“Everyone knows that if you’re born with a vagina, creepy dudes are just a part of the deal.” Denise, Master of None (S1EP7)
A few weeks ago, Vix Meldrew asked the women of Twitter to share stories of being followed or harassed by men. After recently watching Season 2 of Master of None, I’ve been rewatching Season 1 and was reminded of this particular line.
When I was 18, I was at home in Brighton during a uni break. We lived quite centrally, really close to the station, and town was just a stone’s throw away. I was walking home after some drinks with friends – it wasn’t particularly late, maybe 9 or 10pm – and as I was walking down my street, I noticed a guy at the other end coming towards me. No big deal usually. Usually. I was expecting us to just cross paths swiftly, like you would with any other stranger. But literally the millisecond before I turned to walk up the path to my door, he stopped me.
He gave me the regular creepy guy spiel: told me how “stunning, beautiful, goregous” I was, in ways that made me feel majorly uncomfortable. Not just because he complimented me; not to blow my own trumpet here, but I’ve been complimented by strangers many atime and never usually feel threatened. But this guy had weird vibe about him, from the look in his eyes as he scanned me up and down. He asked me whether I wanted to come out with him and his friends, and of course I said no, making up some excuse about already being on my way somewhere.
“I had a feeling you were a party girl,” a devillish smile stretching across his face.
As mentioned, I lived near the train station, so luckily it could have been completely plausible that I was making my way there. I tried inching away from him, insisting that I was running late for the next train, but he kept insisting that we swap numbers so that we could ‘meet up later.’ And he wouldn’t leave me alone until I gave him one.
I gave him a fake number (well, an old number of mine from years ago that I still remembered) and a fake name (Eliza). I thought I was in the clear, but then he decided to ring me so that I could also ‘have his number.’ As he dialled, I darted away, saying I was late, and didn’t look back. As I ran, my palms were sweating and my heart racing with fear.
I hid in the train station for 20 minutes, hands shaking as I texted my mum what happened. I just kept thinking, “thank god I didn’t turn up the path to my door before he stopped me.”
I tried not to think about what if I had gone up the path, and put my key in the lock before he stopped me. Would he have just lingered on my door step? Would the subsequent days and weeks just be him showing up at my house? I remember telling all this to a guy I was dating at the time, his charming response being, “I bet you loved it, really. You pretend you don’t, but you girls love this sort of attention.”
(I wish I could tell you I dumped that guy straight away, but alas 18-year-old me was not as secure as 23-year-old me.)
It really does baffle me how some guys think that harassing a woman can be complimentary. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been followed after nights out, or asked for my number on the street or when I used to work at bars. The honks of horns and catcalls from inside cars. The longer than acceptable stares on my commute to work.
You’re not funny or clever or big for shouting, ‘Nice arse!” as you safely hide behind your moving car.
We are not going to fall head over heels for you after you’ve told us to smile when we don’t want to.
We’re not going to be flattered that you spent the last ten minutes chasing us up the street or pestering us for our number, when we clearly have somewhere else to be.
Street harassment is not a compliment. And we certainly don’t ‘secretly love’ the attention. What’s there to love about clasping your hands around your keys in your pocket when you’re walking home in the dark? What’s there to love about feeling like you can’t wear a skirt or shorts when the weather is hot, for fear of attracting too much attention? Or keeping your headphones in your ears at all times in efforts to deter anyone from approaching you? Or telling one of your girlfriends to ‘text me when you’re home safe’?
This is a reality every woman has to go through, and it’s exhausting and boring and, somehow, we’ve let it become the norm. Society perpetuates this idea that our bodies belong to the public, and that the harassment and daily fear we face is the price we pay for deigning to be born as who we are, and daring leaving the house.
And I’m sick of it.
There is no moral at the end of this post. Just acknowledgement that these things do happen. Daily. By the hour, minute, second. And it’s not gonna get better unless we all aim to make this world a less shitty place. Stand up for women, call out those douchebags (as long as you can guarantee your safety, of course). Stare down those dudes who think it’s okay to leer, and report street harassment to the police as and when it all happens, so that they can learn to take this all seriously too.