Tag Archives: street harassment

unsafe words


CW: sexual harassment/assault

A few weeks ago, just before Christmas, I was in a queue waiting to pay for some food I’d just ordered to eat on the train home after my evening class. I was listening to music playing as I often do. I have BIG OBVIOUS headphones, in part to discourage people making conversation with me. A  man’s face appeared right next to my face, too sudden, too close. It made me jump a little. I leaned back, pushing one earphone back as I realised he was talking to me. “Sorry darling can I just push in? My train is in five minutes”. “So’s mine…” I started to say. The rest of the sentence would have been “…and I have already ordered, so you’d need to check with the person behind me” but went unsaid. As I started to speak, this man, this stranger who had already inserted  himself into my personal space and called me “darling”, placed his hand on my hip. It was the hand I couldn’t see, placed around the other side of my body, effectively holding me in a light embrace, trapping me between his arm and the counter. It was a gentle touch, not particularly forceful, and it seemed entirely thoughtless, careless, casual; I was a woman, he was patting me on the hip. Just so.

Continue Reading

harassment is not a virtual issue


I was going to write something about drinking this week, because it’s been a while, and last week’s post was kinda feministy and I like to usually mix things up a bit in between the being Really Angry About Things but something, well, two somethings but really the same something, happened this week which made me, well, Really Angry about Things.

Thing 1 – Sue Perkins – cake botherer, national treasure and all round amazing person – was hounded off Twitter due to some baseless rumours that she could be in the running to present Top Gear. For non UK people, Top Gear is ostensibly a program about cars, but for many years has basically been a vehicle (oh, lol) for the champion of the sort of people that say things like  “I’m not a bigot but I should be allowed to say these things it’s political correctness gone mad MAD I TELL YOU.” The completely fabricated rumour that she was in the running, prompted by some Screenshot from Twitter. Text reads: Clarkson's Law: The reaction of many Top Gear fans to Top Gear demonstrates the need for changes to be made to Top Gearbetting activity, led to death threats so severe she left twitter. No doubt to a celebration of the Top Gear fans and any other people who just like sending women on Twitter death threats.

Thing 2 – Just a few days later, Jack Monroe – austerity chef, anti-poverty campaigner and down to earth ‘accidentally famous‘ blogger – was also hounded off Twitter. In her case she hadn’t done anything as egregious as be at the centre of rumours so much as simply being a lesbian, or a ‘militant queer’ in the words of one of the messages. Continue Reading

Our Bodies, Our Future

In all the years I’ve been being subjected to street harassment, cat calling and, on occasion, actual physical groping, I’ve rarely called the police.

When a white van driver grabbed my bum as I was on my bike waiting to turn right onto a side street I didn’t call the police because I didn’t get his licence plate number. When I woke up from a doze on the train on my way to work to find the man next to me had worked his hand under my bottom and was having a good feel I didn’t call the police because my line manager at work told me there was “no point because they police can’t do anything about it anyway”. All the – too numerous to relate – times I’ve been intimidated or threatened in the street by men wanting me to accept ‘compliments’ I’ve not called the police because it seemed so minor, what could the police do? Why would I waste police time with something so non life-threatening when they are resource and time-poor enough as it is?

But on the flip side – if women don’t report these incidents, how is street harassment to be recognised as the widespread problem that we  (‘we’ as in women that exist in public spaces) know it to be? If there’s no official statistics, nothing to back up the numbers of women feeling threatened and intimidated out of public spaces, how can those resources be allocated to the police force in the first place? It was following this logic that I called the police when I was groped by a stranger while I was walking home in the early hours of the morning after seeing the New Year in at a friend’s house. Yes, it was minor, and I was fine, albeit angry and shaken, but it was an assault and even if the police can’t find the man that did it, even if there’s little they can do, that report becomes a statistic which gives us real hard data on how often this happens.

The bike incident and the train incident both happened more than 5 years ago. I suspect if either had happened more recently I’d have had no doubt about phoning the police. In that respect, this shows some sort of progress. But equally, both are clear examples of assault, or ‘unwanted sexual touching’.  We still have some way to go before the non physical advances are accepted as harassment/assault and not ‘failure to accept a compliment’, as Bye Felipe reflects perfectly, showing the exact same ‪#‎notacompliment‬ dynamic of street cat-calling/harassment, but in this case the sense of entitlement to a woman’s time/attention is recorded rather handily for posterity on the internet so we don’t have to spend so much of our time trying to get people to believe us.

While things are changing, it’s still simply not good enough. We can’t continue to function as a society which wants equality where 10 year old kids think women in their 30s really like to be shouted at. Or a society which thinks ‘kiss a ginger day‘ is a perfectly reasonable response to ‘kick a ginger day‘ without any sort of reflection that kissing someone without consent is just as much assault as kicking them is.  A society where someone like me pops to the shops with my keys in my hand as clothed as possible to mitigate victim blaming.  Where in a clear case of rape, people worry about how it will affect the careers of the teen rapists, not the impact on the victim.  Where an openly anti-feminist political party can campaign for election. A world where where schools are, globally, the most common setting for sexual harassment or sexual coercion. A world where these sorts of statistics exist, demonstrating that not only is this the world we live in now, but that before our children have even completed their education, they’ve already been well schooled in the concepts of objectification, sexual coercion, grey areas over consent and sexual violence.

Right now,  SRE (Sex and relationships education) is compulsory in the UK for children from the age of 11, but the ‘compulsory’ part still only covers reproduction and sexual health. To really embed healthier attitudes schools need to expand their SRE to really focus on the R part – relationships. Young people’s relationships to their peers, their friends,  romantic partners, present and future.  To embed a complete understanding of consent and respect, and that consent is the absolute bedrock of all healthy relationships, whether that be a relationship with someone you’ve known for years or the cute person you see at your bus stop.

This is one of the reasons I am excited to be involved in next weekends ‘Our Bodies, Our Future‘ conference. When I attended the planning meeting I was nervous, and didn’t know what to expect or how I could help –  I was mainly attending as someone who rants about street harassment a lot on the internet. I was floored by the talent and committment I saw from the young women, mostly aged between 14 and 19, who had given up their Friday evening to help plan the event. It was genuinely inspiring to see these young women standing up and saying “we deserve better, and we demand better, and we’re damn well going to make things better.”

