Posts Tagged ‘Street harassment’

  1. Street harassment FAQs: an imaginary conversation

    July 24, 2012 by laurenbravo

    Image from

    Sorry, what was that?

    Hello, gorgeous.

    Yeah, I thought so. Would you like the middle finger with accompanying eyeroll, or a clumsy expletive? I might have a more eloquent speech jotted down somewhere in my bag if you can hang on a minute?

    But it’s a compliment!

    Is it, though? Is it actually? As @Blonde_M excellently put it in this post, a true compliment is intended to make the recipient feel good – not the giver feel powerful. Did you say it with my feelings in mind?

    Honestly, it was meant as a compliment

    Ok, fine. But what made you think you should pay it in the first place? You don’t know me. I’m not in a pageant. I’m not being officially presented at the Ambassador’s Ball. I’m just on the Northern Line, biting a hangnail. I’ve got a bit of lunch down my top. Did I look like I was fishing for compliments?

    Well, you’re a girl…

    Ah, of course! I’m a girl. I’d stupidly forgotten for a minute. But yep, there they are – the steady throb of my baby-hungry ovaries, the whirring cogs of the part of my brain still trying to figure out the offside rule, and, most importantly, my urgent gnawing need to be evaluated and approved by every male I have the good fortune to pass on the street.

    Are you being sarcastic?


    So you’re saying you DON’T want us to compliment you?

    Most of the time, honestly, no I don’t. I have friends for that. And family. And a talking Ken doll from the mid-90s. If it means not having to feel like I’m being scrutinised every time I leave the house, I’ll happily forgo the odd stranger telling me I look hot, thanks.

    But isn’t it nice to get a surprise compliment from a stranger?

    Well, yes – this is a tricky one, because it can be lovely. A lady at a bus stop once told me I had incredible skin, and I walked around like one big beaming epidermis for the rest of the day. But I think that’s because, like all truly great compliments, it was no-strings. She didn’t expect anything in return (or at least, she didn’t hang around leering, so I assumed she didn’t). She just wanted to say a nice thing.

    But what if, y’know… it isn’t no-strings?

    What’s that? You mean, if you see a comely lady and want to tell her she’s purdy in the hope she might agree to kiss you on the mouth?

    Something like that

    Well, first I feel it’s only fair to warn you that the chances of successfully pulling anyone you meet on the street are minimal. Teeny. Like your-


    Sorry – that too personal, was it?

    It’s true though. You can be a perfectly appealing guy, not drooling down your t-shirt or wearing a dirty overcoat or anything, and we’re still likely to back away when you try to hit on us in public. Partly, because it sets off a security alarm in our heads. And partly because, like any ill-judged social interaction, it just makes us cringe.

    Sure, everyone likes the idea of meeting the love of their life after they’ve groped your bum outside a corner shop in Kilburn – but life isn’t a fairytale. Sometimes you’ve just got to acknowledge the odds.

    But what CAN we say then?

    Well. I’m about the employ a massive cliché here, so gird yourself. Ahem. It’s not WHAT you say, it’s the way you say it.

    Or at least, that’s partially true. If what you want to say is “Hey baby, suck this” then no amount of warm smiling and non-threatening body language is going to stop us wanting to thwack you in the delicates.

    But when you’re treading the fine line between a friendly approach and a sleazy come-on, you just need to make it clear that you’ll retreat without fuss if we want you to. Start small, with a smile. Not a creepy one. See if she smiles back. Learn the signals. If they make a fake phone call to a friend, they’re not interested. If they frown nervously and shuffle away, that’s your cue to quit.

    It really isn’t that different from any person who strikes up a chat with any other person at the bus stop, and then won’t piss off when they want to get back to their book – except we have the added fear that you’ll follow us down a dark alleyway and we’ll have to jab our keys in your eye. Nobody likes being harangued.

    That’s true. I gave a guy the time once and he ended up sitting with me the whole way from Piccadilly to Cockfosters talking about which waterfowl are native to Britain. It was bloody annoying.

    Now imagine he also wanted to have sex with you. Maybe he did want to have sex with you.

    That’s a point.

    Also good to note: there’s a big difference between complimenting us on something we’ve chosen, like our shoes, and being ‘complimented’ on an intrinsic part of our physicality. Like our arses. “Hey, great hat!” says, “You have brilliant taste. You chose an excellent hat. Congratulations*”, while (and forgive me if there’s a GNVQ out there I haven’t heard of), there’s no expertise involved in growing a nice pair of tits.

