Posts Tagged ‘harassment’

  1. Sexual Harassment on the Tube

    March 6, 2013 by Hannah

    Image from

    Image from

    Sexual harassment has been front and centre in the media – apart from, of course, the Queen’s digestive system – in recent days. It’s happening on our doorsteps, in the workplace, on the public transport we all take every day to get between those two places. It’s not restricted to meek women, or bolshy women, or women who seem to flirt with the very way they put their coat on. The whistles, the gropes, the shouts have been highlighted. It’s not a matter that’s restricted to women at all – some male columnists have also stepped forward to say it’s time that their half of the species sorts it out.

    By some horrible coincidence, the week all these women I admire were speaking out about the leers, the shouts, and the touches they’re forced to endure on a daily basis was the same week I learnt the true meaning of objectification, and with it felt a little bit of my innocence drop away.

    Of course, it’s behaviour that I’d heard about before, online or in the news. I was familiar with how disgusted the subjects of catcalls from idle builders would be when they’re just trying to nip to the shops for a pint of milk. But it hadn’t happened to me, either in the small city I grew up in or the larger city I went to university in. And I didn’t think it would.

    Although not a justification in any way, I could see some sort of sense in men who don’t exercise self-control verbally lusting over my friends, like an extension of the nightclub leers of well-liquored young men, but in daylight, and arguably more creepily.

    I, on the other hand – and I say this not in self-deprecation but as a matter of fact – am decidedly plain, and a few stone overweight. I dress, most days – including the day concerned – in black tights with flat shoes and a work-appropriate skirt, topped with a high-neckline jumper or shirt, covered by a fairly long, woollen coat. I am not alluring, deliberately or otherwise. I believed – naively, ridiculously – that, as if some kind of silver lining to my appearance, it’d save me from having those experiences. I thought objectification was something that only happened to conventionally attractive people.

    Until, in the jostling to squeeze onto an already-full tube carriage last week, I felt a hand on my buttock. Not a dulled touch through the layers provided by coat and skirt, but so close to my skin, through only tights and underwear. I swiftly swept my hand down behind me, knocking the hand of a short, tubby, old man away, and giving the skirt and coat he’d pulled up a firm yank downwards.

    As the train pulled out of the station, he stood firm behind me, pressed hard against my back as if he was trying to make our body shapes fit together like jigsaw pieces. As I tried to wriggle away, using every half inch of space I could find around me, nothing changed. He was still there, unapologetically pressed against me.

    I’d recognised the man at the platform, as someone who had previously been uncomfortably close to me, an incident I brushed off as one of the pitfalls of commuting. This time, again, I wondered if it was an accident. But no matter how awkward the morning commute can be, I can’t help but feel like if you’d somehow accidentally lifted someone’s skirt and coat and touched them inappropriately, you’d say sorry. Emphatically and many times.  The man behind me said nothing, and for 3 stops continued push up against me, as nausea rose inside me and I scanned the carriage for an escape route every second of the journey.

    Like so many people, I said nothing. My instinct wasn’t to speak out, it was merely to get away. It’s an act which is easier said than done, on a train where you can barely breathe, let alone move to the other end of a carriage.

    Although in comparison to some others’ experiences, mine was very, very minor, I was surprised by how I thought about it afterwards. It wasn’t flirting. It wasn’t a compliment. It didn’t feel like a matter of lust, as I’d assumed. It didn’t feel like, I, my appearance, had anything to do with it. It was an objectification that didn’t feel related to the kind you see in magazines filled with women wearing skimpy bikinis, or less. The assumption that my appearance would “save” me was naïve and ridiculous because what had just occurred had nothing to do with my appearance. It didn’t even have anything to do with any part of me. I was reduced to less than my composite parts, barely even a woman, just a thing. I couldn’t shrug it off any more, and it made me sick to my stomach.

    But what’s truly, horrifyingly shocking is the backlash from anonymous online commenters on every single article calling out people who commit sexual harassment, so many of which seem to be men who don’t see anything wrong this behaviour. Reading the comments on an article, written by a man, which appeared in the Telegraph and speaks out about the harassment women experience on a daily basis is the intellectual equivalent of rubbing your face across the business end of a rusty rake – you pick up all sorts of shit that just makes you feel ill.

