Street harassment is one of the topics that comes up most often when we are talking. As a result, it was a natural decision to decide to co-sponsor International Anti-Street Harassment Week which starts today. To mark the week, we will be taking it in turns to share our experiences of street harassment - one for each day of the week.
On New Year's Eve, before I went out to celebrate the arrival of 2012 (ohhh Olympics!), I prayed that I would have a good night, get home safely, and not get raped. It’s actually a regular prayer: God please keep me safe on London's streets. I don't pray about the familiar ones - like Oxford Street with porny Soho at one end and posh Mayfair at the other, drunk arseholes throughout - I mean God please keep me safe on my road, and the one next to it, and the one next to that.
At last year's Reclaim the Night march, I, along with a thousand other women, chanted, “Whose streets? Our Streets!” Our streets. But it isn’t true, not at all.
Anyway. Back to New Years. On my way home from my NYE party, after negotiating the wretchedness that is public transport at 3am on 1st January, a man followed me in his car while I walked down a local street, imploring me to join him in the vehicle. "Babe. Babe! Oi! Where you going? Where you going? Y'wan lift? Come for a drink. Babe! Oi" and so on. He actually reversed his car down the road to keep pace with me, gesticulating and shouting until eventually he got bored and drove away.
It pissed me off, of course.
But what made me even angrier was that completely I forgot about the incident until hours after I woke up the next day. Let’s hear that again: I forgot that in the early hours of the morning, a man chased me down a dark street, with no intervention by the one (male) witness – what did I expect? – making increasingly aggressive remarks. Had he got out and grabbed me I'm pretty sure he could have dragged me into his car. And the reason I forgot about it is because this sort of sexual harassment in the street (whose streets? Our streets!) is so normal to me, so ordinary, so bloody commonplace, that I barely registered it as an incident of note.
I can't bear a "what about the menz" response to feminist issues, yet I can’t help but think that we also need to hear a male voice here. Because this isn't solely a woman's issue, actually. Actually, this is an issue that must be highlighted and challenged through every corner of society. As a woman, I already know I shouldn't have to put up with this shit. We all do. So where are the men saying that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable?
Since puberty – not adulthood, PUBERTY- I have been routinely subject to sexual, agressive comments by men in the street, on public transport, in the workplace, day and night. Walking home from work, I run a gauntlet of barber shops, pubs, cafes, bookies, outside each one a group of men smoking, watching, staring, every day every day (please please please don't notice me, please don't say anything to me)...
Sometimes, men have touched me around my waist, breasts, arse… often, without speaking to me (not that it makes a difference). Once, in a bar a man grabbed me between my legs – labia, everything – then laughed when I turned around: "I was only joking...you're really fit..."
NYE man also probably thought he was paying me a compliment of some sort. Or maybe he thought that because I was walking down the street (our streets!) on my own I was also up for a shag. I don’t know. Someone explain it to me please. Where are the men - the good ones, right? the ones I'm mates with, yeah? - speaking to other men and calling them out for what this is? HARASSMENT.