    Rather than feeling proud, it makes you feel like a piece of meat laid out for inspection. And even if we’ve been classified as prime fillet today, what if we’re scrag end of neck tomorrow? It establishes a system in which we feel we have to look hot all the time. Every day. Just in case there’s a bloke looking.

    (*Actually that’s a lie. “Great hat!” usually means “Whoah there! Hat. You’ve got a hat on.”)

    So, if in doubt…

    Say nothing at all. Yep, ’fraid so. And I hate to break it to you, but nothing catastrophic is going to happen if you DON’T toot your horn at that girl in the sundress. Her day will carry on perfectly well without you shouting ‘Awright sexayyy’ out of the window. If anything it will probably be better.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if one day we could just tell women we think they’re beautiful without them feeling scared or objectified or pissed off?

    Yes. Yes it would.

    (Thanks to @ashleyfryer and the other brilliant AWOTs for all the inspiring chat on this topic)

    Lauren Bravo (yes that is her real name) is a professional funnylady for the Worthing Herald, and a top notch foodiewoman for Channel 4 Food. Check out her blog (where this post first appeared) or follow the magical lady on Twitter. Or, come along to AWOT gatherings and nom her Oreo truffles – you will be transported to a magical truffly-orgasm land, promise. 


  2. 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.

  3. Feminism: No longer needed, right? Erm, wrong

    July 11, 2012 by HannahsRhapsody

    In my life, I could view gender struggle as something that ‘happens to other people’. So why do I feel such a strong need to view the world from a fighting, ‘feminist’ point of view? Because it’s only by understanding what happens when gender equality is not upheld that I can appreciate just how lucky I am, and therefore how important feminism still is

    Feminist doormat

    Sound familiar?

    You know the scene. A few glasses of wine have been had, and a discussion starts. And yet again, I take a feminist viewpoint on something, and see the issue irrevocably coloured by its gender politics. And yet again, I find myself having to justify my stance, to women as often as to men. I find myself having to justify why feminism is still relevant to someone like me.

    ‘Why are you a ‘feminist’, anyway? Isn’t that all about bra burning and stuff? Why do you even need it, it’s so outdated?! You’ve got the vote and equal pay, haven’t you/we? Women go out to work nowadays, you/we can get divorced, have access to the Pill, get abortions, men do housework, look after the kids, I mean, what more do you/we want? How often do you/we get cat-called in the street? Maybe other women do, but you/we hardly ever do, right? And didn’t you hear that story a while back about how even builders don’t think shouting out at women is OK anymore? Think how much better you have it than women around the world! I mean, honestly. Are you just looking for something to get angry about?’

    And despite the seriously frustrating nature of these questions, it’s not always that easy to give a proper answer.

    It’s all very well engaging in feminist discussion on ‘women’s blogs’ where everyone agrees more or less with where you’re coming from, but in the ‘real world’, around the pub table, people who take on feminist stances can see themselves being looked at strangely, given distance as that crazy, angry woman in the corner, getting pissed off about stuff that doesn’t even apply anymore.

    It’s all very well being seen as akin to the ‘madwoman in the attic’ when the law says you’re legally your husband’s property, but hey, we’ve all moved on since then, so what are you still whinging about?

    • It’s not a question easily answered, if you consider it from my own personal point of view.

    A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by Mary Wollstonecraft

    Quite often I do find myself wondering why I personally feel the need to assume such a ‘feminist’ viewpoint on life. I gravitate towards ‘feminist’ blogs and ‘women’s’ take on the news; feel strongly about women’s independence, am deeply interested in discourses surrounding and between men and women, the ‘confounding’ of gender stereotypes (to paraphrase Mary Wollstonecraft) and derogatory language used by either sex, and generally am drawn towards individuals and media groups that bravely, intelligently and passionately argue for a more equal, more accepting, more tolerant and more liberal society, particularly where men and women’s gender ‘roles’ are concerned.

    • But, beyond the obvious, I sometimes wonder why I feel this way. On the face of it, I don’t have any real personal motivation for seeing the world through this kind of lens.

    Controversial statement, perhaps, but despite being an opinionated git; interested in news, debates, philosophical discussions and other things that would come under that rather horrible umbrella term ‘current affairs’; stubborn and outspoken, I’m not hugely political, and often feel myself assuming the rather non-triumphant role of observer rather than activist when it comes to these issues in real life.

    I’ve never marched for anything, and in my everyday life have been lucky enough to never have experienced first-hand any real sexist or sexual abuse, comments or problems (of which more below).

    I’ve had a great education, got a job, earned my own money, shared a flat on my own terms, and walked around London at night without feeling in any way especially discriminated against or at any disadvantage simply for being a woman (unlike in other countries I’ve visited, namely in India, where I sometimes felt threatened and stared at just for daring to appear on the street ‒ I can only imagine what would happen in other, even more conservative countries).

