The Vagenda

My Sexual Harassment Diary

Ruth Orkin, 1951
Whenever I write about “stuff that’s bad for ladies” I usually get responses from ladies, saying “yes, that happens to me too and it does suck! What can we do about it!” I also get responses from gentlemen saying “it happens to us too, why aren’t you writing about that?” “Not all men are like that, stop tarring us with the same brush!” and sometimes “Shut up, you misandric wench!”
Gentlemen seem to get particularly aerated about sexual harassment and street harassment. They are disbelieving when I explain how often I experience it, or they’re quick to point out that they’re at risk of getting attacked when in a bar or club.
I get harassed on the street a lot. On average, three to five times on every journey I make from my flat to the tube station or vice versa. I make at least 10 such journeys a week, so I’m usually getting harassed at least 30 times.
Some women get much, much more than this. Some women experience hardly anything at all. And as far as I can tell, it has fuck all to do with how attractive you are, your body shape, what you’re wearing or the way you hold yourself. It usually happens to me when I’m alone, and I walk fast. These are the only common factors I can see.
It makes me feel angry, confused, upset, guilty and scared. Sometimes it makes me laugh. And very, very occasionally it makes me feel sexy and happy. Then guilty.
I don’t think all men are horrible, sexist morons who want to objectify women and make them feel afraid. I think it’s a difficult and confusing time to be a man, as we’re enveloped by a media that is sex obsessed and yet not sex positive. I keep an eye on the Graun and the Mail and this is how my newsfeed looks most days: “DON’T BE A HORRIBLE SEXIST! That’s nasty! Look, Kelly Brook! Sexy bikini pictures! Knockers! Saucy! Look at those girls in short skirts! Sluts. Why aren’t there more older women on TV? Who is celebrating their curves? Who is flaunting them? Skinny women are unnatural! Eat the burger! Don’t eat the burger! VAGINA!”
Now everyone is confused. And I think this must have something to do with the number of strange men who regularly imply that they would like to penetrate me. I doubt most of them actually want to bone any of the ladies they holler at. It would be exhausting. But having strangers suggest that you are no more than the sum of your orifices is pretty exhausting too.
I was thinking about the hollers and harassment that have stuck in my mind, and that if I recorded the memorable ones, there might be some scientific way of analysing the data and joining the dots.
1.) Age 12 (first sexual harassment – awwww!) In jeans and weird embroidered t shirt, on a family holiday in France. Was with parents and younger sisters. Waiter pinched my bottom on the way out. Nearly vommed. Panicked. Liaised with closest sister on what to do. Consensus: “Don’t tell Dad.”
2.) On the way to Slutwalk in scuffed ballet pumps, knee length dress, biker jacket and 100 denier tights. Older man looked me up and down and said “Oooh, you’re gorgeous, you are. I would.” He was with two other men, I was with two other ladies. Felt angry and annoyed. 
3.)Coming back from Blondie gig at Kenwood house last year, waiting for bus. Was with a friend. Wearing a summer dress with a bikini top underneath. Three men in their twenties holding a picnic hamper kept looking over at me, saying “tits” and sniggering. 
4.) Royal wedding day, off my face on mushrooms coming down escalator at Brixton station. In maxidress and straw hat. Man on opposite escalator going up shouted “look at those tits! SEXY! I’M TALKING TO YOU! BLONDIE! DON’T IGNORE ME!” I burst into tears and said “GIRLS DON’T LIKE IT WHEN YOU DO THAT! IT SCARES THEM!” (Also mistook some motorbike covers for ghosts on the way home and cried again, which is not relevant but interesting.)