    And what it makes clear is that this isn’t really a matter of a few dodgy builders. Expecting dirty old men to refrain from putting their hands up my skirt doesn’t make me a “princess”, and doesn’t mean I’m a prude who can’t handle a bit of flirting. It’s not a matter of “well, it’s evolution, it’s human nature, we can’t help it”, because the vast majority of the men I stand close to on the tube manage to rein it in. Speaking to friends, it became clear that London is a hotspot for sexual harassment, but if it was an unavoidable part of being male, there wouldn’t be hotspots. It is not the natural order of things.

    A part of my loss of innocence was when I realised what objectification meant in the real world.

    But what’s just as tragic is this. As a nation, we’re so quick to criticise other cultures in which women aren’t deemed to be entitled to an education or allowed to drive. We’re better than that, we think. Liberated. But it’s 2013 and women are still scared to walk home alone at night. We can’t go to work without being treated as a plaything. We still feel the need to deliberately wear our scruffiest clothes in an effort to avoid being shouted at by strangers. We are made less than human every day.

    And we will not stay silent any longer.

    Hannah writes a most wonderful food blog called The Littlest Bakehouse, which I recommend checking out immediately. You can also find her on Twitter.

  2. It was a bad week for women

    February 20, 2013 by Ashley

    This post is taken from @Blonde_M‘s fabulous blog, Against Her Better Judgement.

    Gods above, but that was a bad, bad week for women. In amongst the other enormous breaking news stories (resigning Popes; covert ground-up horse in apparently everything; meteors hitting the Earth), a woman was shot dead in the middle of the night, allegedly by her boyfriend.

    Image from Jezebel

    Image from Jezebel

    The story has garnered far more media attention than any other case of domestic violence might because the man who’s been charged with her murder is a world-famous Paralympian athlete. This, understandably, has meant that the focus of the story has been Oscar Pistorius, rather than the victim, Reeva Steenkamp. The faint irk that she seemed to be referred to for the first 24 hours of reporting as “his girlfriend” rather than by her name was nothing in comparison to the anger felt the following day when tabloid newspapers around the world saw fit to illustrate the story with pictures of law graduate and model, who spoke out about empowering women, in the skimpiest bikinis and underwear they could find.

    Then, on Friday morning, between a tweet about a band’s new single and Bruce Willis flogging his latest film, Daybreak tweeted the following:

    Image from Twitter

    Image from Twitter

    I’m well aware that Daybreak isn’t the epitome of high culture and sophisticated discussion. That’s fine: there’s space for both it and BBC4. But it’s a programme with an enormous audience, and one staffed by people who should know better than to put out such idiocy. ONS stats might be a deeply worrying portrayal of Britain’s attitudes towards women and sexual violence, but the responsible journalistic approach isn’t to start a “debate” where there isn’t one. It’s to educate viewers that there aren’t two sides to the argument. This might be an individual incident, but it’s individual incidents that combine to add up to a culture in which blaming victims is acceptable, when actually the only people who are responsible for crimes are those who have committed them.

    Because these two incidents came in a week when the 1 Billion Rising campaign was launched, highlighting and campaigning against the fact that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. They came in a week when the BBC ran a deeply saddening but entirely unsurprising piece about women’s attitudes to their own safety when walking home after a night out. The verdict was unanimous: from Ramala to Kampala, Melbourne to Rio to Ottowa, women don’t feel safe. They make sure they have something they can lay hands on as a weapon should they need to. A quick, unscientific Twitter poll of followers elicited the same information. Check with your female friends: I guarantee the majority of them will have done it, at least once, if not regularly.

    Is it any wonder, really, given that – globally – there’s a culture of violence against women. It’s a systemic problem; that if we don’t speak up against it where we see it, nothing will change, and one billion more women will suffer.


    Blonde writes a fantastic blog which I recommend you bookmark immediately. You can also find her on Twitter.

  3. Sneak harassment: when can I say something?

    July 16, 2012 by Ashley

    Protestors against street harassment in Washington DC. Image from

    I don’t remember the first time I properly started to think about (street) harassment and how it affects me. It might have been this excellent post by @pleasedonteatjo, or this totally fabulous example of solidarity from @laurenbravo. Either way, until recently, I’d always just ignored it. Accepted it. Let it slide. But since we’ve been talking about it more, I’ve started to get annoyed. I’ve started to get really bloody angry. Because it’s not okay to treat a woman like she’s nothing more than the sum of her orifices. And nine times out of ten, that’s what street harassment is. It’s not a friendly man complimenting you on your fine choice of lipstick – it’s a bloke saying something creepy under his breath just as you walk past him; it’s a group of lads yelling ‘suck my cock’ from a passing car; it’s the nutter in a corner shop, telling you to bend over.