    Unlike women in other countries or cultures, I’ve not been denied contraception or been sneered at for having sex before marriage; I’ve been given just as good an education and chance at a career as my brother, I’ve never cooked a meal or ironed a shirt that I’ve not wanted to (being tired and wanting to watch the latest episode of Girls doesn’t count), I’ve not been pressured into marriage, or felt forced to have, or give up, a child, felt at any real risk of sexual violence, suffered domestic abuse or felt the glass ceiling pressing down on my head.

    I have barely even been ‘cat-called’ in the street – to which, stupidly and completely absurdly, my initial reaction is to feel offended and convinced of my own unattractiveness as a result, before I remember that such idiocy completely flies in the face of my own more considered convictions that women (and men; everyone) should have the right to walk down a road undisturbed.

    That I’ve not suffered this seems purely a case of luck; I know many of my friends have had explicit comments whispered at them while on public transport, and lewd comments shouted at them humiliatingly across the street. The internet is rife with women speaking out, quite rightly, about the verbal harassment they receive. But personally? It’s never been a big problem, to be honest.

    • On a wider level, compared to many other countries, in Britain we are streaks ahead in terms of legislation regarding women and equality of the sexes.

    Ignoring, for the moment, all the ways in which things still aren’t perfect in the UK, women are – in theory, anyway ‒ able to be educated, to claim the right to live without sexual harassment or fear, not legally able to be forced into marriage; able to have abortions, get free contraception, and entitled to be paid as much as a man doing the same job. Discrimination and lack of opportunity in this country is rife, but arguably far more as a result of socio-economic inequalities than gender ones.

    Of course, for each of those points I could (and probably should) enter into heated debate about why that’s not true, how this state of affairs only applies to white, heterosexual, middle class, privileged women. I could talk about the exceptions; the statistics that claim that these rights are far from universal, and why just because it’s the law, doesn’t mean it actually happens.

    But the fact that these laws and conditions exist, de jure at least, if not de facto, for many, already puts our nation far, far ahead of what women in other countries have to live with (or not, as the case may be). In some ways, women’s positions in this country are far from dire – or at least, legally they have the potential not to be.

    I can barely believe how lucky I am, and yet – if I am so lucky, and living in a country where such laws are in my favour, and where I personally am rarely made to feel threatened or limited because of my gender, then why do I still find myself feeling strongly about ‘women’s issues’, gender politics, and other debates that come under the heading ‘feminism’?

    • Why do I persist in seeing things through that ‘gendered lens’? Well, perhaps because, in reality, most of what I’ve written above is bollocks.
    Feminism people

    Radical, huh?

    While the legal ins and outs of what I’ve written are true, such as, for example, that women have a right to vote, a right to equal pay, and to live without harassment ‒ and that I myself haven’t suffered any real gender inequality ‒ that doesn’t mean that this state of affairs applies to all women, or that I don’t need to care.

    Even though, critics say, many of the key feminist battles have been won, that doesn’t mean that we no longer need to regard society from a feminist viewpoint, or defend the lines along which the original, old battles were fought.

    Women may have won the vote a while back, and bra-burning may (one might argue) belong in the faded days of Germaine Greer’s first-edition The Female Eunuch, but that doesn’t mean that feminist viewpoints aren’t needed. For so many reasons I barely know where to begin – in fact, so many reasons that a website called just that – A Thousand Reasons – was set up to highlight misogyny on the Internet, and, in its own words, to ‘discuss the continuing necessity of feminism’.

    • Because, yes, I realise I may be preaching to the converted here, and saying the obvious. Except, to me, it doesn’t always seem hugely obvious, because – as I’ve said above – I pretty much have never felt side-lined because of my gender.

    Beyond getting irate at some very-slightly off-colour ‘banter’ in my office, I’ve never obviously been at the receiving end of any real discrimination because of my sex. I’m a privileged white girl without much cause for complaint at the moment – certainly not from a gendered point of view, anyway. Lucky bloody me.

    But why, then, do I need to espouse a feminist viewpoint on the world, and get irate about such issues? Hasn’t all the hard work been done for me by women far stronger and more politically engaged than myself?

    • Yes, and yet, understanding one’s own motivations for taking a feminist stand on the world is something that I don’t think people talk about enough.

    It’s not enough to say ‘well, I’m a woman so obviously that’s why.’ It’s not enough to simply jump on the feminist bandwagon and get angry and excited about an issue just because I can. It’s not enough to mindlessly follow something without examining, in some way, why you’re doing so.

    • Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but it is to my serious embarrassment that sometimes I could find myself agreeing, at least from a personal point of view – that on the face of it, ‘the big’ feminist debates don’t really apply to my life, so why, personally, do I care?

    Of course, the answers to these questions have the potential to be as huge as they are debatable. Why, for instance, do we care about others at all? Why should we engage socially or politically in issues that don’t necessarily affect us directly? It’s about why we pay taxes, why we build a civilised society at all.

    This issue is also part of the whole ‘mansplaining’ debate on the Internet, which asks whether people who haven’t experienced prejudice can still own the struggle against it – specifically whether men can really be feminist, or ‘explain’ to women what ‘real feminism is’. Can I, even as a woman, justifiably care about feminism, and identify with its arguments, when I’m not on the receiving end of the worst of it? It’s a thorny question.

    But then, I don’t have to be non-white to understand that racism is completely wrong; I don’t have to be gay to want equal rights for gay people.

    • But all that aside (because this post is long enough as it is, and ‘mansplaining‘ is a huge issue in itself), on this particular issue, for me it’s basically very simple. It’s about appreciating what I (and millions like me) have, and recognising how easily, and apparently without too much fanfare, those gains could be lost.

    It’s about recognising that feminism isn’t just making a lot of noise about ‘women’s issues’, but understanding that it’s a fundamental part of who we are as a society – that not too long ago, women had to leave work when they got married; had to have a man’s permission before opening a bank account; couldn’t control their own fertility and were side-lined and marginalised and controlled as a result.

    I think for me, it basically comes down to the fact that a knowledge and continued debate on women’s rights, what they mean, and instances in which they are not upheld, simply informs my gratitude and understanding of just how privileged I am, but also, by extension, how far there is still to go when it comes to gender equality, and how easily such rights can be subverted.

    It’s only by seeing the ways in which apparent equality is letting other women down, of ways in which legal conditions can be subverted, of examples where woman are NOT given what I could so easily take for granted, of understanding just how vile people can be to each other on the basis of sexuality, sex and gender, and of looking – both historically and currently – of what happens when gender equality is NOT fought for, that I can see how lucky I am.

    And, therefore, in doing so, in my own, tiny way, try and work against prejudices that could flush away everything from which women like me have benefitted. At the risk of sounding like a character in Harry Potter, the phrase ‘constant vigilance!’ comes to mind.

    • Because gender inequality, especially today, when on the surface things look so much better than they historically have been, can be insidious.

    The privileges and rights that women have fought to claim, the moves that have been made against the patriarchy (which, I will add, at the risk of pursuing a positively scarlet herring, can harm men almost as much, if not just as much, as women) sit on a knife edge.

    Those rights could, if we stop caring, fall away in far less time than it took to instate them in the first place. Gender equality is still young. Women everywhere in the UK only got the vote in 1928 – not even a hundred years ago ‒ and other laws are younger still. And it’s hardly necessary for me to say that just because laws change, mindset is a whole other ballgame.

    To name but a few instances from a potential pool of millions, in Ireland, it’s still illegal for women to get abortions. In America, they’re still debating whether access to contraception makes women more promiscuous. They’re still asking whether legalised abortion is OK. They’re still debating the key, seminal issues at the heart of women controlling their own sexuality, of having the right to decide what they do with their own damn bodies. They’re still contemplating voting in someone who would limit women’s rights over all these issues.

    Hillary Clinton

    Hillary Clinton in makeup-less *shock*

    In this country, the media still print bare breasts on page three of the most-read national newspaper. Hillary Clinton choosing to go without makeup is still news. Most rape cases go unreported and unpunished. Many women do still feel threatened walking in the street. Magazines airbrush, focus on sex, looks, products and advertising more than anything else. Far too many women are still abused in their own homes, get paid less than men, feel like they are valued only for how sexy they are, how slim they are, how glossy; and only see themselves in relation to the men in their lives.

    Women are still, if the media is anything to go by, encouraged to value their looks and reproductive functions over their intellect; even the bloody UN can’t make a video about women going into science without making some highly-questionable, lipstick-and-high-heel-driven, patronising fluff complete with amazed ‘proper’ male scientist going all gaga at the fact that women Can Do Science (read: faff about with test tubes). In China, women are still being forced into having abortions; in countless other countries, they are conversely being forced in childbirth, underage marriage; deprived of education – constrained not just by poverty, or social constraints, but purely and only because of their sex.

    • But, hey, on the surface of it, no, man or woman in the pub, none of this directly affects me.

