2012/07/12 by admin
A couple of weeks ago I was sat in my front room with a friend. She’d come down by Megabus, and as everyone who travels by Megabus does, she began to recount the details of her epic trek down the M4 over a glass of wine.
In between the usual tales of boredom, loud children and terrible colour schemes, she told me that the man sat behind her had tried to touch her through the back of the seat. She laughed as she said it, and then moved on to another story.
Now, I don’t know about you. But if it had been me sat on a coach journey with a stranger trying to feel me up on a coach journey I’d have screamed the place down. And when I told my friends about it later it wouldn’t have been an odd little aside, but a cue for outrage.
My friend’s not a particularly quiet person, but didn’t see any need to make a huge fuss about this, either at the time or later. Why not?
Then it occurred to me I was thinking about it the wrong way. Why would I make a fuss? Because it’s unusual and very unpleasant. But would I have if this sort of experience was part of my daily life?
I don’t mean, obviously, that every day every woman is sexually harassed. And certainly it’s not all as invasive as my friend’s experience. But it’s quite a shock, as a guy, to realise how pervasive this sort of thing is.
The first time I became at all aware of this was in a club in my first year of university, when someone showing more torso than is ever really necessary started to grope my clearly uninterested flatmate. I quickly stepped in to play emergency boyfriend (amazingly he backed off; I’m 5’5” and 8st), but it shocked me.
Before that, I’d gone along blithely assuming that these stories, as unpleasant as they were, were pretty isolated. They certainly weren’t the sort of thing that would happen to one of my friends. Afterwards, though, I started to notice it more and more: wolf-whistles in the street; leering young men in a bar; or creepy guys with half-open shirts groping in clubs.
It’s quite a shock to have your blinkers so suddenly dropped and realise how routine this sort of low-level harassment – or the possibility of it – is for women. It’s easy to assume that because you don’t hear about it a lot, and don’t experience it yourself, it’s not an issue. But if the reason is that it’s just not remarkable for a lot of people, then it’s even more important to call this sort of behaviour out and to try not to let the out of sight be out of mind.
This is, I suppose, a variation on that old call to check your privilege. Men and feminism’s a tricky subject, but to me it doesn’t just mean not being an entitled berk yourself; it has to include understanding as best you can the experiences other people have, even if they’re experiences you’ll never have yourself. As a guy, I’ll probably never have a stranger trying to touch me on a bus. But what I can do is to remember that this doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen – and when it does happen, not let it go unchallenged.