever your reaction is, you will still be insulted or hurt (even be that only emotionally) – if you answer back to cat-calls, this will be seen as encouragement and you might find it hard/impossible to get rid of the intruder; if you pretend you don’t hear/see them, you will be insulted for being cold and arrogant. On top of that, most of the men out there think that women are exaggerating what they believe to be a compliment and expression of their appreciation. Yeah, we should be grateful for being verbally harassed.

    Well, it is a hard battle which I am sure we will win one day! 🙂

  7. […] today I read another similar post by Lauren Reid, who whilst wearing “80 dernier black tights with shorts, a baggy t-shirt, a […]

  8. starsandouraffairs says:

    Having read your post and the comments, it seems that the only comfort we can have is a knowledge that we’re not alone – not only in what happens to us, but our reactions too. This is what affects me the most emotionally – in that hour or so before you have to just get on with your day or whatever you’re doing – the fact that our responses can never win the justice that we deserve. Ignoring the cat call, as mentioned below, encourages more bear baiting of the individual; but we know to respond is only to engage and somehow come closer to the hateful misogyny.
    The most irritating factor in these mens attitudes IS the fact that they feel that they CAN respond from the blurry viewpoint that it was just “good banter”, “a laugh”, and that our reaction puts us at a moral disadvantage. A typical example of this for me is walking down the street to the station, for instance, on my mornings to work, and having a stranger (possibly just standing about while I walk past) say to me, in an aggressive and expectant tone, “Hello”. So that you feel that with all the manners you were brought up with to be civil, combined with the fact that you don’t want to encourage his hateful remark (expectant from the many previous times with other strangers), you end up saying hello back. But somehow you feel horribly controlled. You know it wasn’t a genuine, kind greeting. Because a genuine greeting really does feel and sound different (and thankfully does happen too!). Once when this happened to me, the man who demanded my attention appeared in the same spot each day thereafter for about a week,.and I had no choice but to walk past him. He said it to me for a few days but resolved after years of verbal abuse in public, I decided that I didn’t have to answer to him. I ignored his next aggressive, shouty “Hello” and he ceased after that.
    I think that many women don’t experience this frequently; those who don’t look “made up” or particularly feminine. I am not saying “pretty” or “tarty” but I think that there is a certain aura that attracts this treatment of women. And it’s strong, unique, unafraid women like us… The ones who wear what they want, a unique style, a feminine style, and are an easy target for those who know full well that we rely on our inner strength to do this, those who know the emotional damage it will cause to thoughtful folk like us.

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