    I could choose not to take any notice of it, relegate feminism in Britain to a historical footnote, and make use of the legal victories that have been won for me in decades gone past, and stop, as one acquaintance once put it, ‘stamping my foot’ and ‘getting all indignant’ about certain ‘feminist’ issues because it ‘feels good’ and ‘I can’.

    Yes, despite wobbles where my conviction sometimes slips, I am lucky enough to have grown up knowing that basically, I don’t have to be abused in my relationships, pressured into sex, have sex without protection, get paid less than men, feel bad for speaking my mind, or feel subordinate in any way unless I actively choose to. I don’t have to wear high heels, sleep with a man to feel good about myself; I don’t have to look like a model – or like anyone, in fact.

    Actually, I could say, I am one of few around the world who can take privileged comfort in the fact that I can breeze merrily through life, unconstrained, perhaps limited by my own lack of energy, tendency to procrastinate, laziness or lack of focus – anything, in fact ‒ but not, NOT by my gender.

    But knowing just how much other women have been at that receiving end of gender inequality (e.g. not being able to get a conviction for rape, or feeling trapped in an abusive relationship, feeling intimidated in the street on or the Tube, or any other kind of deprivation, discrimination or entrapment, great or small), forces me to appreciate what I have, and understand just how precious it is.

    • For example, yesterday I watched the Mike Leigh film, Vera Drake, for the first time.
    Vera Drake

    Vera Drake, starring Imelda Staunton

    Watching the story ‒ fictionalised though it is ‒ that depicts the life, arrest and conviction of a caring, compassionate, ordinary, community-minded yet ultimately criminal backstreet abortionist in 1950s England, renewed my feminist viewpoint and reminded me why I care.

    Watching how women were repeatedly blamed, and criminalised, for their own sexuality; lampooned socially and legally for the sheer temerity of having sex before marriage, getting pregnant or wanting to control their own fertility; at how not so long ago, women who were raped were seen as having brought it on themselves and utterly responsible for any consequences, reminded me why I see the world in this ‘feminist’ way in the first place.

    Mike Leigh may have made a deeply touching film that tries very hard to avoid judgement on either side – but that doesn’t mean that my own judgement was left in any kind of doubt. The notable absence in the film of any of the fathers of the would-be babies, was striking. But worse was the uncomfortable feeling that so much of the moral and legal condemnation visible in the film is still on the political agenda of most countries in the world today – and, therefore, how easy it could be for that condemnation to return to society.

    • How close I could be to losing all the rights I (and people like me) could so easily take for granted.

    Beyond giving a slightly sexist joke a casual raised eyebrow or giving a steely look to an idiotic joker on the street, I’ve never had to personally test out my feminist convictions. I’ve never had reason to ask for legal aid in a battle fought solely due to my gender or sex, been in a relationship where I’ve felt threatened, or seriously been discriminated socially or professionally for the sole reason that I’m a woman.

    But it’s only by educating myself about the cases where women – both around in the world and in the UK ‒ haven’t had it so good, and the instances in which the law or society has failed them; by understanding the ways in which society, the media, and the law might work against the values that I hold so dear, (including, on what might sound like a more frivolous level, magazines that encourage women to value themselves largely on what they look like and what they consume that month, TV shows and news stories that show women as silly or of value only for their looks or relationships with men, rather than their intellect; political debates that re-hash the meaning of women’s sexuality and sexual rights over and over) that I can truly appreciate the vulnerability of my own fortune.

    • That ‘feminist’ issues don’t seem to hold much real, pressing role in my life is in itself paradoxical – it’s because they’re there that I can ignore them. But it’s at my peril that I forget they exist at all. Feeling in my position shouldn’t be a privilege – it should be a right, for all women, everywhere.

    And until it is, and until there’s no risk of that right ever being taken away, I’ll continue to see the world from a stridently ‘feminist’ viewpoint.

    It’s a slightly longer answer than your mates down the pub might have been expecting, perhaps – but surely one worth saying, nonetheless?

    Ps. I realise this is a sensitive and hugely complex topic. This post is already far too long but I welcome any discussion or debate in the comments if you feel I’ve glossed over something or perhaps need to think about something more. As many wiser than me have said before, just because I write about something doesn’t mean that’s the end of my thoughts on the topic – often it’s actually the beginning. Any abuse will be deleted though, cheers!

    My top feminist blogs and sites (including the fabulous AWOT, obviously!)

    Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahsRhapsody, and see her other witterings at

  4. Street Harassment – Hollaback!

    May 29, 2012 by Ashley

    Following all the recent talk about street harassment, I asked the AWOT community to tweet me their best comebacks to street harassers…

    Image from

    Bloke in train station staring at my tits. Don’t think he expected me to point at them, then at him & shout ‘GREAT, AREN’T THEY?’
    Once in a pub I got told I shouldnt be playing a man’s game (pool) and to go home because women don’t get spoken to in pubs.  I was so shocked I just stood there open-mouthed. I wish I’d told him to fuck off but it’s not what you expect is it!
    One day, I hope to break into the refrain from Hollaback Girl.
    I was walking down a street once having just bought a machete from a army supply store (I like machetes) and some guy stop and asks if I want a ride. And I hold up the machete and ask “Do you really want me in the car with you?” and he’s like “Well I trust you, you seem harmless,” and I was like, “what if I’m not? Would you risk your life on it?” and he drove off right away.
    Him: Oh, I thought you were going to be pretty. Me: I thought you were going to have a brain.
    “If you touch my bum again I’ll fart on you.” I even put it on @hollabackldn.
    “Dude, does that EVER WORK FOR YOU? Has anyone EVER responded positively? You must NEVER get laid.”
    A tweep (can’t remember who) recently said she’d replied “suck my dick”. Left harasser confused & speechless.
    After Anchorman came out I got “I wanna be on you.” Misheard and said “Sorry, what? You’re from Scotland?”
    Out w/ sister. Creep (hoping for ‘girl action’): “So what’s the relationship btwn you then laydeez?” Sis: “Biological. Piss off.”
    A guy started stroking my hair the other day and telling me I looked like Rapunzel. I told him it was a wig.
    Not exactly street harassment but in the 60s my Mum threw bananas at fellow employees that hooted at her ‘cuz she wore miniskirts.
    Him: “Smile, love!” Me: “Dance.” “You can’t tell me what to do!” “…”
    Recently I responded to one guy with, “WOW, REALLY? CAN I GIVE YOU MY PHONE NUMBER?” He called me a bitch. Such mixed messages.
    ‏My mum told me one of her friends had her arse grabbed in a club, grabbed it, held it up and shouted ‘to whom does this belong?’
    Ooh, and: “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but what did you REALLY think that was going to achieve?”
    To the man rubbing his cock against my leg on the tube ‘can you move over? that packet of polos in your pocket is digging in to me.’
    The appropriate response to a man gesturing at his crotch is ‘I’ve seen bigger’.
    It’s REALLY important to not mention the size of their dicks. You don’t want them to think that’s a consideration.
    Some chav guy asked for my number. I said no. He said was it because I was too posh for him. I said yes.
    I favour “Do you have a daughter / sister? How would you feel if someone shouted what you just said at them?” (not very pithy, but it works)
    Another fave: turn round, look at them, and do a big spluttering laugh.
    I find a simple withering look and a ‘run along now’ works wonders.
    I find a simple, “Sorry, what did you just say?” is often quite effective – force them to repeat their own idiocy, again and again.
    “RUDE!” (shouted as loudly as possible, whilst majestically sailing onwards like the victor you are)
    “I *beg* your pardon? Are you actually 12?”
    Maybe it’s because I’m a Chicagoan, but when strange men call me “honey,” I call them “woogums.”. They get disgruntled.

    Got harassed on street by terrifying man for having a ‘foreign’ tattoo. Told him it wasn’t my fault he was illiterate.
    Cat call I couldn’t object to: in Trinidad wearing a bright orange tee, a guy shouted: “Gyal you look like a big dose of vitamin C.”
    One of my male colleagues, who I generally don’t have a lot to do with (as he’s fucking lazy) emailed my lovely female office-mate the following: ”Is Jane single? Do you think she’d be interested in a no-strings-attached night of fucking me?”
    a) no; b) EW EW NO.
    Needless to say, I declined. Then vomited everywhere.

    And here’s a story I was emailed a while ago that I completely forgot to post:

    I was walking home from university, on the phone to my dad and I was wearing shorts, tights, and a light jumper. Simple. Not revealing, but it’s bloody hot outside so I wasn’t going to cover up more (and why should I just to repel the *twats*). Basically I had just walked up a big hill in NW London so as you can imagine my hair was sticking to my face because of the sweat and I was grasping for breath a little. Yet STILL I got harassed by three men, who were walking in the middle of the road:

    “Hi princess…” “Ohhh you look goooood enjoying the sunshine in those shorts” “That’s right, walk past us so that we can see you from behind”.

    This was all being said to me whilst I was trying to stay composed, carry on a conversation with my FATHER who could clearly hear what they were saying, and still trying to walk with a sticky face and a heavy bag.

    For about 10 seconds, I could neither hear my dad, or the grotesque comments coming from the men that I’d just walked past. My brain had gone a bit dumb. Then some signal fired correctly and told my brain that I should probably do something.