    It’s not okay, and it’s scary as shit. I’ve finally gotten the confidence to actually start shouting back (though only in crowded places and/or broad daylight – it would be stupid to put yourself in actual danger by provoking the wrong person). Having witnessed @alice_emily in a spectacular moment where she told off two harassers on Charing Cross Road, I’m now in full support of reacting angrily.

    But what about the times when you can’t really shout back? I was at a bit of a mental house party a couple of weeks ago. I only knew a handful of people, and I was having a good time catching up and snaffling a lovely G&T. As the night went on, the party got busier and the pupils of the people around me got wider. I was standing by the bathroom at one point, when an absolute scrotum of a man walked past me and full on brushed my left breast with his hand. Not an actual lengthy grope, but a distinctive, single stroke down the length of it. I jerked, stunned and did a sort of ‘what the fuck’ gesture with my arms, but he was already gone. I stood there for a second, wondering if anyone else had seen. They hadn’t. I felt indignant but sort of helpless. There was no chance for me to chase after him and berate him – after all, it could have been an accident (it wasn’t).

    Later, that same man pushed past me again and this time, did the exact same stroke-as-he-walked-past right up my bum cheek. Again, I felt immediately very uncomfortable and I think I actually said ‘what the fuck’, but he was already off and away. I mentioned it to my boyfriend, who wanted to know who it was. I didn’t tell him, because picking an argument with someone who’s high off their ass on coke and already bug-eyed is never going to end well. I told myself if he did it again, I would crush him (drunk me may be a bit of a drama queen). Thankfully, we left shortly after. I continued to seethe.

    I’ve talked about harassment a lot with my boyfriend, who is always horrified. He never sees it. We joke that he’s my talisman, because it does (obviously?) happen less when he’s with me. But the following day, we were walking down the escalator at a tube station, me with my maxi dress hitched up so I don’t get sucked in and vaporised, and it happens. Just as I walk past an older man in a suit, he says ‘lovely legs, sexy lady’ with a weird, hungry smile. I am instantly annoyed, throwing a ‘fuck off’ over my shoulder. As I get off, I turn to the boyfriend. “There! Did you see that?!” He didn’t. Because it was sneaky. It wasn’t a man in a hard hat yelling ‘tits’ while hanging off some scaffolding – it was a fairly ordinary looking businessman saying something quietly when I am less than a foot away from him. It’s not street harassment – it’s sneak harassment.

    Last week, on the District line, I put my hand up to hold the rail above me. It wasn’t particularly crowded and there was lots of room. The man nearest me put his hand on the rail too, touching mine. I instinctively moved mine a few inches along. He moved his along so our hands touched again. I moved along again. He followed. Then put his foot against mine. Everytime I moved, he would follow. I became so uncomfortable, that I switched carriages. Should I have said something? What am I meant to accuse him of? Excuse me, strange man, but please stop harassing my phalanges with your sweaty palms? Please don’t put your hushpuppies near my pumps? Please don’t breathe on me when there is clearly several feet of empty space around both of us?

    I have no problem at all with chatting to strangers, or a stranger complimenting someone on the way they look. I know a couple that met on a tube, another that met in a lift. It’s perfectly okay to speak to strike up a friendly chat with a perfect random. But it’s not cool when you’re subtly putting that person in an uncomfortable position. Deliberately pressing your crotch into someone on a crowded tube is not only unacceptable, it’s icky. Kind of like when your cat presents you with a dead mouse. But it’s hard to find the balance between telling someone you’re uncomfortable, and making things really bloody awkward. As Brits, awkwardness is just something we don’t do. I hate it. And when I can call out harassment, I do. But when it’s sneaky, you know the person’s getting off on the fact that you can’t say anything. They’re getting away with it in broad daylight, because you risk embarrassing everyone on the train if you actually say something, or wrongly accuse someone. It’s a social-political nightmare.

    So what do you do? My boyfriend suggests staring them down, but honestly, if someone’s creeped me out, the last thing I want to do is look them in the eye for any length of time. I’ve thrown a few casual glares around, but is it enough? How can we fix a problem when it’s barely on the radar? Or do we just have to get on with it? I don’t want to have to accept that sneak harassment is something that just happens. I want a solution! So, any ideas?!

