Going home on a Friday night alone, it was probably half 11 in central London, I was shouted at by a group of drunk men – not unusual, but I was tired and scowled at them. In the station, another, younger set of men told me to stop looking so serious – this made me roll my eyes due to the irony of why I was looking irritated – they called me a ‘miserable bitch’ behind my back. Waiting at the empty bus stop on the last leg of my journey, a young man sat next to right next to me, uncomfortably close for strangers. He asked me, if I would mind if he could ask me where I got my coat – at this point I said, sorry I’m tired yes I would – he went silent for a moment, then asked me my name, where I’d been, where I was going, if he could come or if I would meet up with him and be his ‘friend’. Fortunately the bus arrived at that point. The next day I was telling my sister – I was frustrated that I was supposed to put up with this everyday sexism, why couldn’t I go home without the added requirement of appeasing random men I walked past. Her first response – ‘What were you wearing?’
I was harassed on the Edinburgh — Glasgow 8pm train this evening. I’m just in from making a long statement to the police. And I’m writing things out here partly to make myself feel better and partly to try to make speaking about these things more normal. They happen a lot. It needs to stop. The train was absolutely rammed at Waverley Station, and I hopped on with a few minutes to spare. It was standing room only and I was next to a young mum with her baby in a pram, right up against the doors. Seconds later, three intoxicated folk in their 40s clattered up to the train. The women shoved their way on and the man stopped to piss down the side of the carriage onto the tracks. Then he pushed into the tightly packed doorway, the doors shut and the train pulled out. ‘Sorry for urinating,’ he slurs at me. I gesture at the mum and her baby. She looks so uncomfortable and a bit scared. I give her a wee smile and waggle my fingers at the baby. ‘You’re beautiful,’ the drunk man says. I ignore him. He tries to touch my cheek and my neck. I tell him sharply, ‘don’t touch me.’ He is affronted and acts insulted. ‘But you’re beautiful!’ he says, in a tone that tells me he thinks he is offering logic. ‘I have a daughter like you!’ His female friends mutter and tut. He laughs at me. ‘Ooooh! You’re… what’s the word? Political!’ ‘You bet.’ I tell him. ‘What hope do you have for the future?’ he jibes. His tone tells me that he means ‘how could a woman like you find a partner?’ Again he tries to touch me. Again I tell him ‘don’t touch me.’ This level of entitlement is making me absolutely livid. He huffs and his female friends roll their eyes. ‘Just leave it,’ they say. He moves onto the young mum. Same again. He tries to touch her in the same way. ‘Don’t touch her either,’ I say, sharply again. ‘Awww, but why not? She’s beautiful.’ ‘Because she doesn’t want you to. Can’t you see? You’re trying to push into our personal space and that’s really not OK. I don’t like it and she doesn’t either. I’m happy to chat, but you’ve totally crossed a line and I’m making that clear to you now.’ He goes back to his beer. And that’s when his female friends lay into me. ‘You can’t dictate what he does!’ one of them says. ‘Yeah, you’ve got personal space problems. Issues! You’ve got issues!’ her pal goes. I’m caught totally off guard because I’d assumed their comments and eye rolls until this point had been directed at him not me. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this might not be the case. Tears are running down my face before I even register how upset I am. I keep my head down and don’t look at anyone, apart from trying to give the young mum a reassuring smile. ‘Drama queen!’ the first woman jibes. ‘Look at her creating a scene!’ ‘No personality in the corner there!’ the second woman points at me. My nose is running and my breathing ragged. I take some deep breaths, trying to calm myself but it doesn’t work. They keep making jibes. ‘I was only joking, beautiful! You’re beautiful! I’ve got a daughter like you!’ the man nudges me. I can’t stop crying. The second the train pulls into Linlithgow I get onto the platform, and change carriages. I am so grateful to find friendly strangers in the doorway of the next carriage. They ask what’s happened. One man is very sweet, telling me he thinks it’s horrible. Another woman agrees. But then she quickly starts explaining how it was always like that when she started work in the 1980s. She implies that I should pull myself together and not be upset. She means well but I feel tiny. I just can’t stop crying. When I get to Queen Street a young woman and her boyfriend who had been in the first carriage come up to me. The woman is upset because she’d seen what happened and not felt safe to do anything about it. The man apologises because even although he’d been only half a metre away, he hadn’t realised anything was going on. I want to tell other women to not be afraid to speak up when they get harassed, and to speak up for other women getting harassed where possible, because others will look out for you and support you. It’s plainly not always true. But that doesn’t mean we can stop. Cis men, please ask your female and non-binary