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.