5.) Last night, walking from Clapham South tube station, in knee length flowery dress, cardie, specs, scraped back hair. A guy in his car slowed down, wound down the window and said “hey baby, you getting in?” Was shaken up, felt tense and scared. Walked very fast. Also a man across the street might have been making sexy noises at me, but they might have just been noises. 
6.) Day before yesterday, man at pavement cafe said “hey beautiful, may I join you?” as I walked past. Was in black maxi dress and flip flops. Felt amused – I think he meant to ask me to join him.
7.) About six months ago, buttoned blue winter coat, two scarves, glasses fogged up with rain. Man at Superdrug till said “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you’re the most beautiful girl I have seen all day.” Felt touched and madly happy. Then I felt like a horrid dirty sisterhood betrayer. Concluded that he thought I looked like a melted woodland creature and needed a confidence boost.
8.) Pretty much every time I go to Brick Lane, various guys outside curry houses say “beautiful lady, come for a curry!” or variations on that theme. I usually smile for a second, get cross with myself for being taken in by the marketing ploy and then piss myself laughing imagining bad, farty bloated curry sex with the strange men.
9.) The week I spent in Paris in 2007 when I couldn’t pick my nose without someone asking if I’d suck their dick. The guys who followed me and my friend in their car for five streets. (We called the police. They laughed.) The club we went to for about eight minutes where I had to explain to three different men why it wasn’t OK to put their hand up my skirt before we left. The man who followed with a semi, which was educational for me because it was the first time I had heard the expression “semi”. I wore the same pair of yellow patent leather peep toe shoes all week, and I think I must have trodden in something that provokes testosterone. Felt usually annoyed, sometimes scared, occasionally amused.
10.) Last spring, heatwave, had been sunbathing in garden. Chucked dress over bikini to pick up dry cleaning, stopped for a Mars bar. Well spoken man in suit was in front of me in queue. He turned around and said “you know, I’d love to come on your tits” using the same tone as someone in the Question Time audience saying “I don’t think there should be a congestion charge in Market Harborough.” I replied “ummmm…Har!” Avoided his eyes. Stayed in the queue and avoided his eyes because I wanted my Mars Bar. Felt amused and grossed out. Had a shower when I got back to my house.
I’m a fairly proactive lady – so what can I do to stop this? Dress differently? Never go out alone after dark? Get a massive t-shirt printed up that says “THERE’S NO PUSSY HERE. BETWEEN MY LEGS I’M JUST LIKE A KEN DOLL”? I’m not feeling any of those things. Until the pay gap is closed and people start paying writers in cash, not LOLs, I have no money for evening taxis or an armed guard. And being allowed to choose my own clothes is one of my adult human rights. If I want to go out in a light up thong, Einstein wig or Power Ranger costume, I should be able to do so without getting murdered, yes? Or raped. Or made to feel like I might be. And I think the above proves that a harasser will not be put off by unflattering t shirts, smeary specs or other non-sexy accessories. The Awesome Women Of Twitter had some great comebacks here, and is a successful movement dedicated to ending harassment – but I think there should be some official legislation.
Perhaps on the spot £200 fines for making people feel uncomfortable with unwanted sexual attention? Or banning them from dating, spending time with their partners or being in a bar or club for six months – and giving them a Lindsay Lohan style anklet to track where they are and who they’re with. Does it sound a little extreme? Of course. But I think it could make millions of people feel a million percent safer when they set off on all the little journeys that make up their day.
-Daisy Buchanan

