A friend of mine recently recalled several interactions (with the majority of them happening on the underground), where men have found it appropriate to cop a feel of her because well, they’re disgusting pigs. At the time of conversation we were having a laugh about it because A) These situations have been and gone and B) My friend has “balls” of steel and punched every single man in the face who put his hands on her. Obviously she’s my hero.
Upon reflection, I started to remember times where I have also been subjected to unwanted physical contact; how powerless I felt within these moments. When I was 16, I remember getting off a bus and this guy with trousers hanging below knees and a creepy smile to match grabbed my bum and hopped off with me. In reflex I remember screaming “don’t touch me!” and his response: “Well you shouldn’t be wearing a skirt that short”. In those days I thought very little about consequence and could easily tell someone to fuck off. In reality, that guy was towering over me – physically bigger and stronger; if he wanted to assault me he could have.
Another friend of mine found herself on the daytime tube (what is it with men getting brave on public transport?) and the man opposite her decided to have an explicit fondle. There were about 6 other passengers on the carriage that day. These are the sort of men who have been so sexually repressed that they exude normality regarding sexual harassment. They do not care whether they are in public, or how uncomfortable they make other passengers feel: their goal is to overpower and intimidate. They literally get off on the notion that they can do whatever they like, whenever they like, to whomever they like. No.
The same friend also told me that she’d witnessed a man rubbing up on a girl in front of her and mouthed to the victim “Is he trying to touch you?” The girl replied “I think so” and so my friend began to video him, making sure the harasser was named and shamed. What concerns me is that the girl just stood there feeling timid and small. She felt so scared and overpowered that even on a train packed full of people she couldn’t defend herself. She’s not the only one – there are countless young women who’ve experienced assault without reacting.
I think it’s time self-defense classes were introduced as a compulsory part of the national curricular.
Over the years I’ve found myself in situations where distant relatives, family friends and even friend’s boyfriends have crept up behind me and acted over-familiar; from massaging my shoulders, to holding my hand longer than a handshake requires. Instead of plucking up the courage to just say “You’re making me feel uncomfortable”, I’ve simply shrugged them away, stunned. It’s pretty clear that as women we’ve been trained to endure far more than we should. We’ve been taught to be respectful, polite, courteous and graceful at all times. And I’m fucking sick of it. It is every persons right to take full ownership of their body: if you don’t like somebody touching you in a particular way – don’t have to let them, simple.
My best friend doesn’t like hugging strangers and avoids the whole “London greeting” thing, when we stand up and kiss strangers on either side of the cheek. Whilst this is a notion I’m pretty much comfortable with; people shouldn’t have to abide by “political correctness” if it makes them feel uneasy. If we allowed people to be more authentic in the way they relate, perhaps women wouldn’t find themselves being silent when a man touches them in an inappropriate and over-familiar way.
So, my question is, how as women can we protect ourselves if we feel threatened? The solution should be easy but it isn’t; we’re too scared to offend, confront or be judged.
I started talking with my mum about possible solutions (FYI, whilst growing up my mum would directly ask men to stop staring at my chest, which I found SO embarrassing) and together we acknowledged the powerlessness women are subjected to.
I live in London, which means that if a man tries to touch me up on the train, I can defend myself and feel confident that most will offer support. But what about the rest of the world? The places where women undergo rape massacres, female-genital mutilation; stoning-by-death and nobody responds to their cries. Countries where women aren’t allowed to drive, work or roam the streets unless accompanied by a man? Where girls younger than 12 are married off and forced to breed whilst they themselves are practically babies?
It’s all too overwhelming to comprehend. Imagine, if I feel uncomfortable because I’m too scared to request my own personal space, how on earth are women with zero support ever going to find their collective voice?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging you to start displaying extreme behavior by turning up to meetings and then refusing to shake your clients hand, or meeting your boyfriends parents for the first time and then attacking them with the barbecue griddle should they reach for a hug. What I am encouraging, is to put the barrier up when you feel uncomfortable.
If a man tries to feel you up on the train and you find yourself stuck, tell the nearest person to you. Regardless of who it is: family friend, friends boyfriend, teacher, colleague etc – if you don’t like the way they are behaving towards you, your instinct is probably right.
I’ve been writing about women for over a year now and STILL I am a hypocrite: I haven’t yet mastered the power of no. If a person is confident enough to put their hands on you, then you should be confident enough to tell them not to. And if they persist? Well, that’s how you know the uninvited attention isn’t harmless. That’s when you know something truly isn’t right and you’re entitled to take action: Pepper Spray £12 on Amazon and bricks are free on Gumtree. You’re welcome 😉