Wednesday, 9 June 2010

One step too far

Okay. Now for the serious stuff.

Where does 'harmless' end and 'abusive' begin? Is a wolf whistle at a pretty girl harmless? What about a suggestive comment? What about touching or grabbing?

One step too far is a Welsh Assembly Government campaign. There's a short film in which a pretty blonde woman is repeatedly subjected to comments about her appearance, a leer down her top and then a man follows her down an alley and wolf whistles at her.

Just harmless? Or abusive? Watch it and decide.

I have had all of that happen to me, when I was younger.

"You don't get many of them to the pound love."

Yeah. Right.

I had an alleyway incident too. But it wasn't at night, it was in broad daylight and I was just a few yards from the main police station in Worcester. I'd parked my moped in the car park and was walking along carrying my handbag thinking of which shops to go to first.

I entered the alleyway just as a group of lads came towards me. They were laughing and joking among themselves and I didn't think anything of it, I just moved to the side to let them past. As they drew level with me one in the middle of the group reached out and grabbed my breasts. I tried to shake him off, I screamed, but he was bigger and stronger than I was. Eventually he let go and they all walked on, laughing. It had taken just a few seconds. I fell out of the alleyway, dazed and blinking into the bright sunshine of the High Street.

I was 16. I was a pony-mad teenager. I wasn't dressed provocatively. I was wearing a pink M&S jumper, jeans and trainers.

You don't get any training on how to react to a situation like that. Should I have reported it to the police? What could I do? There were seven or eight of them and one of me.

It made me feel frightened, powerless and ashamed.  I couldn't understand what it was about me that made them do that to me. I realise now, of course, that it wasn't to do with me at all, it was to do with them and their attitude. This is the Page Three mentality. They reacted to me the way the men react to the woman in the film.

And it's wrong. Quite wrong. I hope the Welsh Assembly's campaign helps to change a few attitudes so this doesn't keep happening to young women.

Above all I hope it doesn't happen to my daughters.


  1. A very interesting post. Do you know, if anyone did a survey, I am sure about 8 out of 10 women would probably report a similar experience. Something along those lines happened to me when I was 17 and got completely confused around the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank. It was pretty horrible experience but, having spoken about it to other women since, it seems like something similar has happened to the majority of us. Which is pretty damned awful. Maybe I should write about it.

  2. I think Maddie is right and something similar will have happened to most of us. I haven't asked my now grown up daughters what their experience is but I will now. Whatever it is they seem very fine, although I would utterly share your protective feeling about your own girls.
    I hope the campaign will do something too but if not, I still want them to be doing it.

  3. I meant to put somewhere in the post that I bet similar - or worse - has happened to most, perhaps all, women. Certainly everyone I have spoken to about it has had some kind of tale to tell.
    Maddie - please write about it too.
    elizabeth - interesting to ask your grown up daughters. I'm glad the Welsh Assembly has this campaign too.

  4. I share your views - and yes, I too have had my share of lewd leerers and gropers.

    They included a colleague at work - whom I never talked about except to the girl I worked with. We regarded him as a bit of a joke lecher - but he wasn't really was he? What he was doing was intrusive and an assault on me. I think perhaps I was afraid of opening up something that was potentially explosive if I made a complaint. Could I have handled the consequences? I think about it now and wonder if I should have done - perhaps for the sake of other younger and more vulnerable women. Maybe he was doing the same to others at work and they reacted like me.

    Appreciate your fears for your daughters - I had sons and my fear was mindless violence - each was mugged on more than one occasion.

    Hope this Welsh Assembly campaign works too - just wonder if society's view of sex has become slightly skewed - maybe young men have a distorted view of what is acceptable behaviour?

    Am rambling. Will stop.

  5. It obviously had a lasting effect on you as you still remember it in such detail. Do we teach boys what is appropraite and what isnt or do we leave it to girls to learn to accept that this behaviour happens and how to deal as best they can ? I do mean Do we not should we ? I suspect a lot depends on their peers. Is it a class thing? Is it a cultural thing? We certainly seem to see less of it here in France and in other cultures I have lived in than I saw in England.I too hope the campaign works but suspect it will not alas , it focuese on the girl not on the men who behave that way and the men will I think identify with the lads and laugh rather than seeing the girls distress.

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  7. I'd be surprised if there are any women who have never felt the sting of being in some way victimised, even if they're not particularly damaged by it.

  8. They've also produced another video showing two young women walking round Cardiff during the day. Watching it almost to tears. I think it's a terrific campaign.

  9. Mountainear - I think it's the 'handling the consequences' part that puts most women off making a complaint.
    Her at home - I wonder if the campaign will work, but better than nothing perhaps.
    SMS - Exactly.
    Chris - I haven't seen the next one - I'll seek it out.

  10. There is an even worse problem in Bangladesh where it is called 'Eve teasing'. It seems the only way out is suicide, which is awful:

  11. I am also one of those 8 out of 10. I was running one evening and in the middle of three girls, one in front and one behind. This van stopped and asked the way to Trowbridge (the sign was just at the top of the hill). I stopped to tell him and he physically picked me up. The girl behind me started screaming so not sure if it was my weight or realising that he'd been seen he dropped me. We went to the police etc, but the scariest thing was not so much the incident but that he might find me again, find my home etc.

    I think maybe we need to give our children tools to deal with these situation. For example if someone was actually looking at my boobs in an office scenario I'd actually say in a very loud voice. Jim, can you please look at my face, if it carried on I'd be even more graphic! I think as women we often lower our heads and run away. If I felt safe and in a public environment I'd not let the comment lie. I'd have to stand up and be counted. Obviously if on your own and in a dark alley way you do not want to provoke the situation and the best answer is to get away safely. But I would report it if I had felt threatened.

    All I can do is arm my daughter with confidence.

    I have to say though that I still believe that most men are good men. I worked in a women's refuge and those with generous and kind natures far, far outweighed those that were abusive.

    Don't get paralysed with fear, otherwise the abusive men win.

  12. Lins - Brilliant comment, thanks. I'd like to think my daughters are braver and feistier than me and would not 'lower their heads' as I did. It's a different world now, 20 years on, and perhaps young women are more in control. But I still have comments about my the size of my chest - next time I'm going to speak up and not let the comment lie.


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