English feminist Daisy Buchanan (no relation to the Great Gatsby character) complains that she doesn’t “feel” safe. It gets pretty silly.
My Mum once told me her biggest regret was that she’d brought her daughters up to be so polite. It happened after one of my little sisters came home in tears. A “friendly” man at the train station had started making comments about her legs and asking if she had a boyfriend. “I really wanted to ignore him, but I didn’t want to be rude! I didn’t know what to do!” she wept. She was 14 at the time.
Yes, that’s the problem with women today: They’re just too nice….says no one who actually encounters them.
There’s obviously something about a quiet coach and a station buffet that encourages pervy passengers. British Transport Police have just announced that the number of sexual offences on trains and at stations has gone up by 25% in the past year, and is now at record levels. Any travelling woman who has ever sunk down in her seat and opened her book, only to be tapped on the shoulder and asked “What are you reading, then?” will be surprised that the numbers aren’t higher.
Asking a woman what she’s reading is a “sexual offence”? Really? REALLY? If he pulled out his dick and put it on her shoulder, that would be a sexual offence, but asking a woman what she’s reading? This is that hysterical bullshit that I harp on, the bullshit in which women are told that their vaginas are so valuable that all men are just pussy-thieves out to raid the vagina-vault, so they walk around like an armed bear trap, ready to cut the leg or…whatever off of a man just for being civil, or even politely curious.
We’ve all been bothered by persistent guys who pester us relentlessly, believing themselves to be entitled to our company and more. We’re under pressure to be polite and manage their expectations. Ignored men are angry men, and it’s horrible to sit silently while a man shouts at a packed carriage: “She thinks she’s too good to talk to me!”
Yes, yes, we know, women hate persistent men…unless he’s white, over six feet tall, making a six figure salary, with a six inch penis. He’s free to be as persistent as he likes. And under pressure from who? Freddie Mercury? (If you got that, congratulations, you’re old) And no, ignored men aren’t angry men. Ignored men are the majority of men and most men deal with being ignored by either prostrating themselves further before women or slinking off with their tails between their legs, not shouting “she thinks she’s too good to talk to me!”
When it comes to responding to harassers, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t – and sometimes it gets to the point when dealing with entitled idiots is so exhausting that you feel safer staying at home.
Yeah, I’m sure Daisy is just beating them off with a stick. But then again, she is in England so local rules and standards apply.
When I was a student, I lived on a safe, central road in York right between the city centre and the university campus. For a while I was happy to walk up and down the road on my own, earphones in, handbag stuffed full of unread translations of Beowulf. Then one day, in the early afternoon, a large man grabbed my elbow and removed an ear bud. “What’s your name?” he asked. I was so stunned that it took me a full five seconds to realise that his hand was down his trousers. I stammered and stuttered, and he repeated the question. The two men who worked in the greengrocer across the street were laughing. “Oh, don’t worry! It’s Bill! He doesn’t mean any harm,” chuckled one, as Bill released me and set off in search of fresh female elbows.
Daisy just can’t resist that empty posturing that women who have been credentialed beyond their intelligence so enjoy. “Oh, I was just walking around the university copies of Beowulf in my bag, la-da-dee-da, everybody clap for me and my smarts!” No, bitch. For all of the intelligence she would have the reader believe she possesses, she didn’t come up with a quick answer to the homeless nut whose last legitimate sexual encounter was during the Falklands War.
Within a minute, I’d gone from bewildered to frightened to embarrassed to ashamed. Bill was not a man in the fullness of his mental health, and I thought the greengrocers were mocking me for being intolerant and closed-minded. “What’s your name?” is an innocuous enough question, regardless of where the asker’s hands are. I’d been made to feel bad for not answering.
“Made to feel bad” by who? Who the hell is reaching into Daisy’s little hugbox and toying with her feelings so maliciously? It must be a terrible world in which you so freely give access to your feelings to others.
So I started to plan a different path to class, setting off 20 minutes early to add enough loops to my route to avoid the trio that caused me trauma. I thought of the incident again on my way to yoga today. “I keep seeing you around – what’s your name?” asked a man outside the studio. I didn’t want to tell him, but I didn’t want to seem unfriendly or uptight. I was delighted when he misheard it, and didn’t correct him.
