Five weeks ago I read a very distressed rant by Alice Sheppard concerning the levels of leers, whistles, and general sexual harassment that she was receiving whilst walking through London. It wasn’t that she was walking around looking for such attention by wearing provocative clothing, it just seemed to happen. I do empathise with her stories, and I can understand why they made her feel extremely uncomfortable. I have been fortunate enough not to have experienced any of those scenarios; I have grown up in an area where this just doesn’t seem to happen very often (to me anyway). And the people that I have grown up with are not the type to subject women to that sort of harassment (as far as I know). The worst that has happened to me is being groped on the dance floor; I just turned around and shook my head at the man and slapped his hand away, and that was the end of it.
Earlier today I read another similar post by Lauren Reid, who whilst wearing “80 dernier black tights with shorts, a baggy t-shirt, a knee-length black cardigan and biker boots” was shouted and honked at by a group of men driving past in the early hours of the evening. It wasn’t exactly the most attention seeking/sexy outfit (no offence), and naturally it made her uncomfortable.
Being leered at is unpleasant for women because they do not want to feel objectified. Not only that, but it is that overwhelming feeling of being powerless. Men are physically much stronger than women, and so we do not want to find ourselves in a situation where we may be overpowered. Now that the media makes us more aware of the rapists (and rightly so) we feel that it could happen to any of us. Feeling powerless is not a nice thing for a woman (or a man), and so when we are subjected to that, we will of course lash back.
Today, after Alice had noticed that she hasn’t been leered at for five weeks since writing her initial rant, she has asked us to conduct an experiment. If you are female, and a blogger, write your own rant about being objectified by men, and see what happens.
But I am more curious as to what is it that is making men feel the need to let us know that they like the way we look? Is it because there are those women who dress in such a way that warrants their consideration? Or is it because that is what they think we want? Why is it that men feel the need to draw attention to the way women look when they are not in any type of relationship with them (friend/partner), let alone know who they are?
Many of my female friends have spoken to me about their relationships, and how they would appreciate a few more compliments from their other halves. Then there is my male friend, a wonderful, genuine and kind man who has met several women in the past who very much dislike being told that they are beautiful, or who simply don’t believe it. I find this very sad. In these situations, the compliment was meant with the utmost sincerity, and he was left bewildered when confronted with these replies. It’s no wonder that men are confused; many women give off such mixed signals that the men just don’t know where to turn anymore.
I think there is such a broad spectrum of this catcalling that it is almost impossible to compare them all. There are many men who use them in a derogatory way, but there are also men who compliment women without wanting to make them feel uncomfortable, rather they want to tell them how much they are appreciated.
When the comments are meant in a non-friendly way, I think it is mostly an age related issue, as well as upbringing, peer-pressure and a media-fuelled issue. Peer-pressure amongst teenagers can be a very destructive thing, and usually brings out the worst in people, especially in young males where females are concerned. They all want to be accepted within their peer group, to be included in the jokes, to be cool. Sometimes the way this is done is by having to “prove yourself worthy” and follow the leader, who is usually an arrogant and ignorant person. Thing is, if you manage to get one of these young men on their own, it is a nice surprise to find them to be rather nice.
So men, what are appropriate ways of catching a woman’s attention? This is going to sound like a massive cliché, but it isn’t what you say, it is the way you say it, well for the most part anyway. There is not nice, warm and friendly way of saying “come here and suck on this” whilst pointing at your crotch. This is not acceptable in any form. If you want to approach a lady that you are interested in, and strike up a conversation with the hope of something more (by all means hope), please do leave us in peace if we make it clear that we are not interested. Retreat without fuss, and we will be happy. During the Six Nations rugby tournament, one of the Wales vs. France games was held in Cardiff. The French descended upon Cardiff, and enjoyed a whole weekend of drinking and rugby. I loved it, there was such a good atmosphere that I couldn’t help but walk through town smiling. At one point, a group of men were walking towards me down the main high street. I didn’t even notice them until one of them said “Vous êtes très belle”, smiled at me, and walked on. I was taken by surprise, but it was a nice surprise! He didn’t say it in a mean or leery way, it was meant as a genuine compliment. It put an even bigger smile on my face for the rest of the day.
For me, a warm smile is always welcome; I love being smiled at (in a non-creepy way). You could tell me how much you like my shoes (I do love shoes), and you could strike up a random conversation with me if I’m not obviously in a rush to get somewhere or do something else. Random conversations with a stranger can be very interesting! I’ve met some fascinating people on my various travels from home to university, talking about holidays, books, studies etc.
But like I said, I have never been subjected to anything worse than a grope in a club and a wolf-whistle from a stranger. I am lucky. But I also know that I am also a strong, independent woman, and (apparently) give off some sort of intimidating air, which seems to put the boys off. Maybe that is something you should try ladies. I do not mean to say that the way you hold yourself is what is attracting the unwanted attention, but you are all beautiful, and none of you should be subjected to any form of harassment. Feel confident in yourself, be proud of who you are. And like Alice said, you may find that your luck may change if you stand a bit taller.
Update: This column went up on the guardian website today. It is about a video made by a young woman studying in Brussels. Sexual harassment of any form, however small is in NO way allowed. This video demonstrates how the smallest comments can have a huge impact.