When I first started a blog over four years ago I vowed I wouldn’t rant. One of my good friends didn’t make a blog for that exact reason, she knew she would do nothing but! So please bear with me. I wouldn’t be writing if I didn’t feel strongly and angry enough about it.
Around Christmas time I got my current job in a big bookshop/newsagent. Once a guy in his late thirties, stutter, nervous asked me about books for his son. We didn’t have the exact thing he was looking for but I guided him to the Children’s area and showed him various books that might be fun and helpful for his son. I was nice to him. The conversation kept drifting towards me and his issues with his ex and he asked me really uncomfortable things like is it true he wasn’t desirable to women because of his arthritis (??) and did I have a boyfriend and all sorts. I found myself craning over the bookshelves for someone to save me and afterwards realised that the kids area is secluded, I was kind of trapped.
He came back about two weeks later and tried to slip me his number. I just said no and walked away.
In that kind of retail environment not only are you trapped by the confines of the store but you can’t very well tell someone where to shove it when you have to maintain excellent customer service. And I think somewhere certain predatory men know this, they use it time and time again.
I am not the girl that gets a lot of male attention. Not by a long shot. But my most horrible experiences with, I’m sorry, creepy men have been after they’ve sat beside me on a bus and in work. In situations where I feel I have nowhere to go.
It was this excellent article in the Guardian ‘I’m tired of being kind to creepy men in order to stay safe‘ that encouraged me to write and made me want to shout YES in agreement. I saw it just after alighting the 212 bus from Derry to Belfast and having endured an older man with a blotchy face nudge me over and over as he searched his pockets then finally worked up the nerve to speak, asking me millions of questions and tapping me on the shoulder, arm, knee for about an hour. Although I had forgotten my earphones and was carefully looking out the window, and sending the biggest don’t-talk-to-me-vibes. I was texting my boyfriend saying I was scared to fall asleep in case he groped me.
I don’t think it’s happen stance that sexual harassment happens with increasing alarming frequency on public transport in the UK. Train carriages are small. Bus seats are cramped. There’s nowhere to go.
Here’s a brilliant excerpt from Daisy Buchanan’s article as mentioned:
There’s obviously something about a quiet coach and a station buffet that encourages pervy passengers. British Transport Police have just announced that the number of sexual offences on trains and at stations has gone up by 25% in the past year, and is now at record levels. Any travelling woman who has ever sunk down in her seat and opened her book, only to be tapped on the shoulder and asked “What are you reading, then?” will be surprised that the numbers aren’t higher.
We’ve all been bothered by persistent guys who pester us relentlessly, believing themselves to be entitled to our company and more. We’re under pressure to be polite and manage their expectations. Ignored men are angry men, and it’s horrible to sit silently while a man shouts at a packed carriage: “She thinks she’s too good to talk to me!”
As a woman, although it isn’t always a concious thought, it can also be about trying to appease the man in the situation so he doesn’t become aggressive.
She is SO right too about her Mum’s regret being teaching her daughters to be so polite. I find it really hard to ignore or cut someone off when they are talking. But you know what? If you make me uncomfortable and have come to my work for the fifth time you won’t get nice Fi anymore. I just need to work on being more assertive much quicker. I tend to be friendly and chatty and people clearly see it as an ‘in.’ I have regretted a handful of situations where I have been much too nice.
The final push to write this came after today, feeling shaky and neck and face blazing after telling a 70 year old regular customer that I changed my mind and I didn’t want to go for coffee with him, I didn’t think it would be appropriate. I was too afraid/ nice to say no the last time. He is a retired teacher and I have had lots of friendly conversations about teaching with him in the last months. He never came across creepy but this just made me so uncomfortable, especially as he is so insistent. He stood staring and asked me my name and stuff so maybe he is having some trouble with his memory or something too. And maybe he is not being creepy but I have been watching for him this last week or so and dreading turning him down. Anyway I had to say no several times before he would leave and it just ruined my whole day.
A fella at work told me that the security man in the shopping centre described a regular, kind of eccentric man who went into a shop downstairs and always chatted to one of the girls there. One day he asked to take her for dinner and she explained that she was happy to talk to him in work but she didn’t want to do anything outside of that. He leaned in close and said ‘That’s not the answer I was looking for.’
Basically I think I am writing this to tell women that they don’t have to be kind or polite to men who are demanding attention and making you feel uncomfortable. I have spent my life doing just this and I am striving to correct it. Tell your boss, walk away, move seats, protect yourself.
Also, men it isn’t your right for a girl to talk to you. If she’s reading, or facing away from you on public transport then maybe it’s best not to disturb her. If you wouldn’t walk up to someone in the street or in a bar then don’t do it somewhere you know she can’t walk away from. Respect at all times. Try to see it from the other person’s point of view.
I never write controversial posts and I know this may offend. But these are my true feelings and I know they are shared with plenty of people I have discussed them with, who care about me, male and female. I am the opposite of a man hater, so don’t think that. I love my boyfriend, Josh Ritter and Hugh Jackman (haha). I know women can be confusing and send out mixed signals, and it wouldn’t be a crime to ask someone out in a retail setting or even on a train. But respect her right to say no and don’t assume or threaten or take liberties.