    I chose to turn around, raise my middle finger on my left hand (whilst my right hand tried to block the microphone on my phone) and say a loud “fuck off”.

    There was that millisecond where I thought that they may chase me down the street, but instead I was greeted with: “Ohhhh she’s feisty”.

    Surely I couldn’t have won in that situation.

    It’s a regular occurrence for me and my friends. I know people that have been shouted at through van windows, and chased by knobbers on mopeds.


  5. 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. 

  6. 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. 

  7. Street Harassment & Racism

    April 11, 2012 by SarahRapp

    I was walking home last week, and two middle-aged men walking with pitt bulls off-leashes got close to me on the pavement. I startled, and backed away. I have no phobia of dogs, but a rather a healthy respect for big animals to whom I’m a stranger.

    The man laughed and yelled to the dogs, “Leave the dark meat alone!”  

    I stopped walking, confused. It took me a second to realize that the dark meat wasn’t a KFC special on the ground, but me.

    The man breezed past me, and shared a cheeky grin with his friend about his comment, obviously delighted at his sparkling wit. The phrase ‘dark meat’ echoed in the hollows of my mind. It was a one-two punch of racism and sexism that left me feeling dirty and worthless.

    It ignored who I am as a person, and reduced me to my two my obvious visible characteristics—my skin colour and gender.

    I love navigating foreign subway systems, have a ridiculous sweet tooth, follow business news religiously, can quote large parts of ‘The West Wing’, and scored really well on my SATs but in that moment, none of that mattered. I wasn’t Sarah Rappaport, journalist and human being, but a commodity that could be bought and sold at a chicken shack.

    Meat, as in part of a dead animal, and not a person. Just typing this makes me cringe.

    I wish I could say that this is the one and only time that I had a comment like this directed at me. I don’t normally get comments quite so blatantly disrespectful, but as someone who isn’t lily-white, I get “othered” on quite a regular basis.

    When I’ve been out at bars, I’ve had men come up to me and say that they love ethnic girls as an opening line, as if we’re all the same. Clearly, all non-Anglo people have the same personality, hopes, and dreams! It comes with the added melanin and resistance to sunburn!

    Men have drunkenly uttered things to vulgar to print to me about how spicy I might be in bed because of the way I look.

    I’ve had people not believe me when I tell them that I’m from the States. Where are you really from, I mean, where are your parents from? are the inevitable follow up questions.

    The answer to this is Chicago. Shockingly, ‘ethnic’ people populate the United States as well.

    I’ve had remarks about how great my English is, as if it isn’t my first language.

    Dealing with these kind of remarks has become a sad kind of normal for me, but every time I hear a dehumanizing comment, it is still just as painful as the first time.

    I wish I lived in a world where I wouldn’t hear racist or sexist comments from strangers. It’d leave more space in my brain for the latest article on The FT, being a better friend, catching up wth @NotRollerGirl’s hilarious jokes on twitter, or at the very least, my Netflix Queue.

    Sarah is an American journalist living in London. She’s also one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. Sarah loves international news, travel, and  frozen yoghurt. One of these days, she is going to take me to Pinkberry (in an effort to convert me from Snog). You can check out her personal website here, or follow her on Twitter here.



  8. Street Harassment Week: Standing up to the ghosts of past experience

    March 23, 2012 by rebeccataylorpr

    Image from

    I wasn’t going to write this. When I saw Ashley’s tweet asking for experiences of street harassment, I wanted to tell her mine, but I didn’t want her to put my name to it. Somehow, the experience left me feeling deeply ashamed, and even as I was typing Ashley an email, I was physically shaking, despite the incident in question happening several years ago.

    However, the process of telling someone about my experience, for the first time ever, saw me go from ashamed to furious. Then I read Rachel England’s post about her own experiences of harassment, and I decided to just say it. Own it, stick two fingers up at the man who did it to me, and move right on past it.

    About three years ago, I was walking to the taxi rank on my way back from a night out, feeling good about myself, striding ahead of my friends. Three guys walking on the other side of the high street said hi, and we started to have a bit of a chat about how good our nights had been, and they invited me to a party with them. It was all very light-hearted and chatty and I don’t think they ever expected me to say yes to the invitation, we were just all high on the buzz of a good night out and a few drinks.

    Then one of them said,

    “Come back with us. Three of us, three holes.”

    It just cut me dead. I was horrified, and ran back to my friends where I promptly burst into tears and sobbed all the way home, all the rest of the night, and eventually cried myself to sleep. I wouldn’t tell my friends what was said because I just couldn’t get the words out. It still makes me feel tearful now. To the credit of the guy’s friends, they were horrified too and told him angrily that he couldn’t say things like that, but I still haven’t got over it.