When I was 14 I wouldn’t have known how to define ‘feminism’,  much less call myself one, let alone set up a feminist society at my school. Back in the 90s we had Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Riot Grrrl. Along came ‘girl power’ and the Spice Girls told us all that we could be powerful and have choices and still be cute if we wanted. We thought Feminism had already won ages ago and was no longer relevant to us. And then…I don’t know what happened. Did we slide backwards? Or was the idea that the battle had already been fought and won always illusory and I just never noticed the crap happening all around me? It’s certainly true that once you start seeing systemic sexism, you can’t unsee it. It’s everywhere. I was deeply shaken during a recent re-watch of Buffy The Vampire Slayer to realise actually it never really was the seminal feminist text I’d always taken it to be – filled as it is with Xander’s male entitlement and a huge dollop of slut-shaming; something at the age of 14 I wouldn’t have even recognised as a concept. And yet the 14 year old girls at the meeting not only recognise it but nail it perfectly. “It’s harder for girls,” said one of them, “cos the girl gets more hate than the boy does if you  have sex. Boys get supported to do it more and more and the girls just get slagged off”.

I will be at the conference gathering young people’s experiences of street harassment within our community, trying to build a picture of where it happens and how it manifests, so the data can feed in to  improve safety in  local harassment hot-spots.

But 20150109_193752the conference as a whole has a much wider remit, and a much broader aim. By the end of the day the conference aims to empower all attendees to demand that their school takes the #DoingIt4TheStow ‘Our Bodies Our Future’ challenge and sign up to provide a more holistic and intersectional approach to SRE.

Our young people want better. Our young people deserve better.  And as a society we have a duty to make sure that for the health and well-being of our future generations we provide better.

Changing the dynamic of society to  make public spaces – both real and virtual – safer and equal for women is going to take a huge seismic level shift. And getting that big a sea-change has to start with education; with ensuring that young people have the tools to grasp concepts of equality, respect and consent at the earliest stage possible.

when Hello is not just Hello

Click for HollerbackLondonMy first blog about gender based street harassment was back in 2007. I’ve written about it often since, and joined in various campaigns to raise awareness of the problem. I also experience gender based street harassment on a depressingly regular basis.

So much so that if I do something perfectly ordinary, say for example walk to the shop and back, and haven’t been stared at, followed, had kissy noises made at me, had a #notjustHello (more on this later), been propositioned or asked my marital status – well, I call that a successful walk to the shop. The fact that a walk to the shop that doesn’t feature one of or a combination of these things happens LESS often than a walk that does will perhaps indicate  how often I experience unwanted attention in public places.

So much so that if I walk past a lone man on the street at night, or a group of male youths hanging around, I am practically holding my breath, on edge, trying to look nonchalant, trying to look confident,  and I don’t relax until I am past them; because I am expecting them to say something. If they don’t say anything at all I am surprised, relieved and impressed. This, alas, doesn’t happen often.

So when this video, of a woman receiving more than 100 cat calls in a 10 hour walk – which averages out at 10 per hour – went viral this week, I wasn’t shocked by the content, but I was surprised by some of the reactions I saw, and some of the most common comments I saw made about it.

But this is in New York. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in London.

Yes. It. Does. ALL THE FUCKING TIME. New York isn’t some sort of magical badlands full of crazy street corner mad men whooping and hollering while London is a sparkly unicorn mecca of impeccable gentlemanly manners. This isn’t even limited to big cities. This happens everywhere. All over the world. To almost every woman who ever walked in a public place ever.

Some of those guys were just saying ‘hello’, that’s not really harassment.

Other people have already dealt with this eloquently, so I will be relatively brief here. Sometimes ‘hello’ is not actually ‘just hello’. It depends ENTIRELY on context, tone and intention, and to try to imply otherwise is disingenuous at best. You are working in a shop, A woman walks up to the counter. You say ‘Hello’. congratulations, that’s appropriate. You are in a pub. You have made eye contact with the same woman on multiple occasions. She has smiled at you. You go up and say Hello. This is appropriate –  as long as if it turns out she’s not actually interested you back off.  However, at night, a man saying ‘Hello’ in a suggestive tone to a lone woman? #notjustHello. A group of guys yelling ‘HELLO’ at a lone woman walking past? #notjustHello. If you get pissed off with a woman you’ve said ‘hello’ to because she didn’t respond favourably? #notjustHello. No one owes you a reply just because you said ‘hello’ to them and if you in any way feel entitled to a response then it’s #notjustfuckinghelloisit.

Here’s a good rule of thumb. Before you say ‘Hello’ to a woman you don’t know when there is no obvious context for your ‘hello’, consider this question: “would I say ‘Hello’ to this person if this person was a man?” If the answer is no, then it’s probably #notjustHello. So don’t say it.

Holy shit, this is terrible! It must be so tiring having that happen all the time! I had no idea it was so bad. Does this really happen? Woah!

Forgive me, I need a few minutes to metaphorically kick a few chairs over while I roll my eyes and scream into the void. Really? REALLY? REALLY????

Street Harassment is something women have been talking about and trying to raise awareness of for years. There are countless articles, blogs, features in newspapers. Your female friends have been telling you about their experiences. FOR YEARS. And it took this video for you to realise what it’s like? The relentless, every day, constant, draining ENDLESS parade of men trying to get our attention because somehow they feel entitled to it? This grinding, wearing every day experience that we have been telling you about for years and NOW you get it? Forgive me if that doesn’t exactly make me want to give you a fucking cookie.

I have had too many arguments with men over the years (#notallmen, sure, but then I haven’t met them all) telling me that my subjective experience must somehow be wrong, because it is not the same as their experience. It turns out that to get people to truly understand what I experience nearly every time I leave the house I would have had to get someone to walk around in front of me with a video camera recording it all. Because the words of women was not enough. You needed proof.

Well, now you have it.  You’ve seen the proof. And don’t get me wrong, even though I am clearly frustrated that you didn’t believe us before, I am really glad that some of you are now on our side.  Because we need you. We need male allies here, because this is not a women’s problem. Because it’s only some of you that get it. Those that don’t get it, the quibblers, who think a #notjustHello is perfectly reasonable, who think “nice tits” is a compliment – they might not actually be out there harassing women themselves but they are certainly allowing it to continue by their tacit reinforcement that this behaviour is ok.

