Athens GA, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia MO, Columbus, Denver, Des Moines, Duke University, NC, Durham & Chapel Hill, East Lansing, Flagstaff, AZ, Houston, Iowa City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Lubbock TX, Manhattan KS, Muncie IN, New Orleans, New York City, Oneonta, Pittsburgh, Plattsburgh, Providence, Richmond VA, San Fernando Valley, San Francisco, Twin Cities, West Georgia (University)
One place I did not expect to to be harassed was my university library. An oppressive atmosphere hanging over the backing track of furious typing and louder-than-ever scribbling doesn’t exactly scream “sex” to me, but each to their own I suppose.
I was leaving the library after a long stint that had ended at 9 o’clock at night. It was a ten-minute walk back to my house, and I did it alone almost every day. As you can imagine I was absorbed in my own frazzled thoughts, probably somewhere in-between struggling to understand what I’d just been reading and wondering what on earth I was going to eat at that time of night. I was suddenly wrenched out of this state by a tall stranger, who forced himself into my solitary walk to inform me that he had been watching me in the library and that he thought I was “beautiful”.
Imagine how unnerving that is. To discover that, whilst you’ve been struggling to decipher Chaucer’s medieval poetry and hoping your heart doesn’t explode from a coffee-and-stress induced marathon, someone else has been eyeing you up like something served on a platter.
Sure people can say that women enjoy attention from men on the street, but I’m sorry to say that when you haven’t invited that attention and are as far from wanting sex as you can get, that kind of compliment just feels distressing. Now this guy wanted to walk with me, and talk with me, and I was in no kind of mood to be seduced. But of course harassment is only meant to be a compliment, and politeness dictates that you accept the compliment and endure the attention of the individual who wants to pay it to you. Never mind that I’d nearly cried several times that day from study anxiety and just wanted to go home and shut down.
Apart from those general gripes about my own mental state, there was also the area that I lived in to consider. The student-area was rife with girls being followed home, catcalled, and even flashed, and this strange man was built like a brick shithouse. Already wary on my night walks home, I now found myself eyeing up my harasser to see if I could “take” him if he was to attack me. It’s a horrible realisation that you are so much weaker than someone who potentially means you harm, and even worse when you start trying to plan how you might win a grapple by scratching their eyes out or punching in their nose.
You think that sounds extreme? Just ask how many of your female friends carry keys between their knuckles when they’re frightened out in public.
So you’re trapped with someone who is a potential attacker because they’ve been “nice” to you and so you have to flatter them by accepting their devotion. If you turn them away then you’re “paranoid”, or worse “flattering yourself”, and if you keep them on then they believe they’re being encouraged. You’re almost begging them to explicitly make a move so that you can seize the opportunity to tell them to back off with supporting evidence that, yes, they did have sexual intentions and did NOT just want to be friends.
My get-out card came when we were almost at my street and I was wondering how I could prevent this man from finding out where I lived. He asked me where I was going. “To mine and then back to my boyfriend’s,” I said.
“Oh… a boyfriend…” the stranger muttered under his breath.
And he just vanished. Because it doesn’t matter if your unannounced presence in a dangerous suburb for women is terrifying the living daylights out of your new companion. It doesn’t even matter that it’s the middle of the exam period and she’s just left the library when it’s dark and is probably in no mood to talk. It’s the guy she’s with that you want to avoid upsetting because, y’know, having someone attempt to steal your girl is way worse than the fear that someone might drag you somewhere and hurt you in the dark.
As I was walking from work to see a few friends this evening, I was surprised by some stranger on a bicycle a few feet away making weird noises at me, as if I were an animal. Not thinking more about it, I continued walking – at which point the stranger cycled past me SMACKED MY ASS and laughed, disappearing before I had time to really register what was happening. As I turned around to say something, the cyclist was already gone.
Is it too much to ask to be able to walk the streets of Edinburgh without fear of being harassed or assaulted? I can’t believe the entitlement of assholes like this, not only commenting on but physically violating another person’s body.
