On Street Harassment
I stood up to a street harasser yesterday and I’m glad I did. Here’s a fuller version of the story.
First, some context:
A train full of people returning from a sporting event is an experience. I got the train from Limerick to Dublin yesterday and the first leg was full of Cork and Limerick supporters on their way home. I was on the train 15 minutes before departure and there were only a few empty seats dotted around the carriages. I didn’t fancy being surrounded by a gaggle of sweaty, sunburned, boozy singer/shouters, so I was delighted to see a seat beside a lone, sober, normal-looking woman. When I asked if I could sit next to her, the first thing she said was “oh thank god, you look sober and normal!” We got talking and she turned out to be a lovely, chatty person. She was also a bona fide stunner with blonde hair, perfect makeup and a cute outfit. It turned out she’d already told a few unsteady men that her friend was on the way to avoid having them sit beside her. One of them had even pawed the sweets she’d brought for the journey before asking if he could have one. She gave him the whole packet to get rid of him!
First leg to Limerick junction was uneventful enough – the train was packed and there was a lot of good-humoured singing, chanting and slagging between the Cork and Limerick lads. Except for the guy who just kept staring at my new buddy. Seriously staring. Not just “Wow, she’s gorgeous”. As in, you could tell he was NOT thinking pleasant things and didn’t give a shit if she noticed or it made her uncomfortable. It made ME uncomfortable and I was just watching him stare. We didn’t say anything TO him, but it was seriously icky.
We changed trains at Limerick Junction and that was the end of *most* of the hurling fans – except for the group of six who were seated behind us and drinking and shouting (yes of course it was the quiet carriage) They were delighted that some “lovely girls” were on the train and wanted us to chat to them, offered us drinks etc. We did banter with them for a bit as they seemed like good-natured guys, but after a while we sat back and stayed quiet. All of a sudden we were flies on the wall and couldn’t help overhearing their conversations and the derogatory things they said about their wives, girlfriends, ex girlfriends, about escaping the “ball and chain”, not shagging the au pair cause she’s too skinny, girls not putting out, girls putting out too much, ugly girls, crazy girls, demanding girls etc etc etc etc etc. It was disrespectful and gross and somewhere on the scale between irritating and infuriating.
So there’s your context – here’s the main event
We arrived at Heuston station and my lovely new buddy and I were heading along the platform. We had reached the front of the train when my senses went on alert as a young woman who had collected her bike and was pushing it in front of her was stopped by a man who stepped in front of her, put his hands on the handle bars and leaned towards her while making a face with his mouth open. My first instinct was that it was HIS bike which the woman had taken, as that was the only acceptable reason I could figure for the heightened level of interaction. After a moment, I realised that the man was invading the woman’s space for different reasons and I could tell by her body language that she was deeply uncomfortable, but didn’t want to be rude. As I passed, I heard her say “No, thank you” and she moved out of the way and continued up the platform. The man’s companion looked at me and my friend and said “He’s weird isn’t he”. I said “Yes, he is” and we kept walking.
I wanted to acknowledge to bikewoman that I’d seen what had happened so I approached her and asked if she was OK, She said she was fine, and I indicated that I’d seen what had happened with the men. She made a shrugging, rueful smile that I took to be a “you know what it’s like” expression, thanked me and headed off up the platform. Almost immediately, I spotted the two men who’d interfered with her bike earlier walking up behind her. I suggested to my train buddy that we walk up beside her to put the men off talking to the woman again and she agreed.
Before we got there, however, the same man reached for the woman’s bag which was hanging from the handlebars of her bike. That was enough for me and I caught up with the woman and interrupted the men. I can’t remember the exact words or even order of the conversation (adrenaline, you know) but I started with ” Hey, don’t touch her bag. Leave her alone.” The guy protested that he was just helping her with her stuff. I asked the woman if she wanted his help and she shook her head and said that she was ok, thanks. I repeated to the man to leave her alone. He wanted to know who the hell I was and implied that he and the woman were friends. Again I asked her if she knew the men and she said that she didn’t so I told them to stop interfering with her and to leave her alone.
At this point the man’s buddy joined in and told me that *I* was interfering and that it was none of my business, but I agreed but said I wasn’t going anywhere til they left her alone. I started to try to reason with them and say that they may be nice guys but that there was no way to tell, especially if they were bugging a woman who was by herself, but they got quite aggressive and insisted I was interfering and that I should fuck off. I basically stood my ground and eventually they started insulting me, calling me an ugly cow and a dry bitch, but they walked off.
The bicycle girl, my train buddy and I were quite wary walking out of the station, in case the men should reappear, so I called over a security guard and asked him to walk with us to the door of the station. We spotted the two men at the tram stop outside and the security guy seemed quite interested in going over and having words with the men, but none of the three of us wanted to take it any further. I had originally been planning to get the tram into the city centre, but I didn’t want to risk further confrontation with the two men, so my train buddy suggested we the three of us adjourn to the pub for a drink, which we did – and we had a lovely time bonding over how creepy and awful some men can be if they think they can get away with it, how terrifying it can be to be harassed or followed by a stranger (yes, we all had experienced this more than once) and how it can be nerve-wracking to stand up to a harasser because you never know how aggressive they will get. It was genuinely nice to bond with these women despite the shittiness of the circumstances.
So there you have it. It’s too late at night for much analysis of the wherefores, so I’ve tried to give you the events as I saw them, straight up as I could. Here are the whys though – from my point of view anyway.
I stood with the woman being harassed for a number of reasons
1) I was sick and tired of hearing and seeing women being objectified and derided that day
2) Having been harassed, I know how it can feel like you’re completely alone when it happens even if there are people around.
3) I know that the woman would have been able to get away from the men by herself most probably, but I wanted to stand up to them and let her know that she wasn’t alone and that I had her back.
4) I don’t want to feel like it’s “none of my business”. Street harassment is EVERYONE’s business. If someone stood up with someone being harassed every time it happened, I think the harassers sense of power would be reduced, making them less likely to harass someone in the future.
As an addendum to this story, when I was getting the DART home, full of warm fuzzies at doing my Good Deed, I overheard a bunch of lads talking about women they knew. One of them was complaining that when he took a girl home, he discovered that “the bitch was on her period. After all my hard work.”
It never ends. But it MUST fucking end.