On Friday night, in the space of 7 minutes, I experienced 4 incidents of street harassment. I received 2 #notjustHellos, I was followed silently for several minutes by a man who kept standing slightly too close to me, wherever I moved to. And then three young men walked past and one shouted “You look niiiice.” I didn’t respond, because there were 3 of them, and because no one had come to help me with the previous 3 incidents. I felt extremely vulnerable. But my lack of response angered them.  “Hey. Hey. You. What, no thank you? Nothing? Fine bitch, you look bad. Fat slut. Fuck you bitch”.

For a women experiencing street harassment there’s no safe way to respond. Ignoring them isn’t safe. Retaliating isn’t safe. Saying anything positive or even neutral at all in reply invites further exchange and implies their behaviour is in some way acceptable or ok. Telling them to ‘fuck off’ is just plain dangerous – given the reaction to doing nothing. Some initiatives do exist to try to combat the situation, for example Cards Against Harassment  or catcaller forms, but these  also run the risk of retaliation. I did once, ONCE, have a guy who, when I firmly said “sorry, but I don’t want to talk to you”, just walked away and said nothing else. It was so unusual that it was worthy of note.  So what are we meant to do? We can’t ‘keep ourselves safe’ short of never leaving the house.

We can’t solve this problem by putting pressure on women to modify our behaviour or act in a certain way to prevent it or mitigate it because this isn’t a ‘women’s problem.’ It doesn’t stop by changing the way we dress or walk or act.  This is an issue with MEN, and how some men, #NotAllMen but still #FarTooManyMen, feel entitled to women’s attention, feel entitled to pass comment on women’s bodies in public, feel powerful when they treat women like objects and seem to believe that women should be somehow thankful for all this unwanted attention.

The only thing that will cause a big enough shift in society for those that don’t get  it is for those that DO get it to stand up against it. Listen to women when they tell you about their experiences. Believe them. Don’t let your mates engage in this sort of behaviour. Don’t stand by and let women be subject to this behaviour. Don’t let your silence be taken as approval.

I know this can be scary – after all intervening in a situation where a guy is clearly causing a woman to feel harassed could get you punched in the face. But think on this. Women who have stood up to their OWN harassers get punched in the face. The woman who recorded the New York street harassment video received rape threats for highlighting the problem of street harassment. There is no safe way for a woman to stand up to her own harassers. 

I know lots of wonderful men that would never even consider harassing a woman, and who would put themselves at risk to help a woman being harassed the way I was on Friday night; but there’s not enough guys like that. There’s too many shouters and too many quibblers. If you’re not a shouter, and you’re not a quibbler, then stand up for us, and with us, against gender based street harassment.

Assaulted Caramel

Content Note: I’ve gone to a place in my past here that might be hard for people to read. So please consider this a trigger warning for sexual assault and violence. 

I am writing this post from my new houseshare. I am mostly unpacked, to the astonishment of my new housemates who didn’t believe that I’d be able to fit my 2 bed flat’s worth and 30+ years accumulation of STUFF into one double bedroom. But I have moved many times in my life and I am skilled at Making Things Fit – and one person’s ‘cluttered’ is another’s ‘cosy’. I am definitely in the ‘cosy’ camp. Having this much STUFF though does mean it takes forever to pack, and by the time I’d reached moving-day-eve I was a total mess. I was curled up on the sofa in my pyjamas in a zombified state crying because I’d told the neighbour (the one who’d let me watch Kung Fu Panda with her son when I got locked out) I was moving and she got upset and hugged me. I needed ice cream.

I really, really REALLY needed ice cream.  Specifically, Ben and Jerry’s Caramel Chew Chew. I operate on a strict IIWIIGGI policy when it comes to this sort of thing – If I wanted It I’d Go Get It. This tends to prevent me from eating ice cream ALL THE TIME, because if I can’t be bothered to walk to the shop to get it, I obviously don’t want it.

The shop was 5 minutes walk away. Just 5 minutes. But it was dark outside, and 15 seconds of that 5 minute walk is a narrow passageway between two streets. If it had been #yessallwomenday time, I would have just chucked shoes on and a sweater over my pyjamas and headed out. But it was dark outside. So I got completely dressed, in clothes as figure-hiding as possible. I got my bike keys and held them so the tines poked out through my fist. I made sure I told a few friends where I was going, and when I’d be back. And I walked to the shop as briskly as possible.

At this point, some women reading are nodding and going  yup. And some men are probably going “what the HELL? it’s only 5 minutes away”. And yet, this is something I feel I have to do – even for a 5 minute walk to the shop. Isn’t that crazy? I am just going to buy ice cream.

The thing is, the really fucked up thing, is that I don’t just do this in case I get attacked. I know that if I *do* get attacked, there’s little I’ll be able to do. I am pretty strong and tough and self-aware, but if some guy decides he’s going to attack me then all the ugly clothes and self awareness in the world are not going to stop him. The reason I do all of this is so that afterwards no one can say that I was “asking for it”. I do it so that there will be nothing anyone can use to “blame me” for my own attack, other than “why was she walking after dark” which is tenuous at best. Does this sound like a hysterical reaction to you? For me to go through a list of things I’d better do before I leave the house? “I’d better get dressed, I don’t want them to say I was asking for it as I was wearing pyjamas and no underwear”. “I’d better wear trainers so I can run, I don’t want them to say I was asking for it because I was wearing slippers”. “I’d better make sure I have my keys in my hand, I don’t want them to say I didn’t put up a fight so must have wanted it”.

I was attacked by a stranger from behind 14 years ago. I was lucky. His first punch  – to the back of my head – didn’t knock me out entirely, so I was able to scream (and you bet I can fucking scream) and the spot he attacked me was right outside a housing block where I knew a lot of people. Once he was on top of me and punching me in the face I lost consciousness, but my early screams had been enough to bring people out to see what was happening. I have a dim recollection of a punk friend of mine legging it after this guy shouting at others to come with him. I was carried into someone’s living room. Someone put tea in my hand but I couldn’t drink it (later I would find out my jaw was fractured).  Someone went to my flat to get me some clothes, as mine were torn where the guy had tried to pull them off. The police arrived. I was still quite out of it at this point due to shock and being repeatedly hit around the head. And thus began the questions, that would be asked repeatedly. By the police on the scene. By the ambulance driver. By the hospital admittance staff. By the triage nurse. By the doctor. In fact, the only person that didn’t ask these questions was the x-ray technician, who had to work around the fact that my face was so swollen my piercings couldn’t be removed.

