Personal space


This was at a workplace conference hosted by a top International firm. As an ice breaker task in a room full of thousands of people we were asked to turn to the person next to us and hug them. Hmm. That was weird for a completely British audience. I was on an aisle seat and so had to turn to the person next to me. For context, I had noticed this guy before during a group activity – he had made some overtly misogynistic comments;the kind of person you feel quite repulsed by without necessarily getting to know them better. I remember at the time I felt really angry but given the situation it was hard to ask him to justify his comments. So, I was not particularly forthcoming with the hug, and hesitantly positioned myself for an air hug. He launched at me and positioned his arms behind by back so as to squeeze my breasts against him. He held on for that minute too long (after the other attendees had pulled away). It was such a small event, but I felt violated. I wanted to push him off me and felt disgusted afterwards. No one but me an him knew that I felt this way, outwardly it was such a normal action in the context. The next time I saw him during the week long conference I crossed the road to avoid any interaction.

Vanessa, 20

I’m a student, and every time I sit in a lecture hall next to a guy (whether he’s a stranger or a close friend), they always take up way too much room. On multiple occasions my friend has placed his items (and his elbows) on my desk (we have individual desks for a reason!!). But I never say anything about it because I don’t want to be difficult and annoying.


I was traveling on an old-fashioned train where you can only push the door open once the train has completely stopped. There are two doors right next to each other, I was standing next to the right one, holding on to the bar between the two. As we get closer to a station, people start to stand behind me, then someone goes up to the left door. Must be in a hurry, I thought. Then, as the train starts to break, I start to watch out for the moment in which I can start opening the door, without locking it (locks if someone tries to open it too early). Then the person next to me extends their hand OVER MINE to open the RIGHT DOOR. He was standing beside the left door, but he had to go and try to open the damn left door, which he could not, because he tried too early (guess why I was waiting… It’s not because I cannot open a door). I offered help, even though he was very impolite, which he did not reply to (because I do not go into other’s personal space without them allowing or asking for it, I did not help). Then voila, he succeeded at opening a damn door. How gracious. And he was not even in a hurry, because then he offered me to go first! Why the hell would someone think that is polite to do? I am perfectly capable of opening a door myself, and I don’t make people wait behind us in the process. I am bothered by this because it was the least useful/smart thing someone could do. If he opened the door on his side, I could have opened it my side, and not make people wait in the process, and him not getting closer to me than I would have liked to. I told him I can open a door and left.


I was standing alone on the side of a quiet road in central London yesterday evening and checking my phone before crossing the street to head home. Completely out of nowhere a tall man shouted in my face and waved his hands right in front of my eyes. I had been engrossed in the message I had been reading and could not really hear much because of my headphones but when he screamed in my face I was really freaked out. An other very tall man this person was with then laughed and said that I had thought I was getting my phone stolen, the whole interaction angered and upset me so much that I swore at them both and stormed off humiliated. I left the street to stares from passers by and the laughter of the two grown men who had just accosted me. I cried my whole bus journey home, genuinely feeling like anyone could come in to my personal space at any time without my consent.


A few years ago, I was on a bus going into central London. It was early Saturday afternoon and I was on my own. I have taken this bus for many years without a problem. On this occasion, as I approached South Kensington the bus became packed with people and a man took the seat next to me on the upper deck. I remember very little about the man other than he was white and appeared over 45 years old. The man stretched his legs so wide that it not only broke into my personal space but it forced me to shrink back and be pressed against the window. The man then proceeded to bounce his leg up and down almost in an almost provocative manner. It seemed liked he wanted to show off his dominance of the space. Instead of telling him to stop or calling for help, I froze. I kept questioning myself. I kept thinking does he mean to do this? Am I overreacting? But in truth, I knew that he was fully aware of what he was doing. I felt frightened and was too shocked to speak up for myself. Once I got off the bus, I cried and wasn’t really sure why. I had forgotten about this incident until I listened to a podcast called the Guilty Feminists. The two leading female presenters (and comedians!) discussed the subject of ‘Public Space’ and my experience came flooding back to me. Sofie Hagen, a Danish comedian said that it was a common reaction in such instances that when people have their public space abused, that they simply freeze. I remember how trapped I felt in that moment. So sick. Now, I still feel those things but I also feel angry. I am writing my story down on everyday sexism to encourage people to speak up for themselves and to remind them that they are not alone. If we make a point that this happens to people often, something can be done. I can only hope that I have the voice to say something if it were ever to happen again.


