Sunday, 2 April 2017

On being a woman, on her own, at night

I’ve had a really bad run on street harassment lately. 

Really bad.

There was the drunk man in Bedminster Asda. Then, a couple of weeks ago, a guy started following me at Gaol Ferry Bridge. Not only was this startlingly reminiscent of when I was chased through King’s Cross Station, it was the moment of panic that if I got caught at the pedestrian crossing he would catch up with me. Luckily there was no traffic, I got across, took a longer, better-lit route home, and then moaned about it on Twitter.

Yesterday on the train home from London I sat next to a drunk man. He was really pissed but he was friendly enough. When I asked him to move to let me off at my stop, he clamped his hand on my thigh to haul himself to standing. It was drunken rather than malicious but let’s be honest, he wouldn’t have used me as a prop if I were a bloke. 

Then on the way home from the station a group of very drunk teenagers confronted me as I walked down East St, the lad yelling ‘woah look at her’ etc and then hit me in the face. (note: he didn’t slap or punch me, this was no black eye or bloody nose incident - he hit his hand against my glasses in a drunken weird swing. He hit me in the face but not hard.)

I flipped out, of course I did. Swore at them and asked them what the fuck they were doing. As always happens, they just laughed at me and mimicked my stupid high voice and then yelled at me to fuck off. The rest of the walk home I just tried not to cry because I didn’t want to look vulnerable. When I got home I poured a large glass of wine and moaned about it on Twitter

I’ve been trying to work out why it’s been so bad recently. I can’t blame Brexit and Trump for everything. And then last night it hit me. It’s since I started living on my own. 

When I lived with my ex boyfriend, about 2/3 - 3/4 of the times I was out at night, I was walking with him. Men don’t harass you when other men are around. Once a group of lads started harassing me, realised I was with my then boyfriend, and apologised to *him*. They didn’t want to encroach on his property after all! The fact that men don’t harass women in front of other men is one of the issues we have in being believed…

Now when I am out on the streets at night I am on my own. There’s no man to shield me. So of course I am noticing that I am getting harassed a lot more. 

I’m so fed up.

Because what can I do? I can’t afford to get taxis everywhere. I simply can’t. Buses in Bristol are stupidly expensive too, and not very reliable. Walking is my best mode of getting around. I don’t want to have to spend money that I don’t have because as a woman on my own in the city I am a target for harassment and violence. 

Also, I *like* walking. It’s my main form of exercise. I love walking through the city in the day and night - I want to be able to walk home after sitting on a train for two hours or in the office for eight. I want to walk home from the pub instead of having to negotiate taxi drivers or bus timetables, searching for pound coins, getting annoyed by drunk passengers. I shouldn’t be denied the freedom to walk around. And I certainly shouldn't have to spend money because of men’s violent behaviour towards women. Men don’t have to spend this money. Men don’t have to take themselves off the streets. 

I just feel so beaten down by it. I’m so exhausted by it. I was fourteen years old the first time men harassed me on the street. I’m 32 now. That’s 18 years. 18 years of being yelled at and groped and now hit. 

It shakes you up, too. 

Take this morning. I’m writing this having come home from the supermarket. On the way back, a man bowled out a pub doorway straight into me, gave me a filthy look, so I apologised to him. And then I started crying. Not because I’m weak or a wuss. But because I am knackered. I am exhausted of having to negotiate space all the time - of having to move out the way, of having to make myself small, of having to apologise for taking up public space, of having to endlessly consider the best way home, the safest route, of having to endlessly think about what I’m wearing and what I’m doing and who is looking. 

I can’t afford to taxi and bus everywhere. I don’t want to. I shouldn’t have to give up walking. 

A couple of years ago I went to an event where Iain Sinclair and Matthew Beaumont talked about walking in the city at night. 

Sinclair in particular talked about the freedom of night-walking, the anonymity it gives you, the fact that when you walk at night you move unseen, an observer. The ultimate flaneur. 

Thinking about that talk makes me want to cry again.

Imagine having that freedom. Imagine how it must feel to walk around feeling anonymous and confident and watching everyone else. 

Imagine having that privilege. 

Imagine having that unquestioned right. 

I can’t. 

I’m so tired of it. 

Update: On advice from a few friends, I decided to report this to the police. Not that I expect them to do anything, but because at least then it is noted that this sort of thing happens to women, and is recognised as not acceptable. I never report anything but actually in this case he did hit my face, and the things that happen to women should be noted down somewhere, surely? So yes, feels a bit odd to have done so but it can't harm. 

Another update: the police emailed me to say the report 'will be filed pending any positive line of enquiry coming to light.' 

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