The questions were:

Have you been drinking? What were you wearing? Did you know him? Had you seen him before? Did you do anything that might have provoked him? Do you usually walk this route alone at night? Where had you been before?

The answers (not that it should matter): No. black trousers and a Cure t-shirt. No. No. No. Yes, because it’s WHERE I LIVE. ) Shopping for a suit for a job interview.

Even after answering these ad infinitum I was treated with suspicion by hospital staff and police alike. I was left waiting in the hospital waiting room for 8 hours. I was discharged alone with no way to get home, and no idea what hospital I was in. Despite trying to follow up with the police after I never received any answers. To this day I don’t know if he was caught by police, if he was never found and attacked again, or if my punk friend and his mates caught up with him and he’s buried in a shallow grave somewhere in East London. In my fantasy revisionist history version of this, where what helps me deal is more important than the truth, it’s the latter.

In the aftermath I was bruised, scared, I had flashbacks and nightmares, concussion and a fractured jaw. But not only that. I was shocked at my treatment by those I had always seen as there to help – the nursing staff and the police – who treated this as nothing more than a girl out late at night (it was 10.30pm) who must have done something to deserve it. Even *friends* who found out about it suggested that I perhaps shouldn’t walk back from the bus stop alone.

14 years later I am still reading articles where women are blamed for their own attack. For wearing tight jeans. For wearing control underwear. For looking older than they really are. Because she was just so pretty, the guy couldn’t resist. There are so many more out there.

And it’s not isolated cases – there is a widespread lack of understanding, despite many campaigns – over who is to blame for rape; when in fact it is very simple. RAPISTS are to blame for rape. A society which is bogged down in rape myths is to blame for this widespread lack of understanding.

A society that doesn’t understand how to deal with rapists comes up with ‘anti-rape underwear’ and ‘anti-rape nail varnish‘. And while on one level it’s great that people are trying to innovate over this it doesn’t make it any more bullshit that the potential victims are meant to take part in the prevention of their own assault. And the danger in such ‘anti-rape’ devices is that when we already exist in a culture that blames victims for their own assault, if a woman *DOESN’T* take these ‘preventative’ steps, will she then be further blamed for not doing enough? Ok, you were conscious, sober, you know self-defence, you were alert, clothed, covered up, wearing sensible shoes, BUT WERE YOU WEARING ANTI-RAPE NAIL VARNISH? No?  Then you didn’t do enough.

When this argument comes up, some (perhaps) well meaning people say but why wouldn’t you take these precautions? You wouldn’t leave your bike unlocked would you? If you do that, you are asking for your bike to be stolen.To which I say, no. I wouldn’t leave my bike unlocked. In fact, I have 4 locks (as you can see from my ‘popping to the shop’ picture). But I know, from bitter experience, that if someone really wants to steal your bike they will. No bike lock is unbreakable. That’s why I have insurance. And the reason I have good locks is so that the insurance company will pay up if/when the bike is stolen. Because if someone is going to steal your bike, they are going to. And with insurance, you can replace it.

And you know what is not a bike? A WOMAN’S BODY. A woman’s body is NOT an object. It’s a person’s body. It’s a living person, who is trying to live their life. To suggest that a woman not taking precautions to prevent rape is like someone not locking up a bike is so offensive, I can’t even envisage what is going on in the minds of people that make that comparison. You can’t ‘insure’ a body against rape. An insurance company can’t replace your unraped body or compensate for sucha  violation done to you. But if you really want to go there, and suggest that in order to prevent our bodies being violated that we need to ‘lock them up’ like a bicycle, how do we go about it? Do we never drink ever? Never go anywhere after dark? Never talk to strangers? Or be in a place with strangers? Never leave the house? Not that the last one will help you as in the UK 90% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knew. So actually, to ‘prevent’ rape, a women needs to never go anywhere or talk to anyone ever.

Maybe I am being overdramatic and paranoid with my ugly clothes wearing, key carrying, sensible shoe wearing 5 minute after-dark trip to the shop. But with attitudes like this still so prevalent, is it any wonder that so many women still feel that they have to take action like this not just to *prevent* rape, but to make sure we are believed if the worst really happens?

Women do not necessarily want your attention (2007)

A day late and a bit of a change this week as I am on holiday (sort of). Mother RDP is visiting from the other side of the world for the first time in 6 years and requires entertaining (which is actually fairly easy. 1 – provide Playstation game. 2 – add red wine. But she prefers cooperative games and saying “sorry, I can’t play Lego Pirates of the Caribbean any more, I  have to write my blog” isn’t worth the death stare). So for this week I am providing a post from my old blog – one from 2007 before I’d self identified as a feminist.

This was the first time I really wrote about street harassment, the first time I really let rip with my opinions online and it was both freeing and terrifying. The post generated many comments – positive, negative, educational, insightful and creepy, and it was my first experience of the “not all men” derailing rollercoaster.

I look back now and it’s not perfect, it’s not quite how I’d put things now, but it’s my first real piece of “internet writing” and I present it for you here, unedited, as one from the vaults:



Dear To Men,
I know this is a subject which has been brought to your attention numerous times, by women you know, strangers in the street, documentaries, newspapers and various other forms. But you are clearly not getting it.Women, believe it or not, do not necessarily want your attention.I know this may come as a shock to you. It certainly seemed to come as a shock to the four men who – separately – approached me last night, after half 10pm, while I was unlocking my bike outside Sainsbury’s. They all seemed very surprised indeed that a young, lone, small blonde woman would be undesirous of the attentions of a lone man at night. One was so surprised, in fact, that I rebuffed his attentions, that he seemed to arrive at the conclusion that I was a ‘fucking slut’. I am rather bemused at this deduction, as I would have thought that that type of woman would, in fact, have welcomed such advances.Women also do not like being yelled at from men in cars, vans, lorries and building sites. I know this may come as a terrible shock, as I am sure from the frequency with which it occurs, men must find this a particularly successful way of getting a date. I should note that yelling at a woman who is turning right at a busy road, merely to tell her that you can see her bum, and that you approve, is not a good way to ingratiate yourself with said girl. You are far more likely to find that when you a stopped at the next junction, your tail light will be kicked in. Or it would have been, had I caught up with you.