I was working (kinda public service? Or maybe hospitality? It’s a position at a museum) and an older gentleman overheard me cracking my knuckles. Yes, a disgusting habit, but not really any of his business. However, he felt the need to let me know I ‘didn’t get away with it’, so I tried to strike up a conversation and do my job, and he started giving me a half hug, and was whispering in my ear. It’s a loud area, so I wasn’t super thrown, but his grandkid was right there, and by whispering in my ear, he is totally cutting him out of the conversation. I’ve gotten desensitized to a lot of crap working here where you are literally a tool to enhance people’s visits, so they don’t always treat you like a person, especially if you are female. You become a bit of a decorative interactive map or something. But my fuck you meter was tripped when he would not drop the knuckle thing. He actually asked what my boyfriend said about that. Assuming I’m straight, assuming I’m in a relationship, and assuming I factor my partners opinions into what I do in my spare time. It was out of nowhere, with no leadup whatsoever. One second I’m reassuring him that I’m not going to make my knuckles swell, and he follows up with that. I don’t think he even knew that any of his behavior was not ok. My biggest regret is that I panicked in the face of such bold idiocy, and didn’t tell him I was a lesbian. (I would be lying, which is probably why it wasn’t at the tip of my tongue, but I would pay to see his face.)


When I was about 13 (I’m 17 now) a boy in my class, who I was sort of friends with (We went to the same primary school and were in the same tutor and had mutual friends), pushed me into the corner of our science class room at the end of the lesson as people were packing up, and started groping me, making noises and thrusting on me as some sort of sick joke. I had no idea how to react to it because people in my class had seen and nobody had said a word. It was quite a while ago so I can’t really remember how I responded but the memory of the event still stays with me. On another occasion he also kicked his foot up my skirt, touching my vagina with the toe of his shoe. I told my head of year about this and he was excluded for a couple of day’s. Because of this he has been incredibly bitter towards me (not that I care but it brings me on to my next event…) Then at the end of year 11, when I was 16, the same boy who’d sexually assaulted me when I was 13 (Who i’d like to say went out with my best friend for about 9 months however by now they had broken up), told me in graphic detail how he would like to kill me and rape me while maggots ate my eyes and he ejaculated on my face… again this was another one of sick jokes and of course I didn’t take it seriously but I remember feeling so humiliated by what he told me and so sick. A female friend of mine was present at the time and also looked slightly uncomfortable but she sort of laughed along with him. Then during the summer holidays I was put into a really weird and very uncomfortable situation where my friend wanted to stay over at her ( now ex ) boyfriends house but she wasn’t allowed to unless there was another girl there so she took me. Another boy was there so there were four of us in total – two boys, two girls. When we were going to sleep, my friend and her boyfriend wanted to share the same bed an there was only one other bed available. So me and this boy who I didn’t know really well had to share it. We kissed for a bit which was fine but I decided I didn’t like it or like him in that way and we stopped and I was going to sleep when he basically dragged my body on top of his (While i pretended to be asleep because I honestly had no idea of how to deal with what was happening or what to do) and started grinding against me and humping me. He tried this several times because each time I felt like i had to participate to some extent and I didn’t know how to say ‘no’, afraid I would wake up the other people. Eventually he stopped dry humping me and moved on to trying to touch my vagina while groping my breasts but I wouldn’t let him. Finally he went to sleep but I couldn’t sleep at all. And in the morning he left without saying anything to me but saying goodbye to the others. I didn’t speak or hear from him for a week until finally he sent me a message asking if one of my close girlfriends liked him or not.