    I still feel that I was completely violated. In a way it feels like I’m overreacting because it was just words, no one touched me, and maybe I feel somehow responsible, chatting away to strange men with my boyfriend trailing behind. But it’s difficult to see those words in print, and there’s still no way I could repeat it out loud. I’m a 27 year old woman who still feels weak thinking about what one drunk man said to me years ago – how dare he make me feel like that. I’d love to see him again and tell him what he did to me – I bet he doesn’t even remember saying it.

    I hope that no-one else has had a similar experience to this, but I know that won’t be the case. So I’m standing up to it, telling people what happened, telling you what happened, in the hope that I can put it behind me and finally see that guy for the pathetic excuse for a man that he really is. But that’s not to say that it’s been easy to move on from. Street harassment is serious, it’s not just ‘banter’, it is a big deal. Let’s speak up.

    Rebecca Taylor is a PR lady, shoe fanatic and pinot grigio connaisseur. She’s fond of mojitos, 50s style, glam rock and punk cover versions of pop songs. If you believe Klout (!), Rebecca is influential about sandwiches, which earns her my immediate love and respect. You can find more about her here, or you can follow her on Twitter here


    This week is International Anti-street Harassment Week. You can read more about it here. If you’d like to share a story, email me (Ashley) or register and post your blog. Alternatively, if you have an anonymous story to share, email or DM @AWOT_UK for the login details to the anon account.  

  9. Standing up to street harassment: Operation Creep-Be-Gone

    February 8, 2012 by laurenbravo

    Lauren shares a recent story of heroism. I like to think the picture below is in fact a self portrait. She will strenuously deny said claim, but we all know the truth. 

    Image from

    I did a good deed the other week. On the scale between replacing the loo roll when you’ve finished it and pulling a child out of the way of a speeding bus shouting “Little Jimmy, nooooo!” then I’ll concede it’s closer to the Andrex end, but still, I felt proud.

    My deed was this: I saw a woman, on a busy Euston Road at 6pm, being hounded by a man. He wasn’t being outwardly aggressive, but he was sliming round her like a slug in an overcoat, asking questions and ignoring all clear signals (headphones in, one-word answers, refusal to make eye contact) that she wasn’t interested.

    I caught the girl’s eye and mouthed “are you ok?”, to which she shook her head. So then I had a decision to make, quickly. To barge in like the Green Cross Code Man and say “STOP, letch! She doesn’t want to talk to you. RETREAT,” before blasting him with a sonic ray gun, or the alternative; pretend to be her mate.  “There you are!” I cried, launching myself on her (for if I’m going to do a good deed I may as well get a hug out of it). “Hi!” she faked, as I dragged her away. Then we stood together on the pavement miming friendly chat like a couple of am-dram actors, while Slug Man stared, lingered, and eventually slithered off back to his cabbage patch.

    She was pretty grateful, or at least acted like she was. “I always attract the weirdos too,” I told her, in what I thought at the time was a reassuring manner. Then I disappeared off into the night, swishing my imaginary cape and feeling proud.

    Why don’t more people do this? Seriously? There must have been 20 people within view and earshot standing nearby, yet nobody else paid the slightest attention. I assume for the same reasons more strangers don’t tell you when you have food on your face – because we are all really hermit crabs, and unprecedented human contact is more often than not a big ol’ faff.

    There’s the worry that you’re going to get ‘involved in something’, of course, and I can appreciate that. But nobody’s saying you have to leap in with your handbag swinging. Even a stern glance or a calm, disapproving presence could help. A well-timed ‘tut’ might still go some way to helping these lowlifes learn that harassing us for the simple crime of possessing ovaries is Not Ok.

    This isn’t necessarily about sisterhood, either. I stopped and rescued her because I’ve been in her place enough times to know it’s shit, and because it makes my blood boil that street harassment is still so commonplace when it ought to have gone the way of the permed mullet. But a bloke could likewise have stopped and rescued her because he’s a decent person, and it makes HIS blood boil that street harassment is still so commonplace it ought to have gone the way of the permed mullet.

    So let’s make this a new thing – street harassment crusaders! Operation Creep-Be-Gone! Bolshy builders, drunk leerers at bus stops, creepy guys who hang around asking you your name at train stations – all beware! For before you know it, a Fake Friend might leap out of the shadows and stop you in your tracks. Who’s with me?

    (Capes optional)

    For more from the fabulous Lauren Bravo (yes that is her real name), check out her blog (where this post first appeared) or follow the magical lady on Twitter*.

    *Highly recommended for funnies