Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reclaim the night? I do it all the time.

The ghetto boys are cat-calling me as I pull my keys from my pocket
I wonder if this method of courtship has ever been effective?
Has any girl in history said, "Sure, you seem so nice, let's get it on"?
Still I always shock them when I answer, 'Hi, my name's Amanda'.

Amanda Palmer, "Ampersand"

Time for some anecdotes!
When it comes to acts of personal feminist freedom, I, like many other, have to do it alone. I've never shaved my legs, but until recently I wouldn't bare them at all outside of the swimming pool or P.E. class either. So going out and overcoming the self-conciousness of showing my legs at all, and them being the unpopular hairy kind on top of that, was a bit of a challenge at first. Now I chuck on a shirt, skirt and shoes and stride down to the shops without a care in the world, no tights necessary. It took a while, but I got there. One thing that I had to do without the chance of phasing it in, however, was walking home at night. Alone.

I'm not talking about a quick walk down a couple of streets from a nearby corner shop or a friend's house. This is a half-hour journey from a pub or nightclub when I've missed the bus (one-hour wait at a quiet bus-stop in the small hours of the morning? No.) and there are no taxis in sight. I can't book taxis from these places, it's against their policy, and calling them, as I have done a few times, will lead to a minimum half-hour wait - on my own, again. Sometimes I stay the night with a friend and head off at a more sensible hour. If we're both out and leaving at the same time I can walk about half the journey with a different friend before we split off in opposite directions, which still leaves me with a twenty-minute lonely walk ahead. Like it or not, the choice is often waiting around alone or getting a move on, also alone. The latter strikes me as more sensible. I'm sober, I'll be able to walk fast and I won't lose my bearings.

So what can I expect as I march through the town, head held high like I couldn't care less? Leers. Cat-calls. Occasionally ducking into a nearby late-night eatery if I think I'm being followed (which has happened before). Oh, you get different kinds of harassment. Some try to 'converse' with you - 'Hi, how are you, you look tired, where've you been?' These men tend to persist until you take a different direction to them, ignoring the fact that I'm stonewalling them asnd clearly have no interest. Others swerve and block my path, forcing me to look at them as I avoid them. Groups in cars (usually on the way out to meet everyone) whoop and holler. Some men don't seem interested in anything other than pissing you off - they walk past you, saying 'You, me, in here.' whilst staring at you, but never drop their pace and continue walking straight past, seemingly just to make you feel like a piece of meat. There is nothing to do with attraction* here - I just happen to be a woman with no male guardian. When I'm with a female friend, we draw fewer comments but still get them - when I'm with a male friend, we get none. The worst kind is the man leaning casually against a wall, who notices you and leers at you as you pass, continuing to stare as you go down the street. I always check a second time with this kind, as I don't want to have to shake off and lose someone in a residential area again.

I also notice that I'm often the only girl walking home alone. Other women are in crowds of friends or, if they are alone, they clearly weren't on a night out in the first place. This very thing seems to attract unwanted attention, as if a man walking solo down the street is somehow 'normal' but I'm a weird freak of nature. What with all the warnings against being a woman alone, and my actual experience with men (and yes, it's men, a lot of them each night and not just one or two. When I get harassed even once by a woman, for being a woman, then I'll stop talking exclusively about the men.) on the street, I'm not surprised.
I tend to wait out the night with others more and more these days.

*Especially as men behave quite differently when they are trying to attract you as opposed to merely piss you off and intimidate you.

No comments:

Post a Comment