I didn’t have a good evening. I didn’t have a good day.
I left work this evening tired and slow. It was a long day. A typical Monday, you may say. It wasn’t bad but it dragged and I struggled to keep my eyes open. It was dark because the weather was bad and the sterile lights of dozens of computer screens puts a real strain on your eyes after eight and a half hours.
I left work this evening cheerful. I walked out with my friend. We laughed, spoke about our plans for the evening and laughed some more. He went one way to his car. I went the other. I live close to work. It’s a twenty minute journey at most and, after sitting down all day, I crave that walk home where I get the chance to stretch my legs and my back and breathe a bit of fresh air.
Today was different.
I said goodbye to my friend and I crossed the road and turned right onto a main road. There were a lot of cars at standstill, waiting for a gap in the roundabout traffic ahead so they could, like me, go home and relax for the evening. I walked past a silver car with its windows down and, inside it, I heard men talking. I didn’t listen to their conversation. My mother raised me well. It isn’t polite to eavesdrop. Besides, I presumed they were talking to each other and not to me. After all, I didn’t know them from Adam.
I continued walking, mindlessly thinking about putting on my pyjamas, crawling into bed and watching EastEnders. Maybe I’d play a couple of games of Sudoku if I was really looking to treat myself.
I was about two cars in front of the silver car when I heard his voice, calling me. He sounded polite. I thought that maybe I had dropped something and he was getting my attention so I’d notice. I turned around and the man beckoned me with his finger. Alarm bells rang. I looked at him with “Are you serious?” eyes, said “Er no,” turned around and continued to walk, getting to the roundabout that had everybody at a standstill.
It always takes me a while to cross that road but I prayed that today would be an exception. Behind me, the silver car honked its horn and its passenger continued calling me, yelling unintelligble phrases along with “Excuse me, come back.”
Occassionally, I heard “bum.”
Did I have something on my trousers?
I didn’t want to chance it so I looked the other way and hoped a gap in the traffic would present itself quickly. There was a brief one so I legged it. This was unlike me but I wanted to get away. I didn’t know what they were saying and past experience and stories from many of my female friends told me that I shouldn’t wait to find out.
I stepped out into the road and the car honked its horn again. They were driving past me. This time, I couldn’t escape them. I was looking that way to ensure I wasn’t about to be run over so how could I ignore them?
The passenger leant out the window and the things he said he wanted to do to me were disgusting.
As quickly as it happened, it was over and I was stood on the island in the middle of the road, stunned.
I had rolled my eyes at him to pretend I didn’t care but the moment that car had disappeared, my eyes pricked with the threat of tears and I felt the burn of my cheeks turning red.
In front of dozens of cars and people, in the middle of the Hertfordshire rush hour, two young men felt that they had the right to degrade and objectify me.
Who gave them this right?
I felt dirty. I felt ashamed. I began to question myself.
How was I walking? Was I asking for their comments with the way I dressed? Were my bootcut tailored trousers and long white shirt too sultry? What about my denim jacket that hid the outline of the camisole I wear underneath it? Was my tired, “I can’t wait to crawl into bed” walk mesmerising for them? Did they see everything they wanted in my dull, unbrushed hair and make up-less face?
Why was it okay for them to yell at me the grotesque acts they wanted to undertake with my body?
Why was it acceptable to make a twenty-one-year-old woman cry in the road?
What’s funny, and yet not, is that I thought of things I could say back to them. I thought of things I could yell at them but I didn’t. I didn’t because that voice in my head told me that the people around me in the surrounding cars would be disgusted by those unladylike words. They would think poorly of me because of the choice phrases I so wanted to throw at those boys. But nobody stepped in and stopped them. None of the people walking by. Nobody else with their windows open, watching these actions take place from their own safe havens, inside their cars.
I don’t blame them. I wonder if I would help if I saw another girl in my situation. Would I be too scared that they would do the same to me? Probably.
I wouldn’t usually cry. Unsurprisingly (or maybe surprisingly for some of you), this isn’t the first time this has happened to me.
From the little things, like the men making comments as I bought bananas in ASDA in May, to the bigger, like the man who tried to grab me in a subway while I walked my dog when I was fifteen. The man who, by the way, tried to grab several girls around that time, all of whom gave statements and all of whom (including me) have to see him when they go to the shops for a pint of milk or wait at the bus stop because he was never charged.
To the friend who used my anxieties over that incident to coax me into his house, make me feel comfortable and then used my trust against me to try and make me perform unthinkable acts on him or the guy who kissed me at university and when I wouldn’t go home with him, spread rumours about me to our friends.
From the men who shout at me and my friends in the street, asking us to take off our clothes, to the boys on nights out who feel that they have the right to grope us in a dark room and that we won’t mind.
I cried tonight because it had all built up.
From the man last week who told me I needed breakdown cover purely because “you will break down because you’re a little girl” to those slimeballs who beeped and shouted at me along a main road in pure daylight in front of dozens of people today.
I have had enough of the misogyny that is still so evidently in effect in today’s society. I am so privileged to live in England where, as a woman, I am mostly equal. The occassional situation that scares me or upsets me brings my opinions on my country down so much. England is great. England is wonderful. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else (except maybe Lapland) but why do a small percentage of men find it acceptable to make women like me feel dirty, ashamed, embarrassed, anxious, scared, upset, disgusted and self-conscious?
My mum, as her job, helps and hears stories from people of all genders, ages, races and backgrounds who have been a part of horrendous and horrifying acts, acts I could never imagine. Why is this still happening?
I am sad today. I want this over now. It’s 2016. Give us our freedom. Give us our safety.
Post-word: I am well aware that, compared to many, I have it easy. I am also well aware that this happens to men too. This post is purely my way of letting my feelings about today and the past few weeks (where this happened quite a few times) off of my chest. Love and blessings to all of you xo