Thursday, 30 June 2016
As a woman, I often get comments when I'm out and about - this isn't boasting by any means, this is just a simple fact of what happens when you are a woman walking about minding your own business. I don't like it, but I can just roll my eyes and carry on with my day (or tell them to bugger off if it's persistent).
However, one recent Friday night, on a deserted street at about 11pm, a man put his hands on me.
I was walking home, I was maybe 100 yards from my Mum's front door. It had been a long day and I was tired and ready to go to bed to be up early the next morning.
Despite my tiredness, when I noticed the group of three approaching I veered to one side - I thought they were all men and my natural inclination was to move aside and be as unnoticeable as possible. This in itself is pretty offensive to me - that I live in a world where my first instinct late at night is to make myself invisible to ensure my safety.
I didn't think about that until afterwards, I just did it.
As they got closer, I realised one of them was a woman and relaxed.
Then one of the guys smiled at me. Now, I like to think that I'm friendly enough that if someone is just saying hi then I'm not going to just ignore them. At first, I thought this guy had had a good night out with his mates and was just going to wish me a good evening too.
(There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, I wish it happened more often and that we weren't always so unwilling to smile at strangers, boxed in as we are by the phones in our hands. But I digress.)
He did not wish me good evening, he asked my name and I replied "Just heading home now, have a good night."
He peeled away from his friends, who did not seem to notice and came towards me, asking my name again. I lied and said my name was Jane. Again, my instinct on a deserted street was not to tell him it was none of his business, that he was making me uncomfortable and that I wanted him to leave me alone. My instinct was to pacify, to not rile him up, to get away as soon as possible.
I reached a hand out to gently move him out of my way. In return he took my arms.
He didn't grab, he didn't squeeze or hurt me. But he took me by both forearms firmly enough that I was forced to stop walking away. I was 100 yards from my house, but there was no one on that road and I didn't trust his friends help me.
"I had a letter today," he said. "And it said that I had to stop any beautiful girl I saw, ask her her name and ask her for a kiss."
He didn't ask, just started to lean in. At which point I jerked my arms out of his grip and stepped back and said the thing that usually - shamefully - always seems to put a lid on these things: "Not from me, I have a boyfriend."
I walked away as his friends cackled - apparently they had noticed. I was determined not to run.
The stupid thing is that I don't think he meant to scare me. But what infuriated me then and now is that he thought it was ok to put his hands on me and demand something of me, that it was only the idea that I already 'belonged' to someone else that stopped him.
What? You aren't going to tread on another man's toes, but you're not even going to consider mine?
I'm sharing this story because I know, if you're a woman reading this, you're nodding your head, it's familiar to you because something similar has happened to you. And if you're a man, I want you to know - this is not ok.
I met my boyfriend because he came to say hello at a bar. I'm not saying you can't speak to a woman. I'm saying - be respectful, be interested in more than what you can get out of her sooner rather than later.
And finally, unless you're saving me from tumbling under a bus, never in any other circumstances, lay your hands on me or any other woman without our consent.