As soon as I began puberty, I was taught that my body was unsafe. That it was not fully mine. I was taught to be wary of the clothes that I wore. I was taught that my body would be politicised in a way that other people’s would not.
I found out that people – strangers – felt entitled to comment on my body.
Whether it was the men in a van, driving past me on my way home from school, beeping their horn and shouting out their window.
Or, later, the men who would cross me in the street on my walk to work, who would get too close and make a kissing sound in my ear as they passed me. Men who mutter while walking close behind me – giving so-called-compliments that turn into vulgarities and insults.
An old drunk man who, as I walked home after work at five o’clock in the afternoon, put his hand on my shoulder and asked if he could buy me a drink.
The three men who – all in the space of six minutes – approached me as I walked home clutching a broken arm. Who each asked if I were okay and then proceeded to ask me if I wanted to go back to their place and sleep with them. Who asked if I had a boyfriend when I refused them.
Or the man who I saw press his pelvis against a woman who was waiting for her money at a cashpoint.
If you are not a cis-man, you will most likely have stories like these yourself. If you are a cis-man, reading the list above may be shocking and it should be.
I have spoken to people (and in this case, ‘people’ means cis-men) who’ve said “it doesn’t happen a lot though” or “Well, I’ve never done it” or “I’m not doing anything bad, just reminding them to smile, it’s nice”.
That last one has almost become a joke – a cliche. Almost – almost because it harks back to the idea of women being useful only for men’s pleasure, to look nice. Smile – make a man think you’re happy to see him.
Those men saying ‘I’m just cheering them up’, ‘I’m being nice, it’s friendly’: ask yourself if you’ve ever told a man to smile because ‘cheer up love, it might never happen’.
It’s not nice. It’s not friendly.
These are only examples of the small street-side sexist behaviour and the unwanted sexual advances that we frequently have to deal with. The stuff that we might not even mention to our friends.
Many of us have stories of more extreme cases.