    Ashley is the editor of and thus is not used to writing her own bylines. As well as working in communications, Ashley runs a little food blog, called Peach Trees and Bumblebees. You can also find her other, oft-neglected blog here, where she muses on issues ranging from Nectar cards to wanking. Usually not in the same post. She’s also on Twitter.

  4. Not even Lads harass – that’s left to the morons

    May 28, 2012 by Mr_Fitzgerald

    Image from

    There is one trending issue which really riles me up. One which doesn’t affect me directly, one I’ve never witnessed first hand, one which I have hitherto apparently let go un-noticed. And one I feel near powerless to prevent.

    Street harassment has been around for a long time. Forgive me my disgraceful naivety here though, but I had assumed that the wolf-whistling builder was just a cliché. Nowadays, with women MPs and CEOs, no average Joe Bloggs still shouts “nice tits love” at women in the street, right?

    According to this, 43% of women would disagree. It’s a shocking statistic, made worse by the fact that if you spoke to enough women you’d be expect it to be higher.

    For any right-minded bloke, the thought of harassing an attractive woman on the street never crosses his mind. What may well cross his mind is “sweet holy Jesus, she’s gorgeous”. Especially in summer, when skirts are shorter, tops lower, and all women seem to look a billion dollars. He will then probably tell his male friends about this ethereal vision of a female, probably in fairly insensitive terms, fantasising about what sex with her would be like. Which is fine – physical attraction is natural, and that sort of banter between male friends is part of male bonding, never intending to directly involve women or risk causing any offence. It is, to use that awful word, “banter”.

    It takes a special kind of moron to act upon that thought, and/or act upon that woman.

    It’s the kind of moron I cannot begin to comprehend. And trust me, I have tried. They’ll call themselves “one of the lads”, rejecting criticism to their behaviour a humourless over-reaction.


    I know lad culture. I went to university in Durham, a tiny city crammed with rugby and football teams, which, when combined along with a dose of cheap lager, produces a potent laddish cocktail. I’ve been part of it, on club socials and tours. I grew up in Glasgow, chav capital of the world. I’ve been there, seen it, done it, got the “Lads on Tour” t-shirt.

    Laddishness is about knowing your audience. Discussing women in physical terms purely as a group of ‘lads’ is the right side of the line of acceptability. Where you step over that line is when you start to involve women in your audience. That is when it stops being banter and becomes harassment.

    Just to be clear, I hate what the word ‘lad’ now means. It legitimises shitty behaviour to others purely on the basis of ‘being a lad’. Similarly, ‘boys will be boys’ does so on the grounds of being one of a whole gender. On both counts, I call bullshit. Why should possessing a penis be a valid excuse for being a cunt? Evolving behaviour to be more socially acceptable is a key part of an evolving civilisation – one which includes everyone – valuing and combining their different contributions, to improve the overall machine and maintain forward momentum. I thought we were at a point where we men had realised how much women can bring to the party.

    Yet there remains a minority, apparently not the tiny one I was expecting, who aren’t quite fully socially evolved – the child at the back of the class, who gets a kick out of both the social unacceptability and the resulting reaction of flagrant misogyny. That kick is the only motivation I can think of to explain what they do.

    So what can we do?

    Sadly, few people seem to have a workable solution, though not for want of trying. The Council of Europe’s Convention on Violence Against Women is a good start. But there’s a long way to go before the law catches up with the crime. And as with other forms of discrimination, the law can only ever go so far. We need to hit this from both sides, with legislation at the top matched by action at ground level. We cannot ignore it and expect laws to do all the. We need to reinforce the unacceptability of this behaviour every day, every time we see it.

    And, gentlemen, some of it needs to come from our side.

    What these children really want is a reaction from those at whom they direct their ‘compliments’. It’s what makes their game ‘fun’, so they continue. Like all trolls, if you react they never stop, if you ignore them they ratchet the game up a level until they get a reaction, but if you engage them properly, and show them up in front of their peers, they quickly stop bothering.

    I’ve seen this sort of thing happen online – a sexist comment is made by some imbecile, women react, imbecile argues back and continues to conduct his audience. What I’ve seen that they can’t handle is men calling them out as the impotent, pathetic infants they are. This steals the kick they get from female attention, and the feeling of a taboo broken. So they vanish.

    Essentially, our response to street harassment needs to be equivalent to this. Priceless.

    This is my rallying cry to my fellow men. If you witness some dickless wonder harassing a woman, help her out. Anything from a quiet “are you ok?” to “I don’t think she’s into virgins, mate” would, if nothing else, show the victim she’s not on her own. Judge the situation, be careful, but for god’s sake don’t stand by and do nothing when you can do something. We’ve left the women to fight this battle alone for far too long.

