I am a woman. A 25 year-old, single woman.
I have been smiled at, cat called, wolf-whistled to, shouted at, dated, flirted with, loved and broken-up-with.
I have experienced what I believe to be a fair amount of the male behaviour in it’s many forms, and like a lot of girls in their mid-twenties, it’s something I have grown to deal with.
However, over the positively grotesque excuse of a New Year weekend, I have found myself intimidated by not one, but two men.
Both of whom, I know.
Now, while I don’t acknowledge myself as a feminist, I have always embodied certain traits of one. That said, I tend to avoid using the word feminist as it sounds like a convenient label for the self-sufficient, able-bodied woman who knows her rights.
I am not a feminist per se. I am an independent, self-sufficient, able-bodied woman with my own opinions, my own views, my own mind and my own voice. Gone are the days of being dependent on the approval of a man, the protection of a male presence and the need of love.
I am far more mature in my needs nowadays.
Now, I desire something every woman on this planet should desire.
Respect from both sexes. Regardless of age, religion or culture.
One incident occurred while I was in town two days ago. I cannot go in to too much detail for professional reasons, but the events that took place however mild-sounding, genuinely shook me up.
Cutting along a very few stories short, I found myself walking past a side road that the individual and his mate were emerging from together. I walk on in front and remain very aware that the two are walking a distance behind me. After a few seconds, I hear the one I know shout to his mate about my “sexy bum”, and he proceeded to call after me to get a response.
Shocked and infuriated by what had just happened, without too much overthinking I turned on my heel too look at him and said the following; “Please do not approach me in public and make comments like that”.
Good, I stood up for myself, walked the other way and despite shaking like a leaf, I didn’t look back.
What I did do however, is hide in a courtyard alleyway for 20 minutes until I thought the coast was clear. Feeling rather pinned to the spot and feeling like an English spy in 1930’s Germany, I slowly walked back in to the main part of town concealing myself behind a line of huge stone pillars outside a theatre as I scurried between each pillar, stopping at each one, peering round it then moving to the next one. Granted, I was getting a few odd looks of ‘is this woman filming a new BBC spy thriller and making a serious hash out of it, or is she just off her flaming rocker?’.
I flew into a well known high street store to get me a long cardigan; a) to cover up my “sexy bum” and b) to conceal my outfit so I was a little more difficult to identify again, should he and his mate have reappeared. Aha, my days watching spy films weren’t a waste!
I then made my way to Starbucks, after stopping off at a crystal shop to try and find a crystal for protection, but to no avail.
Starbucks was packed and the only seats available were some stools next to the ovens and bins (which seemed vaguely fitting) and after collecting my tall classic hot chocolate, no cream from ‘Kevin’, I lurched up on to the bar stool spilling a bit of the drink in the process.
It was upon this stool that for the following 30 minutes I gathered stock, tried to calm myself and questioned my inner me as to why I had been so affected by what had happened. I mean, it could have been a lot worse…
A scene from Sherlock came to mind, as I sat in Starbucks, shaking, overly aware of my surroundings and feeling very jumpy. If you’re a Sherlock fan, cast your mind back to Series 2 Episode 2, “The Hounds of Bakserville” when Sherlock had just seen the ‘hound’ in the woods and had been so terrified by his reaction to it more than seeing it and allowing his vulnerable side to be on show and ready for analyzing.
That was me. More scared by my own response than by what had happened. Now, and this is something I’ve tried to get across to the different women I’ve told about this, if it had been a random guy I didn’t know and who I did not have a professional connection to, guaranteed I’d have shrugged it off, not responded and carried on about my day. It’s happened before.
But no. I knew him and he crossed a serious line. And in that split second between his comment and my processing of it, I chose to respond. React. And I asked myself “should I have reacted?”. My saving graces however are the fact it was in public and I responded without shouting or using any offensive words, so I have that to my advantage.
For the rest of the day I felt vulnerable and quite affected by this incident. Far more so than if it had just been a random guy. Far more.
That was New Years Eve. I couldn’t celebrate as I’d been so worn out by the stress of what had happened, I’d gone to bed early with a microwave meal and a tension headache.
The next day, New Years Day, I woke up, head ache gone and I was ready to face the outside world again.
