Standing in a bookshop flicking through a book when a man comes up to me. He says, “Good book?” I say yes, no eye contact because I’m not interested. He says, “Where are you from?” I say here, not looking at him. He says, “I thought you might be Dutch.” I ignore him. He looks me up and down and then says, as if I’m not there, “Cute, but probably taken.” I say “I am,” put down my book and walk away, but inside I’m seething. The book I was reading was Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me. ……. On a train, a middle aged man is sitting with his two teenage daughters, swearing at them, telling them, “You don’t fucking know what the world is like, you fucking bitches.” He goes on like this, and people are exchanging looks, but not doing anything. An older woman, visibly distressed, leaves the carriage. No one says anything, so I feel I have to. I get up, although I’m scared, and I say, “You can’t talk like that.” He says, “Why the fuck not, they’re my fucking daughters.” I say, “I don’t care.” (I do care, but I don’t want to involve them.) “This is a public place, you can’t talk like that here. You’re upsetting people.” It shames me that my voice shakes while I say these things. He tells me to fuck off, but he stops in the end.
I work in a family-run campsite restaurant by the sea. The atmosphere is mostly relaxed, fun and neutral, with families enjoying their summer holidays together in a calm and respectful manner. But every so often we get a bad apple. There has been a group of families in the campsite for over a week. The women are kept, the men are lager louts, and the kids are rude and demanding. The men especially have been the worst. They choose to interact with me in a constant stream of sexual innuendo, often mentioning my appearance and sitting at the bar for hours on end staring at me and my collegues. They seem incapable of having a level, respestful conversation with any woman. Last night two of the men came to the bar, drunk, with their chidlren in tow. It was busy so there were lots of people around the bar, children, couples.. The men sat down and started talking to me about my hair, my eyes, trying to chat me up in front of my collegues and the other customers. It was so irrritating. Then, as my back was turned to do some till work, one of the men said to me (out of my earshot but audible to everyone else) “I’m going to f***k you.” My collegue told me about it 5 minutes later, just after they’d left, and I was so disgusted, so angry, so embarassed, that he could have said such a thing. I felt dirty. It was so degrading. The fact that he said it in front of his own children too makes it so much worse. And I felt threatened. What was this man actually capable of? I finish work every night in the early hours and I cycle home alone.. I was subject to verbal sexual abuse and bullying when I was a teenager and this has just made all the old feelings of shame and indignity come back. Verbal sexual abuse, or sexual remarks, should never be tolerated or brushed off as “banter”, never, never, never. This is the way we live in our society. How is that fair?
When I was 15 I was on the London underground by myself during the day, coming home from school. A short middle aged man standing next to me (shorter than me) staring at me started to talk to me saying ‘I don’t suppose you’ve ever had your tits sucked.’ I froze and blanked him, didn’t know what to do. I tried to move away from him in the busy carriage. I wasn’t able to ask for help or call out his behaviour to the other passengers who in hindsight I’m sure would have helped me. I got off the train at the next station to get away from him and peered around the corner to make sure he hadn’t followed me. He was staring at me from the train. I wish I’d yelled ‘get away from me you pervert’ so everyone in the train could hear. I still feel angry many years later.
This morning, one of the meme pages I follow posted a picture with the caption “The ‘I report memes on Facebook’ starter pack”. It wasn’t at all offensive in itself, only showing the typical traits associated with a 30-something year old mother, for example the “I want to see the manager” haircut and a pair of squabbling children. But perhaps my next move was all too naive. I commented “Once I reported a rape joke (more like a threat) thinly disguised as a meme once, and FB reckoned it was ok”. Which is true. It had been in the style of those typically douchey “I may not have x, y, or z, but I can still win your heart <33333" memes. Instead, it said: "I may not have the biggest muscles, or the best looks, or the best salary, but I can still rape you". The face of the man in the photos was terrifying on its own, but he also bore a striking resemblance to my rapist. As one would expect, my reply to the post quickly saw a reply of its own, from some young chap telling me that memes are funny and I should "stop being gay". I explained to him how traumatising the aforementioned "meme" had been, and how the man looked like the man who assaulted me. I don't know what madness was going through my head. Soon the replies to my comment spiralled out of control, with many a white man thoughtfully weighing in about how I couldn't take a joke, and how I should get off all meme pages if I didn't enjoy that type of humour. On a completely different page where I had posted a comment, I even got a reply saying: "lol you're that perpetually triggered girl I see on other meme pages talking about rape aren't you". Goodie. I have a reputation amongst meme page commenters, apparently. Nevermind any valid point I could raise in reply to them, their tired old comebacks of "haha triggered", "take a joke" and "you're too ugly to be raped" will flow in like they always have, One guy even claimed I couldn't be telling the truth, because of how openly I discussed my problems. And all of this could have been ok in the end, if it hadn't been for the fact that I saw him again today. As my bus entered a tunnel not too far from my house which is currently being reinforced, there he was among the workers. It was for the tiniest sliver of a second, but I was absolutely certain. And after that, all the vitriol and verbal abuse from those online strangers just became too much. They likely didn't give anything they said a second thought, but I don't have that luxury. It's every day for me, every minute of ever hour. Every time I post here, I start to feel a tiny bit better, but nothing really helps.
My husband is the best I can get and ours is a love marriage. But sometimes it really bothers me that he shouts sexist words when he is angry and leaves me wondering if I should get a divorce. But otherwise I can’t find anything bad on his part. Just that he doesn’t want to cook but insists I must. Want to write much more but I’m preoccupied with so many tasks he wants me to do. I just want to be a free woman who can sit and listen to music or read what she wants without getting called at least twice every minute.
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.