I shared my story with my friends, straight after the incident, and got much support and sympathy. We had a lovely evening, I’m happy to say, laughing together and looking forward to a future without street harassment.
My friends once left me behind in a nightclub.
You know the story. It’s Friday night, you’ve been drinking since the pub earlier on, and now everyone’s coming out. Your friends are coming out, and their friends are coming out, and so are their friends (but we’ll meet them at the club later on). Amidst the drunken clamour and “TGIF”s that is your group of friends, someone gets left at the bar or lost in the crowded dance floor. In a maze like, say, Gatecrasher in Birmingham it’s nigh on impossible to ever find anyone again. Now the lone clubber has to make their own way home.
Closing time comes around and the stragglers left at 3am crowd together outside at the taxi rank. The number of times I’ve heard of friends getting taxis with fellow students they’d never met before, if only to save a couple of quid to get home. Not wanting to travel alone from the centre of Birmingham, I did the same. I located a group of students travelling back to their halls in Edgbaston and hopped in with them.
When we arrived, one male student who had been fairly talkative throughout the taxi ride started insisting that he walked me home. I bluntly but politely refused his offer several times. They lived five minutes away from my own halls, and I didn’t feel any qualms about finishing the trek back to my flat alone. This wasn’t enough reassurance for Mr-Met-Me-Five-Minutes-Ago. He was concerned for my safety, didn’t even acknowledge my protests, and told his friends that he was just going to walk me home and that he would be back soon.
So first my ability to walk myself home was abruptly shut up. Women are too weak to take care of themselves and must be escorted everywhere like children, even when they don’t want you to.
We got to my flat, not five minutes later, and this guy wasn’t leaving. In fact, he decided to stare at me all doughy eyed and gasp at how beautiful I was. Now, when a girl has repeatedly told you that she doesn’t want your company, that is not an invitation to lean in and kiss her.
Yeah, that’s right.
When this man leant in to kiss me, his eyes closed romantically and groaning slightly to demonstrate his passion, I stood stock-still, lips clamped together, with my eyes wide open. He’d already shown that he didn’t give a crap about what I did or didn’t want, so pushing him away seemed pointlessly futile.
This joke of an affair gets funnier when my knight in sweaty beer-y armour pulls away and gazes at me again. The man who wanted to escort me for my own safety in a big bad patriarchal world is now inviting himself back to my room.
I, again, politely refused, stating that I wanted to go to bed and sleep. Obviously this guy heard “sleep with you” because he leant in for a kiss again. Because, y’know, every girl will turn into marshmallow putty that you can fold into the sideways tango if you kiss her hard enough. No matter how many times they say no.
Reuben Nash recently quoted one girl in the Tab saying “I think the bigger problem is how persistent men can be when trying to get with you in a club. Many men mistake politeness for sexual interest, and it can get to the point where a guy wears you down so much that it becomes more difficult for you not to kiss him than it is to just give in to it.”
This really rang true for me. It’s often not enough to tell a man that you are not interested, that you’re tired, you have a boyfriend, you’re gay, you can take care of yourself thank you very much … A lot of the time it’s as if “no” is some alien word that many drunk men do not understand.
Rahnuma introduces our new campaign #notentitled launched on International Women’s Day
We live in a world where patriarchal standards dictate that women are less valuable than men, especially when we do not conform to sexist norms. So as activists, we often find ourselves in a position where we have to remind people that women are allowed to make choices with regards to what we believe, what we wear, who we sleep with, and how those choices don’t make us less worthy of respect (see movements like SlutWalk). Or at a more basic level, we find ourselves reminding people of our humanity (see any campaign that reminds us how women are mothers, partners, sisters, daughters, valuable members of society etc.).
While I see the necessity of such campaigning, I don’t think the onus should be on women (especially those of us who are additionally marginalised in other ways) to show the world that we deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect of equals.
It should go without saying that we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. I don’t want to see another campaign that reiterates that. If you need me to tell you that I deserve to be treated like a person, then I AM NOT THE PROBLEM HERE.