I am aware that in the animal world, male birds strut and whistle particular tunes to attract a mate. I am sorry to inform you that this method does not work for humans. In fact, the next man that tries to attract me by adopting a pigeon chested stature, whistling at me, and calling out the mating chant of the Greater Spotted Twat, “alrite darlin” will find that his reproductive equipment experience rearranging when they meet my shoe, at speed.

If you see a woman you find attractive on the street, or in public, here is a handy guide to prevent you being murdered by a woman who is finally at the end of her temper with idiots who fail to recognise that women are people, and not things to be pulled, raped, mugged, or just shouted at in a moment of boredom.

• Don’t be an unmitigating bastard. If you are one of these, then stick to pulling desperate drunk women in bars.

• Make sure you are good looking, or at least dressed well, clean, and that you smell ok. If you are unwashed, unsanitary, sweaty, or have a third ear in the middle of your forehead, may I recommend a bath, deodorant and possibly even surgery. If you have any female friends, ask them for their advice on your appearance. Do not get cross if you do not agree with their recommendations. The best way to attract a woman, is to listen to what women think of you. If you think you know better, then you have an answer, right there, as to why you are still alone.

• Do not approach any lone women you do not already know late at night. Some men do not seem to realise, but women have an inbuilt fear of men at night, which prompts us to automatically reject a suitor who approaches in this way. WE WILL ASSUME YOU WANT TO RAPE US. Even if this is not your intention, let me assure you, WE WILL ASSUME YOU WANT TO RAPE US. Whether this is experience, genetic hard-wiring, social conditioning, or something else, I do not know – although I personally believe it’s part of that entirely necessary fight or flight instinct. Part of our brain says DANGER. RUN/FIGHT NOW. Let me assure you, that in 99% of circumstances, lone women at night who are approached by men WILL ASSUME YOU WANT TO RAPE THEM. That other 1% may assume the same thing, but they usually get payment in advance.

• If you do make the error of approaching a lone woman late at night, and you receive an angry, fearful or violent response from the woman, and you are unsure why, please refer to the point above. Women, when they are scared, often respond with anger, and thus may shout at you. If this does occur, the best course of action is to back away, apologise, and leave her alone. If you follow her, or try to continue the conversation, SHE WILL ASSUME YOU WANT TO RAPE HER. If she does get angry and shout at you, I would suggest that, owing to the point above, that this is a PERFECTLY VALID AND SANE RESPONSE.

• Many men seem to be surprised by the reaction of women such as I have described above. I have witnessed men being upset and hurt, even shocked by having their advances rebuffed. As men really do not seem to understand why a woman might reject their advances, I shall try to explain it very, very slowly.


• Just in case you are still confused, I shall clarify further.


• IF you do see a woman in public you think is beautiful, and you would like to take her for a drink (and not just have sex with her) then she may actually quite like it if you ask her. However, this is dependant on your surroundings.

Appropriate places:
Anywhere with lots of people, e.g. the underground, supermarkets, libraries, coffee shops.
Places where people go to socialise, e.g. pubs, clubs

Inappropriate places:
Dark alleyways
Deserted streets
Public toilets
Night buses
Anywhere she is on her own and no one else is around
When she is unlocking her bike from an area notorious for bike theft, theft and violent crime when everything around you is closed

Good ways to start the conversation:
‘I’m sorry, I hope you don’t think this is weird, well, i mean it is, but you’re really pretty, I don’t suppose you’d let me buy you a coffee?’
‘I know this is a bit weird, and I’m a total stranger, and please tell me to fuck off if you want to, but you just looked too beautiful to let you walk past me and out of my life without me stopping to ask you your name’

Something like that. ALWAYS acknowledge your actions in approaching a stranger are weird. ALWAYS give her the option of backing off.

Bad ways to start the conversation:
‘Alrit darlin’
‘great tits luv’
‘fancy one do ya?’
‘OI OI!!!! OI!!! OI YOU!!!!’

NEVER EVER EVER get pissed off if she says ‘no’.

• Sometimes, there are some very obvious signs a woman is busy, and attempting conversation may be an error. For example:

– She is reading a book
– She is listening to music
– She is on the phone

Women often do these things because they enjoy them. Some men seem to believe that women only do these things to fill up the time in between when men are talking to them. This is an erroneous assumption ,and foolish in the extreme.

If a woman is reading, and you talk to her, and she continues to hold the book/magazine/newspaper in the same position and continues to read, then she is NOT INTERESTED IN TALKING TO YOU.

• I am repeating this because it is probably the most important piece of information you will ever know about women. You must always bear this in mind when approaching any woman. We live in fear of being raped. We just do. We may not think about it all the time, but it’s there, at the back of our mind when we walk home. When we walk to the bus stop at night. When we wait to meet someone. When we’re surrounded by men we don’t know. When we are walking on unfamiliar streets. When a man we don’t know approaches us. When we feel lonely, vulnerable, far from home. This is why we do not like it when men yell at us. When they whistle. When they jeer and hoot and shout lewd things from cars. When a man on the street asks us for a cigarette. It is a constant, and occasionally all consuming fear that we will always have. And it is why we reject advances with such volume and stress. Because we are AFRAID because you are BIGGER than us, and STRONGER than us and WE DO NOT WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH YOU.

• If you do not understand any of the above, there is no hope for you.

Yours sincerely,

P.s. the next man that approaches me late at night while I’m on my own is going to find out exactly what it feels like to have an Abus maximum security D-lock repeatedly slammed into their head. Purely in the name of science, of course.

EDIT: I’m adding this in, to the guys reading this who are saying ‘hey, we’re not all like this…’

Men don’t get it, because they’re either too nice to understand why other men would behave like that, or they’re the fucktards doing it in the first place.

EDIT: A small number of women have said they don’t fear rape per se, more attack. I’m not going to change it, because I think it’s the fundamental difference between women and men walking home at night – men might fear attack/theft/mugging, but there’s something much more basic, more primal, more personal about the fear of rape than the fear of attack. And these men that say ‘allo darling’ – well – these are SEXUAL ADVANCES. And we don’t respond badly to them because we think these men are going to take our phone or our wallet. I’m not telling you ‘YOU FEAR RAPE’. I’m explaining WHY women react badly in those situations. I would go as far to say that some of you have misunderstood my point, zoned in on one part, thought ‘she says i fear rape! no i don’t!!’ and not taken into account the *context*.

