Last month, Ros and I took the train down to London. The train from Leuchars to Edinburgh was rather busy and we couldn’t find seats together. I found two empty seats near each other and as we walked down the aisle to get to them, a man in his late thirties or forties patted the empty seat next to him and made a suggestive comment. We ignored him and kept walking.
On the very next train, changing in Edinburgh, we took our booked seats at a table in the quiet coach. The coach was practically empty. Even so, a group of men with packs of beer piled into the seats opposite us and at our table. Before they were even finished sitting down, Ros and I exchanged looks and went to another carriage. ‘We hadn’t even said anything yet!’ one of the men exclaimed. They didn’t need to.
In Croatia, just a week later, Joanna and I had dinner at a pub recommended to us by our hostel receptionist. A group of men, already inebriated, sat at the table by the bathrooms and grabbed at me when I went by them. One even followed Joanna into the bathroom. I told the bartender and we left.
One of the university’s maintenance workers knows my name from the one time he came in while I was on duty in the museum. Since then he has pulled his car up to me while I’ve been walking down the road, crossed the street to talk to me (both of these a few times), and most recently found my work email address. Every encounter has left me feeling objectified and uncomfortable. And yet he hasn’t actually done anything ‘wrong’ that I would be able to point out to anyone.
But it makes me angry. Why should I have to feel vulnerable and uncomfortable simply on account of my sex? The mere fact that I am a woman does not give anyone, anyone, license to objectify me or make suggestive comments. I am not public property. I am not here for you to look at. I have a brain, a mind, a personality. I am a person as well as a woman.
But what is the appropriate way to respond? Stand up for yourself? They’ll laugh or make it worse. Cuss them out? That won’t help either. Ignore them and walk away? It removes you from the situation, but it doesn’t stop them from doing it again to someone else. The sense of futility that comes from being in these situations also makes me angry. Not only am I being belittled, objectified, dehumanized, but I can’t even stand up for myself. But I am getting increasingly fed up with the ‘ignoring’ tactic. Especially when it doesn’t seem to be working.
Now to write a carefully worded email that says in no uncertain terms to ‘Leave. me. alone.‘