What It’s Really Like to Not Get Catcalled

Juda's code014

This is a huge lie: “You’ll miss getting hassled in the street when it stops happening.”

When I was younger (teens, twenties and thirties), I frequently got harassed in the street. It was probably because I walked a lot on my own – I did this because it was, and still is, one of my favourite things to do, a time when my imagination can let loose and fly. Harassment would vary from shouts, to being chased by cars, to being followed on foot; from a friendly chat that would slowly, inevitably become aggressive to being grabbed. It felt relentless and meant that I always kept my head down and tried not to look anyone in the eye. On a couple of occasions when I accidentally looked up and caught the eye of a passing stranger, they turned around and started following me so that I had to hide in shops to avoid them.

I’m not particularly good looking and I’ve never dressed in a sexy manner, I was just a young woman on her own, walking around. And I hated it. Not only because it was scary and dangerous at times, but also because it interrupted my flow of thoughts with something tedious and banal. However, when I complained, what many men and women told me was:

“You’ll miss it when you’re older and it stops. Then you won’t feel attractive any more, you’ll feel invisible.”

And since I’ve noticed this is a common message in our society, I would like to point out,

It’s absolute bollocks. Not being harassed is fucking great.

Firstly, I haven’t become invisible. People, more often men, still make eye contact, but instead of this leading to trouble, it leads to something mellow and friendly – maybe a smile, maybe a hello. It’s lovely, and because I don’t have to worry about it suddenly turning nasty (which almost always used to happen, and never happens now), I can feel safe making that eye contact. I don’t feel invisible, I feel like a normal member of the human race amongst other normal members, instead of feeling like a frightened mouse with a flashing light on my head drawing in trouble.

Secondly, I know we are taught that how you look is incredibly important if you’re a woman, but people ‘being attracted’ to you is a pain in the arse a lot of the time (I put ‘being attracted’ in quotes, because I’m not sure that’s really true, it’s more that you’re present and female). Useful if you want someone to fancy you, sure, but when I’m walking around with my head in a daydream, I don’t want anyone to fancy me. I’m busy.

And finally, I didn’t feel attractive back then. I think having constant comments on my looks made me too aware of them. Even if all you hear are compliments, it makes you aware of your flaws, tense about the prospect of not being attractive, so the result is you feel unhappy with your appearance. Now that strangers are polite and disinterested enough not to interrupt me to tell me how I look, I just don’t think about it that often, I can keep my thoughts to things I actually care about, such as rambling on like this.

Bust magazine image
Image: In the Crimean city of Sevastopol, February 29, 2012. Reuters/Stringer

TLDR: I’m aware that most men don’t harass women, but it is surprising the number of men and women who still think it’s not a big deal, not worth complaining about. When women do speak out (which they’ve been doing a lot recently) others get quite annoyed with them, “It’s only a compliment!” they say. My point is, I don’t think street harassment is just annoying and occasionally harmful, I think it buggers up how all people connect to each other, it makes both men and women angry with each other. Not getting hassled means that women can have calm, friendly connections to others, and it takes some unnecessary tension out of life. Which seems like a definite good thing.

Anyone else feel the same? Anyone think I’m talking nonsense? If so, why? All comments welcome, I love a chat.


Just Brush It Off! (Sexual harassment at work)


Sexual assault in Hollywood has been a hot topic for a while now (Weinstein et al). I’m a bit slow to form an opinion, so I’ve kept quiet, but just when it seems the story has finished, a new victim steps forward and tells of some horror that happened to her (or occasionally him). I think I’ve finally worked out how I see this, so here’s my take.

On the whole, people have reacted to the Weinstein stories with disgust, surprise and anger which is good, although how surprised people have been that this happens has surprised me. Fortunately there are plenty of women speaking out to say that this is not an isolated problem, this is endemic to almost all workplaces, which is definitely my experience. However, I think there is a danger of the discussion getting diluted, with one line of thinking being:

But a lot of these experiences are not a big deal, why does it matter if someone puts his hand on your knee, just brush it off!

I do understand this line of thinking, because most of experiences I’ve had weren’t a big deal at all, and I wasn’t bothered by them.  However, the point is

                                 NONE OF THEM SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED.

No harassment, no matter how small, makes the world a better place, and while most instances might be nothing much, the accumulation of many many instances makes life more difficult than it needs to be, it drives a wedge between people, it wears them down. In a workplace the focus should be on the job, with a degree of professionalism as the norm. And each small instance makes the big, serious instances more likely to happen, because they normalise wrong behaviour.

For me there are two straightforward demands that should come out of this, and apply to all people of any gender and in any job:

  • Professionalism should exist in every workplace, and no sexual intimidation should ever happen. No one should have to fend off unwanted advances. Focus should be on the job, it shouldn’t be sexual at all. (I realise there may be exceptions, after all many people meet their partner at work, but I don’t think it’s extreme to say that actual sexual interaction and banter should be kept outside work, so that people can choose if they are part of it or not.)
  • A level of polite respect should exist between strangers in the street. No one should be demanding attention from strangers without good reason. No one should be shouting any insults, personal remarks or trying to touch a stranger. This also goes for racist or disablist comments too, or just personal comments to a stranger, why is it necessary?