pals what sexist harassment looks like. You might be surprised at how often it doesn’t look like anything at all. If you ever do see something happening, and you feel safe to do so, please please please either speak up against the harasser, or else speak with the victim to keep them company. The fact that no-one did this for me tonight meant that I felt threatened and unsafe. Get the British Transport Police number into your phone. It’s 61016. Being able to text them from the train was a wee comfort and gave me a task to focus on. It also meant I had a reference number I could hand to an officer in the station. I made a two hour statement to wonderfully competent but brisk, clinical policeman. He put a roll of toilet paper next to me when he realised the tears weren’t stopping, and asked me about my festive plans between questions. I signed off the second draft of my statement, and off record, started to tell him that I didn’t think that the man was a bad person, just- the police officer chipped in, ‘uhuh, he was just drunk.’ I was going to say ‘seriously conditioned into a sense of entitlement taught to him by his being male in our patriarchal society.’ I cannot stress enough that I don’t blame that officer for what he said. He thought he was being nice and reassuring. I sincerely appreciate that. But even after giving a long, detailed statement of such a clear cut incident, to hear that sort of statement made it all the clearer how much work we have left. Fuck the patriarchy, and the entitlement it teaches. Mon the strong women. Here’s to lessening this utter shite in our lifetimes. It harms us all. PS If you think this post would help anyone, I am happy for it to be shared.
Another intersection of sexism and ableism… and ageism, too, really. I was out doing some grocery shopping in Lidl a couple of weeks ago, in the electric wheelchair I use, and I lifted up a mid-weight medicine cabinet I wanted to buy and propped it over my lap, on the side of my chair, without any real difficulty. I took it to the till queue, and when I moved to lift it and set it down on the conveyor belt, a man I’d never seen before in my life came up behind me and decided to “help” me with it — never asked, never even spoke to me before he did it — and he grabbed the box out of my arms, and by yanking the weight out of my grasp, he dislocated my shoulder in the process. On top of that, if you can believe it, he then got angry at me for calling him out on his behaviour (even though I did it politely) and pointing out that if he hadn’t “helped”, I would not have been injured – *and* he refused to help me relocate my shoulder (a woman of about my age a bit further back in the queue helped me put it back). I am fucking fed up of being treated like I couldn’t possibly ever handle anything by myself just because I happen to be (a) young, (b) a woman, and (c) a wheelchair user! This kind of crap happens far too often, and it’s nearly always men who do it. That said, however, I have neither forgotten nor overlooked a *delightful* incident from a couple of months ago: In that particular instance, a woman about a generation older than I am decided that she was going to “help” me get off a bus, all along talking at the top of her voice and half the time in third person, to show everybody else on the bus how she’s soooo charitable and a better person than they are, helping this poor disabled girl (that was the way she was acting, and it was frankly humiliating)… So I said to her, “Look, thank you for the offer, but really, I’m fine, I can manage without help.” She ignored me at first and went down to speak to the driver, again at the top of her voice so the whole bus could hear, even though I’d already pressed the buzzer to let him know I needed the ramp to be put down at the next stop, so she didn’t need to talk to him at all. I said it again, and a little more forcefully because by then she was actually getting in my way when I was trying to turn my chair around, and next thing I know, she’s effing and blinding all over the place, calling me all the disgusting names under the sun, with ableist insults, ageist crap and some equally nasty misogynistic epithets no woman ought ever to use to another… and all I’m doing is just trying to get off the damn bus and go home, and she’s shouting swear-words at me at the top of her voice… eventually I just yelled back “Oh, fuck off and grow up!” when I was finally off the bus, quietly apologising to the bus driver for the scene – and she had thoroughly triggered my PTSD by then. The closest comparison to that incident with a man? Well, that was also on a bus, but it actually began with him physically assaulting me, after which he went off on a similar verbally abusive rant – but he wasn’t even pretending to try to help me. Just loud, misogynistic, ableist, ageist verbal abuse all over again. I posted that incident on ES shortly after it happened, in 2012. I am so very tired of people who think they have a right to “help” me against my will, almost always without asking, and are not being helpful at ALL. Every single time someone has done that I have ended up with either a physical injury or a damaged wheelchair. And eight times out of ten it has been a man who has tried it. I am just so tired of it all.