With regards to addressing the problem of abuse and harassment against women, I think this translates to not just focusing on the experiences of victims but also highlighting the agency of abusers/harassers. While addressing victim-blaming is important, rape culture amounts to more than that. Because women are valued less, men (and to a lesser extent, women) are socialised to believe that men can and should feel entitled to our time, attention, and bodies. That entitlement and its acceptance as the norm, is what ultimately makes men feel like they can approach women on the street, and then respond with violence when they are spurned.
So for International Women’s Day, let’s remind ourselves and those around us that this entitlement is completely unjustified and unacceptable.
“I am not yours.
To whistle at, holler at, swear at, scream at, touch, grope, grab, shove, hit, coerce, rape, kill.
You aren’t entitled to my body. You aren’t entitled to my consent.”
Colleague: La Belle Angèle was so seedy on Saturday night. I watched three different women have their asses groped by three different men in the space of an hour.
Becca: *unsurprised blinking* Yehh?
Colleague: And none of the women did anything about it!
Becca: Well, there isn’t really anything they could have done.
Colleague: They didn’t even tell them off…
Becca: That probably wouldn’t have worked. You just get told that you should expect that kind of thing on a night out, or that you’re being oversensitive. The guys might even have denied doing anything at all.
Colleague: *surprised outrage*
Becca: I’ve even been come onto, told the guy that I felt uncomfortable, and then got into a ten-minute argument about whether he was flirting or just trying to make friends with me. Standing up for myself just ended in more harassment.
Colleague: *visibly horrified*
I just wanted to publish this conversation because I found it interesting that something so commonly accepted amongst the harassed is actually little known outside our circle.
It’s pretty universally “known”, amongst all the women I’ve met anyway, that you don’t directly tackle harassment. It doesn’t work. Instead you get your gal pal to awkwardly shuffle you away in some poor imitation of dancing, or else you have your male buddy pretend to be your overbearing boyfriend staking his territory. The rare time that a girl stands up for herself (yes, I have had the occasional friend punch a groper in the face) is so unheard of that she’ll receive unending showers of admiring “I-can’t-believe-you-did-that” praise. Like seriously, how did you do that?!
Obviously Hollaback! are trying to change that by encouraging the harassed to talk back and challenge harassment, but it’s not easy. The reality remains that many women will be groped and that they will feel they can do little more than brush it off as part of the going-out experience. That is how powerless harassment can make us feel.
When I first sent in my application to Hollaback Edinburgh at the suggestion of Lena (we had met at a Feminist reading group), I had been slightly uneasy at the prospect of joining any activist circles/groups in Edinburgh, due to my experiences of the city’s overwhelming whiteness (it’s okay white people, I don’t hate you; I just don’t trust feminism that caters solely to cis, white, straight, able-bodied people).
But last weekend I had the chance to meet some of the Hollaback committee members for the first time and our conversation left me stimulated and reassured. I was relieved to find that there was an understanding of and commitment to addressing how people experience harassment in public spaces, depending not only on their gender but also their race/ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and disability. Needless to say, I’m excited to be part of this group of awesome people!
One of the things we talked about was the nature of harassment in Edinburgh, and when I was asked about my experiences, I found myself drawing a blank. The only example I could think of was an incident at a restaurant where a rather drunk white man sitting two tables away from me had started talking to me about hunting since “my people” were experts in that area. I think he thought I was Native American, and in my head, I told him off for his antiquated racist assumptions, but never said anything out loud. I was pretty rattled. That man hadn’t said a word to me while I was with my partner, but as soon as I was left alone, he thought it was appropriate to talk to me.
I later joked with my partner that this would be the last time that I go anywhere in public by myself, but now that I think about it, it totally has been. I don’t spend time in public places by myself. I don’t sit in parks by myself. I don’t go to the cinema by myself. I don’t go to bars by myself. And I’m certainly going to think twice before I next go to a cafe or restaurant by myself. I’m quite a social person, and I enjoy the company of others, but I have to wonder why I’m so uncomfortable being out in public when I’m perfectly happy being by myself when I’m at home.
