As I walked home after a day filled with meetings and discussions on Zero Tolerance, somebody in a white van wound down the window and threw what appeared to be an apple at me. In case you have never had an apple thrown at you from a moving vehicle before, I wouldn’t recommend it - it is alike to being punched. The apple in question hit the back of my upper arm, and thankfully not my head or neck.
I have never been so scared to carry on walking down that road towards my house, out of the safety of streetlights - I was terrified that they had pulled in and were waiting for me somewhere along the route.
I cannot believe that people can be subjected to such random and humiliating acts of violence for a bit of ‘fun’. I can only be thankful that it was me and not a child or older woman who could have been seriously injured. This episode really knocked me into an unwanted reality.
I was walking back to my female friend’s apartment after a night out in Brighton with a group the girls. It was lovely, four of us walking away from the beach while the sun was just about coming up. We walked along happily, together we were two white and two black young women (you’ll see later in this story why race is relevant). So my friend’s place was only about 15 minutes away, and there were still quite a few people and cars about.
Suddenly a car rolled up and many intoxicated young men, from a mixture of racial backgrounds, came out of the car and started yelling at us to get in. If remember correctly I think they had travelled from London. We said no and made our excuses, trying to get away quickly. They then yelled out:
“We only mean the black girls we don’t do white girls” then they all laughed.
We froze momentarily in shock and disgust that someone could publicly be so racist and sexist at the same time. We could have maybe called the police, as we were far away from any night club security, but we just wanted to go home and get away as fast as possible. Although that meant these men were still out, probably intending to harass more people. Sexism, Racism, Street harassment is never acceptable, no matter how drunk you are. It’s not “banter”, it’s intimidating.
“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
I had never really thought about street harassment whilst living in the UK. Sure, I’d had some encounters, but I still felt safe.
Then I lived in Paris. I am tall and blonde, so it didn’t really matter what I was wearing or doing, I always stuck out. One time, on the metro, there was a constant stream of muttering. After about 10minutes I realised that this muttering was coming from the man 2ft away, and he was commenting on me. On my face, my hair, my height, my clothes. Everything he laid eyes on, he commented on. He was calling me a sweet princess. I didn’t say anything, I ignored him, and left on my stop. I am nobody’s princess.
Another time, I was at the worst metro station at the worst time of night on the worst night of the week. It was notorious, but it was my only way home. A guy comes up and begins bothering me, sitting close and edging closer. I ignore him and give firm answers: no, not interested. Another guy sees this and comes up, sending the first guy away. I breathe. Then he starts. He gives little winks and comments, edging closer. By this time, the train has come and I get on and sit away from him. I ignore him and his gaze.
I quickly learnt how to walk differently, how to duck my head and avoid eye contact, how to stand on the metro platform without inviting attention and the best place to sit when on the metro. The girl you saw on the street was the shadow of the girl you’d see at work, or with friends, or at a party. I learnt all of these tricks, and more, without even realising. I thought I was just blending in.
But now I catch myself when I duck my head, when I pick up my pace, when I avoid a gaze. I don’t want to be this shadow girl anymore, but before I can change my walk and begin staring straight ahead instead of at the floor, the moment is gone.
Of course, the inevitable ‘ello beautiful’ is something that we are all used to in the everyday task that is, walking down the street. If a guy is overly inappropriate, I am never one to shy away from telling him he’s a complete c***. However there was one random time when I was walking down Brighton beach. It was around sunset so the drinking crowds were slowly making their way along the waterfront.
I was walking a little ahead of my boyfriend when a group of guys approached me. They looked like they were going to ask for directions so I stupidly went to answer them when I saw them gesturing towards me. (This seems even more stupid as I don’t even know Brighton, myself!) It was then, that the leader of the group came up to my face and told me to “FUCK OFF”.
His friends laughed away in the background.
I hope they all enjoyed their evening feeling really big and clever and most importantly like (that massive beacon of gender equality) LADs.
A few weeks ago I was desperate for the loo so went into a nearby restaurant to ask if I could use theirs. The two male waiters on the door looked me up and down (ugh!) and consulted with each other before saying “Yes, because you’re beautiful”.
Why did they think I would want to hear that? If they had decided I wasn’t attractive would they have said “No, because you’re ugly”? Why should my appearance dictate whether I get permission to use a toilet?
All I could do was cringe inside, smile sweetly on the outside and run to the loo.
Later, when I told my partner, he suggested I should have come back afterwards and said “I didn’t flush because I’m beautiful” or “I pissed all over your floor. You can clean it up because I’m beautiful”. I wish I’d thought of those at the time!
Sexually harassed and cat called all in one day must have sounded like I asked for it. All I wore was a white top and 4 inch inseam shorts. I walked to the train, I got whistled at. When sitting in the train I was leered at by two golfers, one of them staring at my legs. I get of the train, a guy calls me beautiful,asking for my number and not taking “No” for an answer. He even had a grip on me and kissed my hand. While walking to my volunteer work, a guy follows me til I ran inside. Was it what I was wearing? No, because no outfit dictates wanting to be sexually harassed.
Whether it’s on the street, in a bar, at work or under any context or sitatuation.
IT IS NEVER OKAY.
Follow and submit your sexual harassment stories and experiences with us to help spread awareness and to follow our story as we try to enforce a zero tolerance motion in our Student Union at Royal Holloway University of London, UK.
I like the SU. ‘WAIT’, I hear you gasp, ‘you the SU?….and you’re sober?!’ Yep, wacky I know. But with sobriety comes an enhanced awareness of the exploitation of the majority by a minority. It should be pretty easy not to be a sexual harasser in the entertainment venues on campus. If you see someone dancing in a (to you) sexually alluring way, and want to make advances, how about you use your vocal cords or sign language to communicate your desire. Grabbing, touching someone in a sexual, inappropriate or impolite manner is sexual harassment. Not letting them extricate themselves is sexual harassment and forceful detainment. ‘Oh’, but I hear the excusor say, ‘how are people going to get with people if you shun this behaviour?’ If you are having to use forceful coersion to get someone to dance with you, odds are you are manipulating their lowered inhibitions, or just simply attempting to force someone who either is about to tell you to #### off (my strategy) or sheepishly escape to the safety of friends in numbers. Now for the stories. Oh there are so many, so here’s a couple of memorable ones. The bottom pincher. When walking through throng or at bar. Usually results in foot stamp. Yes, I may be a pacifist, but when you’ve told someone no more than once, and the maniacal yet childish grin remains, the foot will be stamped. The aggresive attendent. ‘Oi, Oi…fitty’, ‘Woah love, don’t get all defensive’ (because I’m supposed to let you grope me), ‘I know you want to’ accompanied by dark glare and often backed by mates behind. The stalker. Often targets women. ‘The stalker’ fills most of my sh memories of the SU. There have been two stalker/aggressive harassers in the last year and countless ones I have protected my friends from. They grab, threaten and stalk even after one visit from security. Unlike the majority of my female friends, I am unafraid to directly confront sexual harassers at campus events, be that through saying no (which, *sigh*, really should be the only way), swearing, slight pushing away, glaring, dragging friends away and threatening to call security on harasser, calling security, lodging complaints and primal screaming. But it shouldn’t be this way. I shouldn’t have needed to gain the pseudynym Murder on the dancefloor. Hopefully, with the SU having voted through the Zero Tolerance motion, with this thread letting students know they are not alone and sexual harassment is not *their* problem and greater campus education on the simple ettiquette of social intraction no one else will have to take up the mantle.