If you do still take issue with the use of the word ‘rape’ – please feel free to re-read substituting the word ‘rape’ for ‘hurt’.

EDIT: ‘To Men’ – it will stand. I know there are exemptions, but it’s making people read it, and if it wasn’t controversial, who’d bother? I do accept some of you have valid reasons for taking issue with ‘To Men’, and I agree with those points, but again, it will stand, mainly because I think it’s funnier. I will also direct you to this excellent comment which is written better than I managed:

This is a really common and regular occurrence for pretty much every woman I know. As in, every week, if not every time I walk home alone in the dark. And the people who do it vary hugely; old, young, middle-aged; white, black, asian; British, foreign; tall, short, medium height; fat, thin, medium build.
The one defining characteristic they all, without exception, share, is that they are all men. When it happens on an almost daily basis, to half the people you know, and it’s always  men, identifying the problem as being with (some) men is not bigotry, it’s just a fact of life.”

Objects on a t-shirt may be more offensive than they appear

Last week I mentioned, in passing, how angry I was about some t-shirts I saw in the window of a local branch of a cheap menswear chain. I’ve been angry about it all week – ever since I saw them in the window of the shop. They were all world cup themed, having several for different football teams all with one thing in common. Nearly naked women. Some sitting astride footballs. Some with footballs covering their breasts. Some with nation flags as little thongs.

It should tell you something when I have to warn you that those links may be NSFW. Yes, images which are potentially not safe for work – because they are sexual in nature and could get you fired (for A –  having sexually inappropriate pictures on your work computer and B – sexual harassment) are not only available for sale but are proudly displayed in the windows of stores and are also available in children’s sizes

I did a double take when I first saw them. I couldn’t quite believe that here we are, 2014, and somehow it is perfectly OK to sell t-shirts with practically naked sexually objectified women on them? Not just men’s t-shirts, but children’s t-shirts?? And sure, there may be a woman wearing one on the splash page of the shop in question’s website, but just because a woman is wearing it doesn’t render the shirt not sexually objectifying due to some some weird gender waveform cancelling effect.

I became more shocked and disheartened when I started to discuss these shirts with others to find that some didn’t think there was anything wrong with having practically  naked women on a t-shirt. Woah now people. WOAH NOW.

There’s nothing wrong with having a nearly naked woman on a t-shirt.

How did we get here? At what point did we become a society that is so immune to sexually explicit imagery, so saturated with images of the sexualised female form, that we (men and women alike) are able to look at those t-shirts and say “where’s the harm?”

I was born at the end of the 70s – when feminism had been a truly powerful force in the previous decade and wrought powerful changes. I grew up in the 80s, where women started to reap the benefits of that success and as the 90s dawned feminism almost started to seem obsolete. I came of age in the 90s, where women sang in rock bands and wore big shit kicking boots and Kathleen Hanna sang “Rebel Girl” and we started to feel powerful and strong – there was still a fight to have but we were going to bring it…

Then what happened in the 00s I cannot say. Was a big red “reset”  button pushed somewhere on the control desk of “women’s liberation”? It’s like the progress stalled, rolled to a slow stop and then started sliding backwards to the point where sexual objectification is so every day, so normal, so accepted that we see nothing wrong with selling naked objectified women on the front of a t-shirt to a child.

As Laci Green in her excellent video  says:

This is some bullshit. Everyone should be PISSED that this is so normal.

Before we go further, please go back a little and watch Laci Green’s video. The whole thing. Right to the end.


She says everything in that video I could possibly say about these t-shirts. They exemplify a society which sees women as decoration. As things to be looked at, admired for certain ‘qualities’. And we are bombarded with these ideas on a daily basis. What does this do to us? And I don’t mean “us” as in women, I am talking about all of us – men and women alike – growing up and developing in a world which tells us men are people and women are bodies – a collection of parts. And not only are women a collection of parts, but in order to be acceptable as a women, those parts must be the right size, the right shape, smooth and hairless and flaw free. Even the well meaning “real women have curves” is horribly misguided. I have thin friends. They are still definitely ‘real’. I have trans friends who are also very much ‘real’.

I have struggled with my own body image my whole life. I was a short chubby child with early developing boobs, and have remained a chubby voluptuous short adult. I long to put on some clothes, any clothes, and just go out and not give a shit. It is definitely easier the older I get, but I still care desperately. I care what people think of me. When my eye allergy flares up I “can’t go out” because “I can’t go out without makeup”. I have meltdowns when I am feeling “fat”. I can’t go outside wearing shorts without leggings because I am acutely aware of my big thighs and my stretch marks and my cellulite. Mr RDP was driven to distraction on a holiday we took to a very hot climate; he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t walk around in just a bikini top, or without leggings.

He hasn’t been subjected in the same way I have from a young age of being constantly told, subliminally and overtly, in a million tiny insidious ways and a hundred massive blatant ways, that the most important thing about me is my  body, my clothes, the way I look and my hair. What I say, what I want to be or become, what I think? All of that is secondary, tertiary, inconsequential even to the way I look.

And the kicker? I KNOW that this is social conditioning. And yet I still feel like this, nearly every minute of every day of my life. The conditioning is so strong, the message so powerful, that even though I KNOW it is wrong, even though I KNOW I am labouring under a false consciousness bourne of a myriad of harmful external messages, I still cannot escape it.

These t-shirts are a kick in the face to every person who believes that men and women are equal beings deserving of equal respect. Anyone that wears one needs to take a long hard look at themselves. And possibly a kick up the arse. And to be forcibly made to watch Laci Green’s video.

This headline  in the Daily Mail sums everything up for me.

George Clooney’s fiancee Amal Alamuddin looks stylish in striking red dress and heels at sexual violence summit 

Someone at the Mail clearly realised at some point that this was perhaps not a wise headline – maybe after the above link had been retweeted 1.5K times – and it has since been changed but the new headline is barely  an improvement.  Amal Alamuddin is an intelligent human rights lawyer, very respected in her field with one hell of a CV – but the most important thing about her, according to the media,  is that she’s pretty, wears nice clothes and is going to marry George Clooney. What sort of message does this send to young women? Is it any wonder, given these sorts of messages, that being a “reality TV star” or “marrying a footballer” are seen as viable career choices for young girls?

It’s the same message as those T-shirts – that women are objects, parts, bodies wearing clothes.  That women are for looking at, first and foremost. Everything else is background data.

