Being shoved up against the train windows by a much older man whose friends looked on and hooted. Waking up as the blankets were stripped off my upper bunk and the passport controller’s flashlight swept up and down my body. Having to leap from a moving car on a back road after accepting a lift with a girlfriend from two seemingly friendly, laid-back university students we had been chatting with for some time. Having a man grab and wrench my breast as I passed. Innumerable insultingly degrading sexual suggestions, often from immaculate men in suits. Erections pressed up against me by hairdressers, fellow commuters, shoppers. Being lifted out of the way every time the manager at the place I waitressed needed to pass. I was fifteen. Being called sunshine, baby, darlin, hot lips, sweet mamma, etc etc. Being called “that.” Being spoken of and numerically rated by men who address their friends rather than me. Having various uncles slide their hands up my leg and one of them tell me, “You are so beautiful I can see how uncles might have Funny Feelings about their nieces.” Being told this year by a male gynaecologist he finds me “too erotic.” Facedown in underwear after a massage feeling an elderly, frail physiotherapist recommended by a trusted (male) friend plant a kiss on my outer butt cheek and then crow to himself, “I’m allowed to do that, because I’m your Uncle So and So.”
Being grabbed between the legs from behind as I walked off a dance floor, by a man I’d not even had eye contact with. Being followed. Being crowded in doorways. Being told “Ohhh, I love your eyes,” by a man staring at my breasts. Being asked a thousand times, in injured tones, “Hey, where you going?” Being wolf-whistled, cat-called, followed in slow cars. Having my drink spiked at a nightclub, fighting off the swarming feeling of faintness, and later hearing from a friend that she had woken up in the alleyway behind the club. Being attacked whenever I speak up against misogyny and called frigid, ugly, a bitch, a lesbian bitch, accused of man-hating. I am a shy but fairly outspoken person and am protected, to some extent, by my tallness. My experience is not I think particularly unusual and has spread across my entire life since I was 12 or 13. I have responded in a wide range of ways: ignoring, pouring their beer over their head, reporting to the bouncer, telling them where to get off. Most times they seemed gleeful to have gotten a response; sometimes the lack of a response seems to invite further harassment.
If you are a man, picture to yourself how intimidating any one of these experiences might feel. Now picture a barrage of them, week in week out, regardless of what you wear or of how you conduct yourself. The only way you can escape this treatment is by sticking close to another man. Still feeling safe?