When I am out in public, it tends to be walking down the street or out shopping, I find myself tuning out my surroundings and going about my tasks in a single minded way that has left many acquaintances puzzled as I stride past them, barely giving them a glance. Much like how I avoid spending time alone in public places, I realize that this is another defense mechanism of mine to avoid harassment. Even if somebody were to shout misogynist or racial slurs at me, I probably wouldn’t notice them. But I also wouldn’t notice my friends when they wave at me, or when there’s someone who looks like they may need help.
My behaviour has been so strongly shaped by my fear of harassment and need for safety, that I don’t even think about it anymore. It took joining Hollaback Edinburgh, and critically examining my own behaviour and experiences with harassment, to realize how it’s affected me. (Frankly, it’s all left me feeling a little outraged. How did this happen? How could I have let the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy control me like that?!) I don’t want to sit idle as others curtail their behaviour in the way I do and I hope that through Hollaback, I can contribute to making Edinburgh feel safe for everyone.
Many of us have been in the situation at 3am after leaving the discotheque on a Saturday night (after our rush to Pizza Paradise to have a sit down meal) when we are walking home alone and we see someone ahead who makes us feel nervous. Mostly we take out or phone and pretend to text our friend and nothing comes of it. Mostly, but not always. In fact, many of us have had our bum pinched, been heckled across the street or been made to feel uncomfortable. We have all been harassed at some point in Edinburgh.
On a recent night out, I was the victim of street, sexual and institutional harassment. I had my ass slapped, I was filmed dancing, I was shouted at out the window of a passing car, I was told off by security for wearing shorts where I “shouldn’t have” and I got shouted at across the street.
But also last night, without consent, I kissed someone on the lips. My friends were around and laughed and within a few days it will be forgotten about. I surprised myself with my actions because I am involved in a campaign to end harassment in nightclubs in Edinburgh, and as a result I tend to notice when it takes place and try to say something to stop it. Last night, however, I was a perpetrator of the very things I am fighting against.
I now realise just how endemic harassment is within Edinburgh and beyond. It has become normalised for a girl to have her bum grabbed on a night out, or for a gay person to be hurled homophobic abuse, and that if we look to the white, straight, able-bodied, cis male we may be stared at. Society has normalised sexual, racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist and xenophobic harassment to the extent we have stopped realising that we could all be potential perpetrators and victims.
Even when we identify as “Accepting” or “Feminist” or “Liberal”, we could still be failing in seemingly innocuous ways. Sometimes, without wanting to or realising, we may stare at those with differences to our own. When we stare we ostracise, unsettle and refuse them a place in our public spaces; we oppress women, ethnicities, non-hegemonic males, disabled and LGBT+ people. As Lara Logan puts it, “When women are harassed … they’re denied an equal place in that society. Public spaces don’t belong to them. Men control it. It reaffirms the oppressive role of men in the society.”
I leave you with one of the definitions of public – “Open to or shared by all the people of an area or country.” It is not until we root out these internalised prejudices that we can move beyond the most superficial aspects of change. As I have come to realise equal rights for everyone in society is not the same as equality; our public spaces simply are not shared .
By Nicklas Brown
I like to dance. I like to dance a lot. I like to dance a lot in a weird and freaky way, and every Good Night Out of mine involves dancing in some format. But every so often on my night out I feel threatened by people shouting homophobic slurs at me or whipping out phones and filming me throwing my shapes about the club.
I have no real problem with someone taking a cheeky video of me; dancing should be shared with everyone. But I am not sure people realise that filming someone without permission can be intimidating or unsettling.
It was after a night out in Edinburgh where I had someone shine their camera light on me and push their phone into within ½ a meter of my face that I realised that this was harassment. I felt vulnerable and intimidated and powerless. Who could I tell and who would listen and who would believe a teenager in shorts dancing alone in a club without anyone to back up my story?
Good Night Out is all about making sure a venue listens to what has happened and that they will take you seriously. I joined the campaign so that others might not be made to feel uncomfortable because of their sexuality on their night out.
I want everybody to have a harassment-free Good Night Out, irrespective of how crazy the shapes you cut are.