This morning I realised that something has fundamentally gone wrong. Having finished exams I was wandering around in Hyde Park after a delicious coffee with a friend and noticed the horses from the Hyde Park barracks practicing. I went over to watch and was being impressed by their formation horsing when a gentleman with a huge smile came up and asked me what they were doing. My reaction was a sinking feeling wondering how to extricate myself.
The reason? Over the last five years travelling in London and around the country to visit friends and relatives, a good proportion of approaches by lone men have turned out to be excuses to harass, proposition and inappropriately touch me for having the misfortune of being a lone traveller. There was the occasion on a packed train when the gentleman in the aisle seat chose to “test the quality of my skirt” – also known as stroking my thigh. On another occasion a young gentleman spent three and a half hours incessantly enquiring how to contact me; Facebook, my phone number etc. in spite of me asking to be left alone – apparently playing hard to get. On one particularly repugnant occasion I was travelling with my younger sister and a gentleman accompanied by his teenaged son felt the need to proposition us and enquire after our sexual preferences and practices for a full two hour journey. We didn’t have the heart to tell our grandparents what had happened upon arrival.
Of course, the vast majority of journeys are uneventful and everyone conducts themselves appropriately, but as a result of these unpleasant incidents I find that every time my attention is drawn to a lone man on public transport there’s a sinking feeling that my journey is about to be disrupted. It’s worth mentioning that poor behaviour is not always directed at women, though the sexually motivated component in my experience is. I have also seen a man headbutt another man for the audacity of using a shared armrest and two men removed from public buses by police (on separate occasions) after becoming violent following the usual slight nudges which are the by-product of overcrowded transport.
I focus on public transport as a particular problem area but in truth crowds, queues and even our very own Union bars have all been areas where I have been touched inappropriately and without permission. When three gentlemen who study at Imperial have all felt it OK to cop a feel without invitation I begin to believe that these men are everywhere and so upon being approached by a lone male stranger my heart sinks. For the minority who are reading and may benefit from this information, I and everyone else will let you know if we want to be touched, propositioned or harassed by you. Please desist unless you receive this information, it will be clearly signposted, you won’t miss it!
The problem is that it’s not just the victims of this abuse that suffer because of it. Men are treated like dangerous pariahs and are afraid to strike up conversations unless accompanied in case they come across as interested for the wrong reasons and the little pleasantries that can make public transport so much more bearable become sinister to everyone due to an unacceptable minority.
The gentleman watching the horse dancing with me in Hyde Park was just curious and I think a little put-off by my unfriendly demeanour. He ambled off after a little while, resisting the need to proposition me or slip in a sexually themed joke. Unfortunately I was less friendly to that curious person just wanting to know who the horses were and why because some men out there simply do not know how to behave.
I’d welcome any thoughts readers have on this theme and particularly ideas as to what can be done about it! Perhaps if more of us showed our disapproval these brutes would learn their behaviour isn’t acceptable, I always find that the pithy put downs come to me only after the incident but in case inspiration strikes you please don’t hold back!