    After all, if things continue this way, women will give up and start wearing the burqa. Then we all lose. You’ve seen London in the summer sun, right?! It’s like a goddamn lynx advert. And who knows, if we stand by our women, we might even get laid. Now wouldn’t that be nice.

    Jack is a twenty something manboy. He writes a blog about London life (check out The London Lad here) and has the largest collection of empty gin bottles I’ve ever seen. You can often spot Jack exploring news bars and haunts for his blog, or on Twitter. Go forth and make friends. Just don’t try and make him watch Twilight. 

  5. Street Harassment Goes To Work!

    May 23, 2012 by Becca Day-Preston

    Image from

    Being a person with a vagina and the temerity to, on occasion, leave the house, I am no stranger to street harassment. In fact, as we have seen again and again on AWOT, very few of us are. The sad fact is that, yes, barely a week will go by without some charming fellow just letting you know, in the kindest and most polite way possible, that you have BANGING TITS or that he wants to DESTROY THAT. And, sadly, we’ve kind of gotten used to it, haven’t we? Wearing a low-cut dress, I will tightly button my cardigan if I’m going to be walking through the weekend crowds, and I think twice about attracting attention at all if I’m going to be alone at night for any reason. We all do it; we all monitor and edit our behaviour and appearance to give street harassers less of a ‘reason’ to bawl obscenities at us.

    The thing is, though, it’s not just on the street, is it? It’s on trains and in pubs and in Sainsbury’s on a Saturday afternoon and in the library (for reals) and in your own home if someone invites Wanker Mike to your party. And sometimes it’s at your desk at work.

    I’m a receptionist, which means I have the dubious pleasure of having to smile a lot, while staff and customers alike treat me like I am barely more intelligent than a ball of foil. It’s fulfilling.

    In my work we get a lot of parcels delivered by couriers, and last week, a new DHL man came, and our exchange was thus:

    He: Hello darling.
    Me: Can I help you?
    He: Got a parcel for you, sweetheart.
    Me: Right (gesturing that he should put it on the desk)
    He: (handing me the thing to sign) Here you go, babe.

    Now, at this point, I was so stupendously pissed off that I thought “I want to say more words, so I can say them in a snippy way, so that he knows I am pissed off”

    Me: Are you having a nice day?
    He: I am now I’ve found you, gorgeous.

    I’m not going to lie, I almost exploded. I almost threw my computer screen at his head and I almost called him all the bad things I could think of.

    But I didn’t: I calmly explained to him that his language was demeaning and unnecessary. I pointed out that we do not know each other and that a simple “hello” would always suffice. I said that approaching a young woman, on her own, and using those words, is incredibly threatening.

    To his credit, he listened, at least. Then he told me I was being silly, that I was overreacting, that this way of greeting someone is “just Northern” (er, no, mate, I’m from Newcastle so you’re not getting that catch-all bullshit past me) and, the worst, that he has always spoken this way to women, and that nobody else has ever complained.


    And I thought “I bet they have, you creep, and I bet you dismissed them like you dismissed me.” He left, to harass another day, and I was left, impotent in my uncomfortable desk chair, visibly shaking from the confrontation.

    This isn’t the first time, unfortunately, that this has happened. The old DHL man commented on my legs all the time (I sit behind a desk, he has never seen them) and asked me which building I live in (WHICH BUILDING!). There’s another courier to whom I had to say “please, call me Becca, not Beautiful or Honey.” And then there’s the much older male colleague who once called me Baby. Confronting these men has always left them smirking like “what’s her beef?” while I feel sick and shaky and scared.

    The worst thing is, after every time this has happened, I’ve questioned myself. Was I being over-friendly myself? Was I flirting? Do I just give out these “harass me!” vibes? And that’s ridiculous. So I’ve decided that next time a courier or a colleague sexually harasses me at work, I won’t say a word to him. And then I’ll lodge a formal complaint.

    And then he can never truthfully say that nobody has ever complained before. Small victory, but I’ll take it.

    Becca writes an absolutely top notch blog, which I recommend you bookmark immediately. She describes herself as a beauty addict, feminist and faux ginger, as well as a Minajaholic (probably not the same as a mingeaholic, which is what I first read when I saw that). She’s a postgraduate student, an amusing tweeter and a user of excellent similes. I suggest you follow her on Twitter toute suite.