Moving to London was an insane culture shock for many reasons, the main one being, just the vast difference in population (there are just a lot more people living here). Another massive reason for my uneasy transition into life in London is the way I am spoken to while walking down the street. Men make hissing sounds, look me up and down and become aggressors, sometimes they stand in packs and intimidate me into walking around them.
Being talked to by strangers is not the issue, being complimented is not the issue, however, being disrespected on almost a daily basis can weigh on a person. When a man is shouting at you as you pass, not even attempting to have a conversation then what is the point in that interaction other than to make you feel uncomfortable and lesser than him?
I find myself passing men who are being polite because I cannot walk down the street without a “hey darlin/beautiful/gorgeous/love”, which is unfortunate because I do not want to be shaped into a different kind of person because of the men who act as aggressors towards me. I should not have to feel like I have to fix up or be embarrassed because someone has taken it upon themselves to hiss at me like they are calling for their house pet. This same type of attention directed at any male in the same circumstance would undoubtedly lead to some type of altercation; but as women, we are taught that we are to be looked at and men are taught to look (a bigger can of worms that represents a larger problem and cannot be respectfully dealt with in this relatively short post).
The first time I spoke up when at a Black Feminist gathering about street harassment, I was surprised to hear that most women have become used to this type of harassment. I even heard murmurings that it was just a part of living in London. The fact that these women that I respect so highly, never thought of this type of harassment as constantly or consistently as myself, completely and totally baffled me. However, this is the sad truth, all of my female friends who are from London have dealt with street harassment since they have hit puberty. Unfortunately, they are used to street harassment.
My end goal when I walk out of my flat is to make it to my destination without feeling dread, that I might make eye contact with someone who will try and “put me in my place”. No one has the right me to feel that uncomfortable, full stop.