Remember, women are equal to men in all respects…except you can traumatize them just by asking what their names are outside of the yoga class or what they are reading. (This is such delightful White Feminist Whining) A peasant dared to trouble the princess on her way to yoga! Off with his head!
I know I’m not a special case. I suspect I experience as much harassment as the next young(ish) woman living in the centre of a city. Some women say they can ignore it entirely; others say they like elements of it. But it makes me feel fearful, anxious, and wildly self-conscious. I’m also regularly reading about the harassment of other women, which is widely reported on in social media, especially in Laura Bates’s excellent @EverydaySexism feed.
Thanks to the power of Twitter, rich white women can now create a feedback loop of hurt feelings and emotional validation.
Every incident of harassment I witness, whether it’s at first- or second-hand, is making my world a little bit smaller and scarier. I don’t go out dancing any more, even though I adore it – because I know from experience that something bad might happen if I have to get home after midnight and the streets are full of potentially terrifying men who might not take it well if I don’t want to stop and say hello.
Why am I supposed to respect cowards? Oh, that’s right I don’t. “Oh no! Bad stuff might happen!” Bad things happen to men routinely. We are the primary victims of violent crime. Yet Daisy wants to go hide under her bed while men go out and either get what they were after, or take the loss.
So I’ve imposed my own curfew, and try to be in bed by 11pm. During a chat about exercise a friend mentioned that she’s stopped running because of the number of men who will shout “compliments” and block her path to get her to slow down and talk to them. She misses running outside in the fresh air desperately, but the anxiety the harassment causes her is too great for her to risk it.
Dear reader, I hope you can appreciate the absurdity of this by now. The simple act of speaking to a woman, and saying something she doesn’t like, is sufficient to send them to the fainting couch, or the pharmacy counter for some anti-depressants. It will cause them to change their lives, their habits, their interests…OVER “COMPLIMENTS.” Not even uttered threats. No “if you come around here, I’ll shoot you in the face” but “hey gorgeous, how are you this fine day?”
I can’t believe we live like this in 2015. Women should be enjoying more freedoms than ever before, but many of us are frightened, and we’re running out of options. We can submit to our sense of obligation and be polite to the harassers who might kick off if we ignore them, or we can cage ourselves in. We’re frustrated and exhausted.
Here’s Daisy’s problem, and the problem most feminists have: they fundamentally misunderstand the concept of “freedom.” Freedom isn’t fun, it’s not a privilege, it’s not an express pass to all of the rides in Disney Land. Inherent in freedom is an assumption of risk. When you try to exercise your freedom, to go where you wish, to say what you wish, to do what you wish, some unscrupulous person might take issue with it and try to deprive you of your freedoms for their own malign purposes. In order to have freedom, you must be prepared to defend it against all challenges. You might bitch and ballyhoo about how “exhausting” it is, but to a person who prefers freedom to slavery, exhaustion is always better than the alternative.
We need the support of British Transport Police, and all law enforcement bodies, to spread the message that it isn’t flirting if it feels frightening. To create spaces where all women feel they are safe to look their harasser in the eye and say: “Leave me alone. I do not want to talk to you.” Because I’m tired of being kind to the creeps in order to stay safe. And I don’t want to stay in.
Daisy, how the fuck am I, or any other man, supposed to know how you, or any other woman, “feel” at any given moment? Is there a little monitor that pops up on your forehead and flashes “frightened!” in neon letters? Does your nose blink like the guy from Operation when I touched something I’m not supposed to?
But we come back to the point I was making before about freedom, assumption of risk, and defending your freedom. “Leave me alone. I do not want to talk to you.” Daisy fails in this respect because she, like most women, was never taught to take that next step: “And then what?” “Leave me alone. I do not want to talk to you.” Okay, guy doesn’t want to leave you alone and he wants to talk. And then what? What’s your next option? Well, Daisy suggests that the Transport Police (read: Men) should create a “safe” space where she just says things and magically, “creeps” disappear and the heavens open up. No word on how this “safe space” is to be created, how it works, or what, if any way, in which it might conflict with other rights. As long as Daisy gets her “safety,” that’s all that matters.
Which makes that complaining about her “freedom” come off as meaningless.