This is some bullshit. Everyone should be pissed that this is so normal.





If you’ve been following this blog for a little while you may already have picked up that I am both a cyclist and a feminist. Looking back, I became a cyclist about a year before I became a feminist. My very first really angry street harassment rant that precipitated my discovery that I was a feminist was back in 2007 on my LiveJournal, and was prompted by being  street harassed 5 times in one day while out on my bike.

I discussed in my previous post   how I ended up posting less and less about street harassment and feminism, despite it being a subject about which I was very passionate, simply because I couldn’t deal very well with the sheer numbers of comments along the lines of

“Not ALL men are like this…”

“I’ve never seen anyone do that…”

“I got groped in a club once so women do it too…”

“It was probably a compliment…”

“Maybe you shouldn’t wear low cut tops…”

“My girlfriend says this happens to her a lot but it never happens when she’s out with me…”

Trust me. I have heard ALL of these before. REPEATEDLY. None of them are good arguments. All of them are deeply frustrating; particularly as they are usually said by guys who I generally think of as pretty nice blokes. Good sorts, who are on ‘my side’ when it comes to  thinking women are just as good at life as men and therefore deserve a fair shot at it. But what comments like these do  is, at best, derail the point I’m trying to make by niggling over  semantics or, at worst, completely deny my lived experience. I struggled to argue and debate the points raised and after a while grew so very tired of having the same discussion over and over  AND OVER again.  When you are shaking with anger because for the 5th time in a week a random man has said “smile darling” you are really not in the mood for calmly educating someone for the 30th time why this isn’t ok. So over time I just stopped posting.

This week I posted  link to an interesting article about cyclists cycling in the middle of the road. It prompted a number of comments from acquaintances who drive using my post as a platform to inform me that they hated cyclists because they go through red lights, and ride on the pavements, and hold them up. Several quoted various clauses from the highway code to counter the idea that cyclists might possibly have an equal right to be on the road as them (this argument boiled down to ‘we’re faster so you have to let us pass’). I dealt with this very badly. I got upset, frustrated and had to back right out of the thread before I told them exactly where they could shove their dipsticks.

Being an overthinking sort of person, I had a long ponder (after I’d had a cup of tea and some chocolate and a bit of a stamp around the house saying AND ANOTHER THING but to the cat rather than the people on the internet and therefore calmed down a bit) about why it was I had reacted with such frustration, anger and irritation. I realised that the overall tone had made me feel exactly the same way I felt when I posted about street harassment. The comments were the same ones I always hear when I post about a near miss on my  bike, or when I witness some truly dreadful dangerous driving; cyclists somehow ‘deserve it’ because of the behaviour of ‘those other cyclists”.

“I’ve never run a red light…”

“I always give cyclists room…”

“I saw a cyclist yesterday going through a red light…”

“You were probably in his way…”

“Maybe you should wear a helmet…”

I’d heard them all before, and debated them all before, and countered them all before, and PEOPLE WERE STILL GOING ON ABOUT IT. So I got cross and disengaged.

What interested me, once I’d calmed down and re-read the comments, is that these commenters had inadvertently pushed the anger and frustration back onto the cyclist, in the same way that the negative comments on an article about street harassment  can push back against women’s experiences. The writer feels unheard and frustrated, the commenters feel misunderstood and attacked.

When I am cut up on my bike by a dangerous driver, I don’t assume that all drivers are dangerous. But perhaps when I discuss this I I make drivers feel as though I am attacking them. They react with their frustrations about ‘bloody cyclists’ and that they are not one of  ‘those drivers’  and so I then feel like they are attacking me – after all I am a cyclist – so I take great pains to point out I am not one of  ‘those cyclists’ and thus we end up back in our infinite loop of mutual frustration.

The common enemy here, for us ‘not those cyclists’ and those ‘not those drivers’ is of course ‘those ones’. The bad road users that made the rest of us look bad. I shouldn’t pick fights or have long debates over semantics with a driver who uses the road well and is respectful to cyclists and that driver shouldn’t squabble with me; we actually all agree that bad road users suck. The same rings true for those men making defensive comments on articles about feminism. The ‘enemy’ here is not the woman raising the problems she faces on a daily basis. The ‘enemy’ are ‘those men’ which are giving the majority of men (who would never even consider going ‘smile darling’ or ‘show us your tits’ to a woman on street) a bad name.

Looking back to my last post about cycling I’d made the point (in my typically rather longwinded way) that just SOME road users being shit is not an argument against improving the infrastructure for ALL road users.  We ALL agree that shitty behaviour is shit behaviour. So perhaps instead of having these repetitive and cyclical arguments amongst ourselves we need to recognise the real enemy and join forces against that; be it a poor road infrastructure and road use culture that encourages bad driving and dangerous cycling or be it a patriarchal society that tells men they must be tough and never cry and tells women that ‘oi nice tits’ is a compliment.

If you are a member of  (x majority group) and you find yourself angered by something someone from (x marginalised group) raises, before you respond ask yourself this: Are you really angry/hurt by the words or actions of (x marginalised person) or are you angered by the actions of the (x majority person) that has reflected badly on yourself? If the answer is the latter, consider being an ally, rather than an adversary.

It’s very easy to debate and belittle the experiences of a minority or  marginalised group; and it’s easy to shut down that debate by saying “well I am (x marginalised group) and you are (x majority group) so you wouldn’t understand”. It’s much harder to step outside of those well travelled debates and realise the common interest to become allies, but perhaps it’s the best way to effect real change in an unequal society.

a non-academic feminist

I discovered that I was a feminist on 4th June 2007.

I can pinpoint it with that much accuracy due to my old LiveJournal.  After a particularly bad week of being shouted at in the street or propositioned by strangers I’d made three ranty posts about street harassment in the space of 4 days. In third post, after linking to a no-longer-there site (which later became the Everyday Sexism project) I wrote:

I’ve never been very interested in feminism before, or campaigning for anything really. I’ve got on with what I believe in in my own way[…] Little drops in the ocean. But this has really got me wound up, and the more I dig, the more wound up I get. I can’t tackle this one in a little private way, I’ll probably end either in a ditch having been attacked by a bloke I’ve retaliated to, or in jail, having been arrested for thumping a bloke I’ve retaliated to. […] If I start wearing dungarees, stop washing, and start singing protest songs in parks, someone please kill me. Especially if I start talking about burning my bra.