29 thoughts on “My Sexual Harassment Diary

  1. Oh, lord. Yes, I’ve had moments like this too. And I confess to finding the nicer comments flattering, on a good day. But other days you start to wonder if everyone was right about never going out after dark alone, and you take a longer but better-lit route home because he could still be following… Scary stuff.

  2. Men never believe that this stuff happens daily (or maintain that it’s flattery) because the minute you are in the presence of a male human, it seems to stop entirely. It’s like a secret underground world men are completely unaware of happening all around us.

  3. It happens to me too, although thankfully not 5 times per trip!

    My golden moments of harassment:
    1:Having 8 teenage lads make fake boobs in their t0shirts with their fists as they walked past me laughing and drooling.
    2:The wonderful time a 70-odd year old man smacked hips toothless lips and said ‘there is some sweet tities’ as I walked past him.
    3: Years ago I used to work in an off-licence, when I asked one customer to leave after attempting to shoplift cans he told me he liked it when I got angry and proceeded to take out his dick and start jerking off, I threatened him with the baseball bat that we kept behind the counter.
    4: I had a guy follow me home while he told me how beautiful I was, and asked loads of questions about me. When I asked him to leave that he was freaking me out I eventually got into a taxi for a 2 minute walk,the guy continued to bang on the window as the cab was driving off, and had to ask the taxi driver to wait to see that I got in my door safely.
    5:While I was blissfully painting my bedroom one Summer in shorts and vest I looked out my back window to find a guy standing in the alley way behind our house jerking off as he watched me paint! I wanted to vomit after that as I thought I was in the safety of my own house!
    6:While serving a customer in a shop I worked a guy asked me if I liked ‘fat cock?’, I knew him to be part of a really dangerous family who had already had multiple convictions for battery and rape. So it was a pretty terrifying situation. I knew getting angry would make it a lot worse, so I was really polite and said that I was uncomfortable with what he had said and that I thought it was inappropriate. Weirdly the politeness worked and he profusely apologised, but I was really shaken afterwards.

    These are just the weirder/more horrible situations, there are loads of the normal, ‘wanna fuck’, ‘nice titties’, ‘fat cunt’, ‘freak bitch’, ‘fucking whore’ comments that seem to be common street banter!I always wonder why people do it. It’s not just men, I’ve noticed lots of girls starting to shout horrible stuff at other women on the street, it seems to come from the same controlling behaviour that is just trying to scare people, and make the heckler look better on front of their friends. I’ve had women attack me on the street when they are with their boyfriends, it’s all so fucked up!

    I totally agree that all the mixed messages in the media are really confusing, it’s like they have to have their PC articles to look current/with it, ‘we love curves & older women’ etc, but the entire industry survives on making women feel bad about themselves so they buy more magazines.

  4. Wow, what you said about the mixed messages and confusion is so true!

    I think most guys just don’t understand because they don’t really see it! I mean no one would say that stuff when I’m with my guy mates, and they would never even consider doing it! (At least I sure as hell hope not!)

    My friend and I would drag our biggest guy friend along when we went dancing… (Typically the dodgiest place had the best music). If he was there guys would literally ask his permission before dancing with us! If not, we would suddenly have guys all up in our faces… OUr friend would always ask us, so it was kind of like having our own personal bouncer which was cool but I still never understood the thought train behind that.

    More recently my boyfriend, who always thought I was exaggerating, has been pushed into reality after having to make it clear to some guys a few times that they are making my friends and I uncomfortable. (Most recently, guy asked if he could buy me a drink, I said “no thanks, I’m here with my boyfriend.” Guy proceeded to stand uncomfortably close to my friend and I even after we joined back up with the guys.)

    My “first” was when I was about 13,14 when a bakkie hooted at me while walking to school shouting “I’ll give you a lift sexy” or something… not only stupid but also ridiculously inappropriate considering that I was obviously underage…

  5. Maybe I’m an optimist, but sometimes I think it truly is meant to be flattery… and I think that you can tell pretty quickly which it’s meant to be.

    For instance today I was walking and crossed behind a telephone maintenance car which suddenly started reversing, I jumped and the other man working there said “Oi! Don’t run over the beautiful lady!” he then smiled at me and went on with his work.

    Although this is probably an isolated incident, it does show that some men are aware of where to draw the line.

  6. I was stood at a taxi rank once on my way home from a night out for a friend’s birthday. A complete stranger walked up to our group and started trying it on with all the girls in turn, telling us we had nice “titties” etc etc ad infinitum. Eventually he honed in on one of the girls and started describing in graphic detail what he’d like to do to her “titties”. After a while of being ignored he decided to graduate to literally grabbing hold of her breasts. I lost my temper and gave him a good telling off. I believe towards the end of the tirade I actually told him that if he didn’t have anything nice to say he ought to confine himself to talking about the weather! Ahem. Too much Jane Austen for me, methinks… Anyway, eventually he scuttled off with his tail between his legs. But not before trying it on with me again, saying he liked fiesty women. I think he actually thought he was just flirting.