Cue the next disaster…
I visit my grandparents every Sunday and have done for the last 25 years. They only live round the corner from me so travelling time is on the lower end on 5 minutes. However, they live 2 houses away from a man who takes an unhealthy amount of interest in my personal life and more often than not, I bump in to him on my way down to see my grandparents.
A couple of months ago, he bumped in to me on my way to the bus stop. I was in a rush as I was going to the bank and he asked me why I was going there. If that isn’t intrusive enough, he delays me further by trying to speedily force out of me what I’m doing at the bank and in a bid to get rid of home I say it’s something important and top secret, as most people’s banking affairs are. Oh no, this fed the fire and for the next 2 minutes tried to get it out of me. Luckily my bus pulled up and I was able to flee, but ever since then, I’ve dreaded bumping into him in fear of interrogation round number two.
Well, guess what happened yesterday…
Merrily walking down to my grandparents, I’m about 20 paces away from my grannies drive when I see him emerge from his and make a b-line to me.
My heart sank and I braced myself for the onslaught on hell.
Turns out I didn’t brace myself hard enough.
In a way I’m pretty sure Marine’s are taught how to confuse and disorientate a target, he came right up close to my face, having complete disregard for my personal space, moved from side to side like he had some sort of infectious disease in a bid to stop me walking past him, and proceeded to ask me in a disturbingly manic way, how I’d gotten on at the bank. All with a rye little grin on his face.
Not wanting to blurt out “oh I got a loan of a lot of money so I can buy a motorhome to live in”, as this would encourage yet more harassment, I dodged around the subject once again telling him it was nothing big and was a secret. Any normal human being would surely accept this and leave the matter alone. But no, he goaded and goaded and goaded until my Granny appeared up the drive and waved to me calling me in for coffee. “My saviour” I thought, “sent from above”. I called back “hello Granny” and told the man I had to go. Moving round me a few foot steps more, he then mocked me and said in the most patronising way possible, ‘hello granny?’.
I couldn’t believe this man could be so offensive.
I started to walk in the direction of safety (my grandparent’s drive) and he made some ridiculous comment about always seeing them and I made some other sarcastic comment back and ran up the drive as quickly as I could.
Now, for me, this goes way beyond busybody neighbour syndrome and I’m now admitting to myself, after years of hassle from him, that it’s gotten as far as harassing, unwanted attention and almost obsession over my personal life, my finances, my job, life choices and who I chose to see every weekend. Not to mention the obstruction of my path just so he can pry out of me all my worldly secrets.
My grandmother made a very valid point yesterday, while dolloping large spoonfuls of sherry trifle in to a dish in a bid to calm me down, that while I’m this feisty, no nonsense woman on the outside, when it comes down a personal attack, I’m a vulnerable little girl who needs to essentially grow a pair (my words on that last bit, not hers).
I fully agreed, while shoveling in said sherry trifle at alarming speed. I big myself to be strong and confident, but when I am being intimidated, I have the self assertion of a slug in beer.
I once stopped a fight between two men in a train station, single-handedly while my ex-boyfriend and others just stood and watched. I didn’t shake, I didn’t stutter. I knew what I needed to say and do and it worked. Instantly. But when I’m on the receiving end, when it’s me being attacked, either verbally, personally or emotionally, I falter.
And that, my dear reader, is what I am going to change this year. Whether I take self development courses, karate lessons or skype Jackie Chan for one to one advice on self defense, by the end of this year I will know how to handle situations I feel personally threatened by and learn how to talk myself out of questions I believe I don’t have to answer.
If anyone has any recommendations on books, courses or similar teachings, I’d be very grateful to receive them.
Now, I’m approaching the 2000 word count, so I’d better rat pack this thing up.
I am a self-sufficient, able-bodied woman who knows her rights. But I am also a woman who still worries about sticking up for herself to people who are either troublesome down-and-outs or who are much older. And my point is that if you feel threatened and intimidated unreasonably by anyone, no matter your age, religion or culture, you have the right to speak out and stand up for yourself.
This is not mid-century Britain.
Do not continue to be afraid of men who think they have a higher social standing than you or have the upper hand. They don’t and they’re ridiculous.
Don’t wait to be rescued. Have your own voice and use it. Have your own will and use it.
There you have it, I may sound silly and naive, but I’ve learnt a valuable lesson and identified the next step I need to take for self-development and growth to be an even stronger, more self-sufficient and able-bodied woman.
Awareness, acceptance, and action. The key to becoming a stronger woman.