This post contains some issues that may be triggers for people. Please do comment below if you would like to.
When I was 13 I was walking across the courtyard of school, just chatting to a friend and heading to a lesson. Three older boys were walking in the opposite direction, one veered towards me, groped my breasts and walked on laughing.
When I was 16 I was traveling on bus in Oxford, sitting by the window when a young man came and sat by me. When he sat down his hand brushed my leg, he apologised and I said not to worry. As the journey progressed his hand resting against the side of my leg started moving further up my thigh. I squirmed towards the window to move away but there was nowhere to move to. I got off the bus three stops early to get away from him, but he stood up followed me, pushed himself up against my bottom so that I could feel his erection. He smiled at me, shrugged and walked off.
When I was about 17 I woke up to find my boyfriend at the time trying to have sex with me. When I asked him what the fuck he was doing he said he thought he would wake me up with a ‘nice surprise’. The feeling in my genitals, a combination of soreness and numbness was somehow familiar and I realised that this was not the first time he’d done this.
When I was 20 on holiday in Paris I was followed across the Metro by a man in the early evening. I know he followed me because I saw him watching me on one train, I got off, changed to the opposite platform to return the way I came, got on the train and he was again in the same compartment as me. I changed at the next stop and he changed with me. This went on for 15 minutes.
When I was 21 one of my male friends said to me ‘as a joke’ that I should have been aborted.
When I was in a mixed dorm in Laos a girl and a guy came in kissing and started fumbling around on the bottom bunk next to mine. A number of times she said that she didn’t want to have sex, but he kept telling her that it was fine. When she said no for the 4th time and he was still pushing her to have sex I told him to fuck off and leave her alone and she managed to scramble to her own bunk. In the morning she and three of her friends came to thank me for speaking up and he just scowled at me and packed up his stuff.
When I was on a bus in London the man sitting behind me leaned forward and started whispering obscenities in my ear. I got off the bus early to get away from him.
A couple of months ago I was sitting on a tram, headphones in, reading a book when an old man got on and sat in the seat across the aisle from me. I realised that he was trying to talk to me, so took out one of the headphones and he said ‘That’s a nice jumble sale dress you are wearing, it’s amazing that you will go out wearing something you got for under a pound.’ I told him I thought he was being rude and to please stop talking to me. ‘You got that dress for 15p at a jumble sale, I saw you when you bought it.’ Again I told him that he was being rude and that I was clearly not interested in talking to him. The older woman sitting next to me nodded in support as he started commenting on the clothing of the other women sitting opposite him.
Whenever I plan to go abroad anywhere I have to read things about being a female solo traveller and how to stay safe. How not to provoke men into attacking me simply by being present in the same time and space as them.
I’ve decided to write this because of a thing I’ve seen posted on Facebook. Today, thousands of women and men marched in London to raise awareness for Women’s Rights. There were marches and protests all over the world to coincide with the first full day of Donald Trump’s presidency. This is the comment written by a bloke on a photo of the amassed marchers in London:
“Set of deluded fking clowns. Concentrate on your own country and the way women are treated here by certain ethnics not a bloke in USA. You make me laugh.”
The list of examples, by no means and exhaustive list, that started this post were from men of different ages and ethnic backgrounds. I have not stated which was White British or Asian or Black or Israeli or North African because it’s not relevant what colour of skin they had or nationality or religion; it was because they were male and I am female and they felt that they had the right to speak to me and touch me in any way they wanted to.
There were so many things that annoyed me about this Facebook post amongst all the others about kitchens being empty, that men should be marching to protest the interruption of their washing and dinner etc. Lots of other people responded to the various comments with argumentative and rude statements and I can understand the urge to respond like this but I don’t think it is necessarily helpful. So I stopped and had a think and this was my response:
“I think the point is that no-one should treat women as objects or lesser people and that by electing someone who openly gropes and reduces women to sexual objects makes some think that this is OK. I don’t think it is deluded to speak up for an issue you feel strongly about and that is vitally important to the world, no matter what country you are in.”
Donald Trump is on record as saying that he just kisses women and grabs them ‘by the pussy’ and he is now one of the most powerful men in the world. People follow the examples set for them. They see how others behave and this gives them an excuse to behave the same way. It sets a precedent. That is what people have been protesting about – that someone with so much power over policies which will have a real affect on people’s lives has so little respect for 50% of the population.
Trump is not going to resign because people object to him but people have come together to give themselves a voice. The world will not change in the next few months or years, but people’s individual worlds may. Someone who marched today my feel far more empowered to make a change in her life. She may feel that she is worth more than she is currently being offered and expected to accept. She may decide that she can challenge the man groping her on public transport. She may feel that she can say no to the man pressuring her into having sex. She may decide that she is not going to tell her 5 year old daughter that she has to hug or kiss that visiting relative if she doesn’t want to. He may decide to change the terminology that he uses to talk about women. He may stop telling his son that he runs or throws like a girl or that he should man up. She may write to clothing companies to demand the option of practical shoes for her little girl so that she can play outside instead of settling for sparkly heels. We may decide to encourage our young people to be open about their feelings, to challenge attitudes that they believe to be wrong, question what they are taught and educate themselves about current affairs.
So that man on Facebook may think that thousands of people are deluded but I think he is wrong because nothing ever changed because people did nothing. It has to start somewhere, why can’t it start today?