I’d be interested to hear if you have some disagreement with those requests, maybe you think they’re too extreme and controlling. I believe much of how we treat each other (superficially, at least) is down to habit rather than some innate ‘rightness’ or inevitability, and so if the current habits are harmful, we need new ones.

So anyway, when people shout about the smaller incidences that have happened to them, it is not because somebody touching you on the knee is traumatic (usually, anyway), it’s because there needs to be a change to how we treat colleagues and strangers, and that includes the small stuff.

But why do the protestations have to be so shouty and demanding? Why can’t everyone make the point calmly?

This applies to not just this issue, but a few other matters of discrimination affecting small groups. It’s natural to recoil when you hear someone being unpleasant, even about  a legitimate grievance. However, I believe it’s essential to be shouty in order to bring about change. The thing is this:


And altering how people work together and interact, is a massive undertaking. In the past mistreated people have reasonably and calmly expressed that there is a problem in how they are treated, which sometimes lead to others thinking ‘Oh yes, that seems unfair’. However, because people don’t like change, just thinking this didn’t alter their behaviour at all. Everything stayed the same.

It seems the only way to get people to change is by making ‘staying the same’ more distressing than making a change. An effective (if highly irritating) way of doing this is by being loud, obnoxious, demanding and unrelenting. This is what I believe we are seeing at the moment, and it seems to be working. When change happens, which certainly seems more likely now than ever before, then all the demanding can stop.

However, my opinion is always a work in progress, if you spot any flaws in my thinking, or have anything to add, please comment below, I look forward to hearing your take on this…




Gone Girl – A Tale of Abuse


There’s been plenty written about Gone Girl, about whether it is feminist, anti-feminist, post-modern and so on, but I’ve not seen anyone talking about how it seemed to me – a story of domestic psychological abuse. The victim in the story is worn down, isolated and humiliated while the abuser is manipulative, controlling and demanding. However, this is not seen as a story of domestic violence because the victim is a man.

For anyone who hasn’t read it, the tale is of a woman who marries her ‘perfect’ man and then tries to change him. When he doesn’t change in the way that she wants, she slowly destroys him; then disappears and frames him for her murder. The book is about him trying to prove his innocence.

At first when they get together, Amy pretends to be someone she’s not  (the ‘cool girl’) and when her real personality comes out – uptight, bitchy, controlling – he doesn’t like it and she takes this as a rejection and betrayal, for which he must be punished. From Amy’s point of view, she is the wronged party (which is common with abusers), she doesn’t accept that she started the relationship with a lie. Everything he does is taken as a slight. She sets him tests that he can only fail, and then instead of discussing it with him, she acts hurt; putting the blame for a situation she created, onto him. He learns to be constantly wary of letting her down, but her moods are so unpredictable, he can’t avoid getting things wrong. She isolates him from the people he loves, she belittles him until he starts to doubt himself. She slowly and deliberately breaks him, so that he becomes emotionally numb and dependent on her as the only one who can make him feel. If the genders were reversed, there would be no doubt that this was a well-written tale of abuse.

What set me thinking about this again was seeing a friend a few days ago. This friend has been in an abusive relationship now for over a decade. His wife is like Amy, in that she has a need to be perfect and believes that she is and he is not, so he must change. She insults him in front of his friends, shoves and pokes him, and blackmails him (if you leave me you’ll never see the kids again). Some of his friends think she’s a bitch, but no one acknowledges that this is abuse. Crucially, he doesn’t recognise this as abuse, and is now so worn down believing himself to be deserving of her scorn, that he can’t walk away.*

I think we are reaching a point where it is acknowledged that domestic violence can include women being violent towards men, but psychological abuse towards men is never labelled as such,and is even made a joke of. If a relationship is manipulative and isolating, and involves the slow destruction of one person’s psyche, then it is abuse.

More disturbingly, women are often encouraged in society to change the man they love. Instead of pursuing their own ambitions, they are expected to live out their dreams through their male partner. I’d have hoped this would have changed now that women have careers and passions outside the home, but it still seems to be a normal part of society. Of course, we all want to change small things about the ones we love when flaws affect us: persuading your partner to be a little more careful with money or a bit tidier; but these should always be minor details in a relationship built on genuine love and respect for who the other person is. And it’s a two-way street, a discussion, not a demand. If you genuinely don’t think someone is good enough for you, if you don’t respect their hopes for the future, then don’t marry them. Trying to ‘change your man’ to fit your own ideal is abusive.

My friend’s wife recently said to him,

“You were always intended as a project. I married you because I thought I could make you into something great. You’ve failed me.” To her, this is completely reasonable. Sadly, he now sees it the same.

Until we recognise that women can be perpetrators of abuse and that that abuse does not have to include violence, there will be no chance of stopping it. If we want equality then we must recognise that men can be vulnerable and that a relationship is about mutual respect and acceptance of each other’s failings, as well as a celebration of our differences. I think Gone Girl highlighted this brilliantly, it seems a shame that no one picked up on it.

*I feel I need to explain, my friend is not a submissive or weak man, he has always been funny, confident and tough. To look at him you would never think him a victim. I’ve found this is often the case with abused women also, it seems that if you and everyone else believe you can’t be a victim, then you are more likely to become one. Perhaps because your abuser’s interpretation that they are the victim fits better with your belief that you are strong.