I recently read Daisy Buchanan’s article over at The Guardian about the pressure to respond or be polite to harassers in order to be safe. I shared her indignation.
“We’ve all been bothered by persistent guys who pester us relentlessly, believing themselves to be entitled to our company and more. We’re under pressure to be polite and manage their expectations”.
Then something happened today, which turned my agreement to anger.
I was waiting for a friend in North London to begin a house viewing and decided to do so in the nearby park. On my way, a man and his friend approached me and asked if they could talk to me. I declined. However, one of the men continued to walk next to me and ask questions about my personal life and comment about my appearance. Eventually, I came to a garden and saw another woman sitting inside, so thought if I joined her, the men would be on their way. However, the particularly confrontational one of the two persisted and sat next to me, asking why I didn’t want to talk him and if it was because he was black. (Oh sure, because if a white man approached and heckled me, I’d be lapping that up).
I tried two tactics. Initially I ignored him, at which point he became aggressive. So I began to engage with his questions and literally used ‘stranger danger’ as a reason for not wanting to talk to him. He continued to posit the argument that for two people to begin dating they had to start as strangers (not only was he delusional about the future of our interactions, he had a beer in hand, so was on his way to drunkenness too).
Conversation, as well as intercourse, should be consensual and the fact that a stranger feels compelled to talk to you doesn’t mean you should have to respond. Especially if the topics of conversation are not only invasive but offensive.
The point at which he dared to touch my knee with his hand, was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I got up and proceeded to walk back to the high street. This inspired the poor soul to launch a profane attack, my rejection of him clearly indicating my promiscuity and wanton ways (you can guess the types of slurs that were being shouted at me). And I mean shouted. I literally had to walk through a public space with derogatory comments echoing in the distance.
Initially, I had thought ‘how silly of me to walk into a park alone’. Yet during this incident I saw another two solo women, who were managing to go about their days uninhibited. The fault doesn’t lie with the women who dare to do something sans-companionship, it lies with the thinking that men somehow have a right to our attention.
Buchanan highlighted the issue that law enforcement is lacking and that “we need to spread the message that it isn’t flirting if it feels frightening. To create spaces where all women feel they are safe to look their harasser in the eye and say: “Leave me alone. I do not want to talk to you.”
And whilst this remains true, what happens if you tell the person bothering you exactly that and they prevail. After explicitly telling this man I didn’t want to talk to him and that he was making me uncomfortable, his mission to hassle me was only invigorated.
It was at this point I felt completely vulnerable. My voice and my concerns were not being heard and beyond that there was seemingly little I could do to restore my sense of safety. This man had intruded on my morning and I was unable to stop him.
In an era where the harassment of women is so common there’s over 75,000 entries in the Everyday Sexism Project, going out has become a game of roulette where we count ourselves lucky to be left unperturbed. Where walking along a certain street, at certain time is considered a risk.
It’s ridiculous that if a woman were to approach a man and ask if he had girlfriend they’d most likely be surprised, and somewhat flattered. When this man did the same to me, I felt endangered.