Sometimes, it’s easy to forget about the world we live in when you’re surrounded by good people and most of your spaces are safe and you can just ignore the news and when you don’t ever really go out on a weekend or have to negotiate the centre of town when it’s full of drunks.
On the way home last night, after a lovely evening in the pub with friends, we went to the kebab shop. There was a man waiting, alone, money in hand, perched atop a stool. Had a sense of ownership about him, already made me feel uneasy. Then a group came in, including some young women. I heard him mumble ‘show us your tights’, which prompted some nervous giggles. Then I heard, less mumbly, ‘show us your fanny.’ I looked around, mystified, as everyone looked like they hadn’t heard. Then, just as we were about to leave, he said to them, loud and clear, ‘show us your titties.’ I glared at him, I wanted to say something, to complain to the staff, to ask them/someone/anyone to do something. But I didn’t, I just glared.
Needless to say, he told me to cheer up. UGH. I told him to fuck off. I struggle to be articulate when I’m scared and angry. I could feel the people around me getting nervous, turning away. He grabbed my arm. I told him not to fucking touch me. He held my arm, looked at me, and said ‘fuck off, you cunt.’ He was a big, strong man, holding my arm and looking into my eyes.
So many things were going through my head at this point. I wanted to punch him in the face. I wanted someone else to jump in, tell him that you can’t behave like that. I wanted to say something clever, to make people think, realise that this wasn’t okay. But I just pulled my arm away, and said ‘Sort yourself out,’ and left. I was shaking and tearful and felt genuine fear at what that man might at some point do to a woman, to women. And I felt bad that I didn’t/couldn’t do anything about it.
Even though it’s not happened to me for ages, this felt so familiar. This used to happen every week, every time I was out, in a pub or a club or walking home. This happens ALL THE TIME. This is what women put up with ALL THE TIME. This is our reality. And yet, we live in a time where the BBfuckingC will have a discussion on Radio 4 – prompted by Donald Trump talking proudly on tape about sexually assaulting women – about whether men should have a safe space where they can say what they want about women, and the presenter will suggest that if you remove the bit that refers to assaulting a women, then the rest of what is said might be okay, it might just be normal banter, locker room talk.
If I’d been asked that, I think my head would have exploded. Thank goodness Laura Bates has our collective back and can stay calm and articulate in the face of such ridiculousness. Words don’t just float around on their own, harmless. When we mitigate that kind of talk, when we say it’s just banter, it’s okay to objectify women, it’s okay to use that kind of language, we’re saying yes, you are entitled to women’s bodies. Here’s your safe space, say whatever you want. Do whatever you want. That’s your right. Have at it.
And some men will. Some men do. Including a presidential candidate. This is our reality.