To avoid sexual harassment I’ve imposed my own curfew, and try to be in bed by 11pm. I can’t believe women have to live like this in 2015
Thursday 20 August 2015
My Mum once told me her biggest regret was that she’d brought her daughters up to be so polite. It happened after one of my little sisters came home in tears. A “friendly” man at the train station had started making comments about her legs and asking if she had a boyfriend. “I really wanted to ignore him, but I didn’t want to be rude! I didn’t know what to do!” she wept. She was 14 at the time.
There’s obviously something about a quiet coach and a station buffet that encourages pervy passengers. British Transport Police have just announced that the number of sexual offences on trains and at stations has gone up by 25% in the past year, and is now at record levels. Any travelling woman who has ever sunk down in her seat and opened her book, only to be tapped on the shoulder and asked “What are you reading, then?” will be surprised that the numbers aren’t higher.
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. Ignored men are angry men, and it’s horrible to sit silently while a man shouts at a packed carriage: “She thinks she’s too good to talk to me!”
When it comes to responding to harassers, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t – and sometimes it gets to the point when dealing with entitled idiots is so exhausting that you feel safer staying at home.
When I was a student, I lived on a safe, central road in York right between the city centre and the university campus. For a while I was happy to walk up and down the road on my own, earphones in, handbag stuffed full of unread translations of Beowulf. Then one day, in the early afternoon, a large man grabbed my elbow and removed an ear bud. “What’s your name?” he asked. I was so stunned that it took me a full five seconds to realise that his hand was down his trousers. I stammered and stuttered, and he repeated the question. The two men who worked in the greengrocer across the street were laughing. “Oh, don’t worry! It’s Bill! He doesn’t mean any harm,” chuckled one, as Bill released me and set off in search of fresh female elbows.