Moin moin my dear Reader,
I hadn’t anticipated blogging for another week or so, but I feel like I have to sort this out in my own head and writing usually helps me figure things out, so read on if you can bear to deal with my unformed ramblings.
I had a lesson over in St Pauli this morning and followed my normal route home on the train afterwards. Stopping at Berliner Tor to change onto the U2 line, I walked up the platform and a man turned around and stared at me. In a language I don’t know he then called to his friend further up the platform, where I was headed. As I passed by, the friend came up close to me and followed me for a few steps, whispering to me in this language.
I don’t know what he said, and I don’t imagine that I’d like to.
It’s funny though; a language barrier doesn’t stop you from feeling uncomfortable, threatened or scared. Not knowing someone’s intention is often worse than the alternative, which was certainly on my mind when they continued to follow me up the platform and then got into the same almost-empty carriage as me. They looked at me for the few minutes that we shared that space, and I was relieved when they got out at the stop before mine.
I recently started watching the series Mad Men, which is set in the late 1950s, early 1960s. I’m enjoying it a lot, and one of the things I had thought to myself up until now was how far we’ve come since those times in terms of gender equality. Can you imagine the PR/media shit storm if a secretary went to the papers saying her boss called her ‘sweetheart’? (This happens in the series. A lot.) The Daily Mail would have a field day.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had that kind of unwanted attention from someone, but today’s incident has snapped something, and I don’t want to keep quiet about it anymore.
I wonder: just what is the success rate of these men who call out obscenities? Has any woman ever stopped in her tracks and given you her number? Has she ever invited you back to hers, just like that? No more work needed?
A few years ago I went to meet my friends for drinks one evening in Guildford town centre and as I, on my own, rounded the corner to go to the bar, I heard a voice behind me shout, ‘You gonna talk to me, sweet cheeks?’ (Firstly, sweet cheeks? Come on.) I turned around to see two guys. I can’t remember what I said, but I carried on walking, only for them to follow me into the bar. Fortunately Wetherspoon’s in Guildford is usually packed, so I lost them.
Perhaps these men expected me to be bowled over by their attention. Or perhaps they derive satisfaction, pleasure, even, from making someone feel sexually threatened. Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but I get the impression that these kinds of people think that anything in a skirt is fair game. Anything. Any thing.
I wonder when these occasions arise whether the man sees me, and all the other women I know it happens to, just as things. Not living, breathing, feeling beings, but things. Something to be cast aside once you’re done with it; that’s what we do with things, isn’t it?
I saw an excellent video last week which reversed the roles a little. A French man ran around taking his child to nursery and doing the shopping; the stereotypical activities for the female partner to do, while his wife went off to work. The video showed all instances of sexual harassment he faced from women throughout the day. The whistles, catcalls, remarks about his physical characteristics and what these women wanted to do to them.
It showed things from another perspective, but some of the responses I’ve read have been more along the lines of, ‘I’d love to get that kind of attention from women!’
Yes, everyone likes a bit of attention every now and then. Everyone wants compliments, or to be recognised in some way, of course they do. But there is a difference between having your ego inflated and feeling physically threatened. Biologically men are stronger, and so advances from men towards women, and indeed women towards men, quite literally carry different weight.
The ‘lad culture’ which seems to be increasingly prevalent these days is wrapped up in what I’m trying to talk about right now. When phrases such as ‘any hole’s a goal’ are bandied about like there’s no tomorrow, it’s easy to become cynical and disheartened by attention you might receive, as you wonder quite what the motive behind it is, and whether he even has any intention of ever calling you again.
I can already feel some opinions forming about what I’m saying, ‘But us men aren’t all like that. Don’t put us in a box.’ I know you’re not all like that; I’m fortunate enough to be related to many men who I know are good-hearted, and to know a fair few others who are the same, but when was the last time someone gave you both good news and bad news, and you forgot completely about the bad?
You can read 99 positive reviews for an item, but the one negative comment will be what stays with you, and I think we’re simply conditioned to think that way.
I suppose my point is that a little bit of thought goes a long way, for both men and women. We’re not so different, but the way we treat, or indeed mistreat, each other could just increase how long it takes for that to become the consensus.
Well done if you made it this far!