A number of my friends gently took me to task in the comments:

Trust me dungarees, smelliness and bra burning are not a prerequisite to feminism. Feminism is about realising women are treated differently and less well than men and wanting to do something about it.

One linked me to the Fawcett Society’s “this is what a feminist looks like” campaign .

one commented:

I’ve always thought of you a feminist, even if you’ve never really been interested in it. Your world view seems sufficiently well aligned to mine that I think you have feminist sympathies.

From that point forward I started to think of myself as a feminist. I didn’t take any courses, or start reading any particular writers, but I started paying more attention to what was around me, what I experienced and started challenging  my own perceptions of sex, gender and gender identity. I continued to make ranty posts on my LiveJournal – but as time went on started to find the comments I was getting difficult to deal with. I found it hard to argue back when people disagreed with me. Specifically, when I discussed a feminist issue and men would reply with variations on a theme:

but not all men are like that

but men have problems too

but women are their own worse enemies/women do this too

Eventually I began to shrink from posting anything overtly feminist, or about harassment, patriarchy or objectification simply because I didn’t want to deal with a shitstorm of arguments every time I had an opinion. I didn’t have the language or the skills to argue the points that kept coming up over and over again. Other friends did, and largely did an excellent job of making the arguments for me, and I continued to learn from, and marvel at, the cleverness of my internet friends. It did put me off though, and ultimately I stopped posting anything controversial at all.

In the last few years there have been a number of things that have roused my feminist ire – only now the social media tool of choice is Facebook, not Live Journal. I’ve debated sexism in sport, the questionable feminism of Joss Whedon, gendered insults and swear words (try not using any for a week, it’s HARD.) and most recently That Snickers Advert.

Facebook doesn’t lend itself to debate in quite the same way as LiveJournal.  You can support what someone is saying by just a ‘like’. You don’t have to even construct a coherent sentence to agree. The comments fields encourage shorter responses. TL;DR now extends to a comment longer than about an inch. I also am less afraid of just unfriending someone if they really fuck me off. Perhaps that isn’t the most sensible way to encourage open discourse, but it’s my Facebook and I get to chose who has access to my life. But that has the result that I am discussing with a limited pool of people who already agree with me, and not with anyone able to challenge me when they take issue with me.

I am not coming up with my own ideas or theories – I am finding what other people have said and agreeing with them. I am  posting other people’s content; finding validation in my half-formed thoughts in articles written by ‘proper’ writers and going ‘THIS’ and posting a link.

Outside of Facebook, it’s a different story. When I first started this blog I had wondered if I would go back to posting some of my glorious feminist rants of the livejournal days. It felt like exposure. Write *MY* words about feminism? I can’t. It terrifies me. I don’t understand the language of feminism. I don’t understand the theories. I read an article in the Guardian about ‘fourth wave feminism and realised I didn’t even know what waves one to three were (I do now. I googled.) I  googled ‘intersectionality’  and still didn’t understand it. Sometimes I read articles about Feminism and feel really stupid.

I have had a number of discussions lately with female friends who have said they wanted to share things on Facebook, but felt that they couldn’t, because they didn’t want to have a big argument with people telling them why they are wrong and making them upset – the exact same fears that stopped me posting my thoughts on my LiveJournal. The most eye opening was a discussion with a friend who is a well established  blogger who I very much admire. She said that she shied away from discussing feminism because she feels like it’s a subject where she can’t write with any authority – she feels she has things to say but that her views will be rejected by feminist writers. This rang very close to home for me.

Mr RDP is a feminist. It’s one of the many attractive things about him. He’s also an Academic feminist. He wrote his dissertation on Riot Grrl and Third Wave Feminism.  He understands the terms and the language of Feminism. He’s read bell hooks and probably knows why you spell her name with small letters. He knows how to debate, and how to form and dissect arguments. As an academic, he carefully constructs an argument before discussing it, testing the hypothesis by debate.

I am an non-academic feminist.  My degree was in performance art. I didn’t even have to do dissertation – I created an limited audience participatory site specific piece (I built a maze and had monsters running around in it).  Sometimes I make sweeping half humorous statements like “I blame the Spice Girls.”  I am not prepared when people actually de-construct my argument – it confuses me because I didn’t really have an argument to begin with. With my arts background I start with a small feeling or statement and develop that into an argument through discussion, building a hypothesis by debate.

When I get involved in a discussion about Feminism my whole point of view, and perception, and all my arguments come from my position of being a woman, living in this world, and the experiences I have of it. I can’t argue from a theoretic point of view or say “well, bell hooks said…”because I haven’t read her. It makes me shy away from having discussions about feminism with Mr RDP because I end up feeling like my opinion doesn’t count because I’m an ill-read woman, and then he feels like I’m calling him an oppressive symbol of patriarchy and we both shout and I cry.

To hear my friend, an excellent writer and someone who has so  much to say, voice that she feels shut out of feminist discussion because she doesn’t have the right background made me feel sad. I might have struggled to understand the word ‘intersectionality’ but I understood enough about the concept to see that alienating women from having a voice because they haven’t got an academic background is not exactly in the spirit of third (or fourth?) wave feminism. I can see how it must be frustrating for those who have studied and read feminist writers to have ‘uninformed’ female voices sharing ideas or feelings that have already been covered by writers beforehand; but to say “well, if you’d read X then you’d see that this has already been discussed” is a classic shut-down.

Since my revelation of 4th June 2007 I am  a little older, arguably a little wiser, and a fair bit more Teflon of skin. I’m less afraid of a heated discussion, more confident in my feminism and happier to get stuck in to disagreements. I still consider myself relatively new to feminism. I’m still learning. When you are learning you make mistakes and you learn by them. Perhaps this blog post is a mistake I will learn from, but perhaps it will help me lose my fear of writing my own words about feminism in public.

We’re in an era where young people, male and female (and in between – but the gender binary is a whole other blog post…) are getting interested in and fired up by Feminism in an increasingly sexualised and gender divided youth culture (gendered Lego? REALLY?).  Feminism is no longer in danger of being seen as the discourse of protest song singing bra burning hippies. If anything, it’s in danger of going too much the other way and becoming acedemicised to the point of excluding those who come to feminism by another less formal route.

In order to continue to encourage people to declare themselves a feminist, we need to make sure all voices are able to be heard, and not frighten away or silence those who really feel they have something to say.