  7. Street harassment, like rape; is not about sex it’s about power, if you considered someone to be your equal you wouldn’t abuse them in the street, guys who do this know they won’t get a kicking, either literally or through the legal system, and so feel free to intimidate women. Sexual harassment in the street is a symptom of how our society perceives and values women, and is as serious as racial street harassment, which rarely gets laughed off.

    My self esteem is not linked to how other people rate my appearance, so I’m just as just as likely to be fucked off by ‘complimentary’ or ‘civil’ comments about my body or the way I look. No one gets to rate me, but me.

  8. I often wish there were something… like a ray-gun. I wish there was a special ray-gun that would activate upon hearing a man yelling gross shit at women. A shot from the gun would shut him up and settle him down some. Because, really… what kind of reaction ever works? Politely asking Yelling Ass to stop it doesn’t work. Ignoring Yelling Ass doesn’t work. Telling Yelling Ass to shut-the-fuck-up-or-he’d-wish-he-hadn’t-said-that doesn’t work. Obviously, it’s not something women can fix alone. Like someone mentioned above, it’s reflective of something much more systemic in our society about power and who may be controlled.
    So, until THAT is done and dusted I shall sit here with my prototype gun. *psh-eow psh-eow*

  9. Your number 10) incident really freaked me out. I felt uncomfortable just reading it, reminds me of so many similar incidents I’ve experienced.

    My solution is to make sure I’m never alone when it’s dark, and it has helped. It’s unfortunate some of us have to do this but that’s life all over – it’s pretty shitty sometimes.

    I don’t agree with introducing legislation. It’s too tricky to police. But I’ll design and build you an anti-street-harassment ray-gun though. :)

  10. this eye-opening description makes me very sad :( I wonder if all girls should be taught martial arts so you get a scene like the one in “Crouching Tiger” where the small woman trashes an entire pub filled with bullies and thugs…

  11. Guys should definitely be taught some manners, but since that bad behaviour isn’t going away anytime soon, I think a more practical solution for the meantime is to learn how to be a kick-ass female samuari – sign me up!!

  12. Honestly, I don’t count compliments as sexual harassment. But if there’s an element of ‘sex’ thrown in (eg: “Yea I would” ) then it’s game over.
    I can see where you’re coming from (reducing women to what they look like) but I think it’s sometimes genuinely meant as a compliment. Also men do like looking at attractive females and fantasising about sticking their widgy in. This is fine by me as long as they don’t say it out loud!

  13. pragmatically, you can either fix 49.9999% of everybody, get a large bodyguard, or fix yourself. Or all 3…

    I mean, we can all imagine a world where everyone is treated fairly and respectfully, and it’s great to work towards that goal, but in the meanwhile you have to find an acceptable way to live.

  14. Precisely. And pragmatism is massively underrated (“because the world ‘should’ be fair, dammit!”) Funny, because it’s the very thing that’ll save us. I’ve had a harranging on Twitter today because I suggested practical solutions instead of just expressing indignant rage. How boring.

    Let’s strive towards a fairer world, whilst also respecting the likely probability that our world is so complex we may never, ever reach that point.

    Also a great reason to do some exercise and watch more kung fu films. ;-)

  15. Simon – “pragmatically, you can either fix 49.9999% of everybody, get a large bodyguard, or fix yourself. Or all 3…”

    It seems to me that it is my (or womankinds) very existence that causes this behaviour, so the only way to “fix” us is to eradicate us.

    Not to mention the fact that violence is not a proportionally correct response to a comment. “She provoked me” is an age old excuse for domestic violence, and it doesn’t hold water in that scenario any more than this one.

    And just FYI, it takes a lot of time and skill to learn to overpower someone who is stronger than you. To overcome a group of people who are stronger than you (a scenario which is proven by this post) is something that only happens in movies.

