i have trained in martial arts for around 9 years. i know how to use a bokkun (wooden rod) to fight. i am a bodybuilder. and yet, despite all of my physical precautions, i still cannot bring myself to do anything more than give men on the street the finger when they make kissing noises, when they honk their horns at me, when they call out. people seem to think ‘defending yourself’ will help. it hasn’t. my intelligence hasn’t helped either. i’m a member of a website where i help people to learn english, and i constantly get harassed by older men asking me about my virginity, about if i want to send them pictures. none of my good qualities and hobbies have protected me from misogyny and i cannot pretend they do any longer.
I was approached by a man I hadn’t met before at the gym, he came over and said hello. I politely smiled back and went down into my class. He proceeded to watch the entire class from an upper level. When I re-entered the main gym he came over again, asked me lots questions. He then offered me sex. When I moved to the other side of the room he continued to watch me until I felt so uncomfortable I had to leave. As I left he blocked my path and whispered “See you later sexy” in my ear. I mentioned it to a male member of staff a few days later, who laughed and agreed it was ‘creepy’, but did not take any action until another girl had the same experience. When I asked the member of staff about it he said ‘I’m not sure what Im meant to do about it’
Late in July 2015, I attended a two-day workshop where our team of all-women managers was briefed by the all-men directors of the private sector company at which I work. At the conclusion of day one, everyone met up at the restaurant for dinner, sitting together and enjoying good food, great wine and light conversation. My colleague and I, both in our 40s, were seated directly across the table from 2 of the 4 male directors. The 2 of us had been chatting about participating in a martial arts class (her) and pilates (me), and were agreeing how staying active and getting fit contributed to a sense of well-being. One of the directors chose that moment to join the conversation, asking a couple of questions, before proceeding to describe a recent trip he’d made to watch tennis at Wimbledon, including the women’s and men’s singles finals. He then retrieved his smartphone in order to show to the director seated next to him and us the photographs he’d taken of Serena Williams, who had just won the title. His exact words were: “Look at her arse! She’s got the biggest arse ever. I have never seen an arse so massive!” For several minutes as they scrolled through the dozen or so photographs, and passed judgement not on Serena Williams’ sporting achievements and skills, but her body. They did this in front of a table of educated, hardworking women who they employ. I am disgusted with myself that I didn’t say something clever or jump up and quit on the spot. They behaved as they did because we had been “uppity women” who had forgotten our places, had forgotten that in their world it is men, not women, who get to decide what makes us happy, well, successful. And they had adopted a strategy of belittling a successful, powerful, skillful woman of colour to remind all of us of our places. Nearly one year on, this incident enrages and shames me still.