Yesterday I walked to my favourite cafe in Notting Hill, it’s about a 15 minute walk, so it’s not far. On my way there, I was beeped at twice by van drivers, a 50-year-old man looked me up and down and said ‘Ohh baby’. By the time I got to the cafe, I found myself wishing that I hadn’t done my make up or put a cute dress on. If I’d just tied my hair up and put sweats on, maybe I wouldn’t have been made to feel uncomfortable. It’s a bit ironic that I had made an effort in my appearance to make myself feel good and ended up feeling on edge and generally pretty shitty. Although these behaviours may seem small and non threatening, when they happen on almost a daily basis, they become very challenging to overcome.
The other week I was sat in Hyde park, writing some poetry in my journal. Three men in their early Thirties came and sat no more than six metres away. I noticed that every time I looked up from my work they were staring at me. I continued listening to my music and writing, trying to put it out of my mind and then one of the men came over. He asked if I had a spare cigarette to which I replied that I didn’t smoke. You would think he would just leave after that, but no. He crouched down beside me and asked me what I was doing. I said that I was writing. He then grabbed my book and tried to take it off me saying, ‘Let me read it’. I snatched it back and said ‘No’. He then proceeded to ask me if I was here alone, I lied and said I was waiting for my friends and that he was now making me feel uncomfortable. Thankfully he got back up and re-joined his friends. He continued to stare at me, so I turned my back on them. What happened next really bothered me; they started whistling me. There were a lot of other people in the park so I didn’t necessarily feel scared but I did feel like an object. The man felt like he could take what he wanted from me, my book for example, he felt that he could get my attention by whistling me like a dog.
When I was in my First year of university I lived in Kingston, and as you can imagine we went out clubbing quite a bit. One night we went out as a big group and one of our friends got pretty drunk and decided to leave us early. When we saw her the next day we asked her how she got back. She said she decided to walk home, as its only a short journey, but she really needed to go for a wee. She said she was too scared to go down an alleyway for a wee so ended up wetting herself while walking back. She wasn’t upset about the fact that this had happened she just accepted that it was something she had to do.
On another night out, one of my friends was being harassed by a young man who was adamant that she was to dance with him. She came up to me and asked me to help her as he wouldn’t leave her alone. I pretended to be her girl friend which he didn’t believe. I ended up having enough of it and simply told him to ‘Fuck off’. That really angered him and he told my friend that he would see her outside. Well, you could imagine my outrage, threatening a woman simply because she didn’t want to dance. I started yelling in his face, telling him exactly what I thought of him. He then drew back a fist, I naturally ducked causing him to punch my friend who was directly behind me. A woman was threatened and then punched, simply because she didn’t want to dance with this boy.
I have a ton of stories where random guys in clubs have slapped my arse or tried to rub their crotch against my thigh. I have a ton of stories of being beeped at, whistled at, winked at or even felt up on public transport. The stories I have highlighted here are not one off’s, I am yet to find a woman who doesn’t have a story of her own and who can’t relate to this issue. I also cannot discount the fact that it can happen to men too, however the only men I have met who have experienced this kind of unwanted attention have received it from other men. So I ask how is it fair that women are made to feel uncomfortable, afraid, vulnerable, and disrespected on a regular basis. Why is it that we are the ones walking home at night with our house keys sticking out between our fingers? Why do we normalise it? The behaviour should not be happening in the first place, women are not objects they are people who deserve to be respected and have the right to feel safe. A womans body is the closest thing to god, it creates life, and yet it is looked at far too many times as a sexual object, made for the pleasure of men.