    And even supposing that every woman had the time and energy to devote to becoming a 7th Dan karate expert, a male 7th Dan karate expert is still liable to be able to do her more damage than she can do to him.

  16. Cat, when I said “fix”, I’m thinking about the endemic conditioning that females get to be meek, unassertive and passive, so that when they experience harassment they see themselves as victims – and really, I don’t support the use of violence either, I was using it more figuratively as a measure of confidence and refusal to submit. Both my children did some martial arts training and subsequently weren’t bothered by bullying – because of their change of attitude, not from actually resorting to retaliation.

    “And even supposing that every woman had the time and energy to devote to becoming a 7th Dan karate expert, a male 7th Dan karate expert is still liable to be able to do her more damage than she can do to him.”

    oh yeah sure, but I suspect that most men engaging in harassment are relying on producing fear or confusion and not being contended. Perhaps a mental drop kick is enough to symbolise a non-submissive reaction ?

    Another thing I’ve been pondering is – I’ve only been catcalled by women a handful of times in my entire life, but I thought it was silly and funny. Now given that for the foreseeable future, some men are going to behave this way – what can women do to change how they feel about it? I don’t mean accepting it, but just being able to dismiss it as a kind of fatuous static like bad weather or dog shit.

  17. oh and I reject “It seems to me that it is my (or womankinds) very existence that causes this behaviour, so the only way to “fix” us is to eradicate us. “

    it’s not your existence that causes it, it’s unrealistic expectations on the part of the men!

  18. Cat, yes it’s true, sometimes you can’t win, but such is life. I am not suggesting violence in response to cat calls, but if someone were to try dragging me off (which they have) I would like to think that doing some exercise (in my case, I prefer weight training, not martial arts) will not only increase my chances of being able to defend myself, but also give me a sense of confidence that might be helpful in some situations.

    But yes. There is always the possibility that we can be overpowered. No one is denying that.

    Life is sh*t huh. :(

  19. Absolutely! Any of the incidents that I’ve had have all been about making the person look more powerful on front of their friends while demeaning me/or any other passing stranger

  20. Simon-I found that the baseball bat worked very well(it was one of the few harassment situations that I came out of feeling in control), see above in the second comment for the story

  21. iI was walking along the street at about 8 one morning, I was wearing a dress, 70 denier tights and a duffle coat, a man pushing an older man in a wheelchair said “I like your coat,” the man in the wheel chair said “I like your legs.” This was about a year ago, I was 17 and I still shudder whenever I think about it. Another slightly more hilarious time, a bin man said “dayum gurrl!” as I walked past, I think it took me 10 minutes to stop laughing.

  22. As far as I can tell, the common factor in all of these situations is power. Simon, you said your children were no longer bothered by bullies after martial arts training. That is because the became aware that the bullies had no power over them. The same could be said of the baseball bat. In the majority of cases, men have power over the women they harass due to (perceived) physical strength alone. No amount of ‘confidence boosting’ exercises for women will change that.

  23. well, first of all I’m thinking of Sandra Bullock in “Miss Congeniality” where she demonstrates “S.I.N.G” on Regis Philbin (Solar Plexus,Instep,Nose,Groin), but I think most harassers depend on embarrassment and intimidation and would not resort to an actual show of strength.

  24. Simon, I agree. The first few times I was harassed, I was afraid/intimidated/embarrassed but then I spoke to a couple of friends who had confronted their harassers and came out of the experience feeling more in control of the situation while most often the harasser was reduced to a mass of fear and confusion, and one memorable occasion, actually wet his pants. I then began to do this whenever I was harassed in broad daylight and although it was nerve-wracking in the beginning, I began to feel more and more empowered. I would still not retaliate if I were alone with the harasser or at night in a hostile environment, but doing what I can when possible has made me feel a lot less frustrated, powerless and like a victim.

    Read one of my friends’ amazing stories here: