Trigger Warning - sexual assault, harrassment, rape. Don't read this if you're unsure about it.
When you are a creature of routine, you tend to see the same people over and over again. Monday to Friday, doing the school run, I see the same people, the same cars, the same cyclists. The Blondies and I have developed a game where we assign nicknames to them and play nickname bingo to try and distract us from the monotony of our cold and damp trudging. Pretty Red-Haired Girl, Grumpy Granny, Teenage George Osbourne, The Count…
The Count. A nickname that I settled on because he looks exactly like the Count in Sesame Street. I always saw him on my way back home after dropping The Blondies off. There’s one road that I usually walk along, very straight and flat, and I would pass him walking in the opposite direction, presumably on his way to work. Norwich is a friendly place, and most strangers smile at you, sometimes even a ‘Good morning!’, especially if you see each other regularly. We’d fallen into the habit of greeting each other as we passed, but… So very British of me, but it was starting to get a bit awkward. The road is so straight that I would be able to see him approaching a good five minutes before we actually drew level with one another, and we would have to do that slightly baffling thing of pretending we hadn’t really spotted each other until we were close enough to smile and make our acknowledgement. It’s not that he seemed creepy or weird, just a slightly awkward situation that one can only understand if one comes from the UK.
Then on the last day of term, I spotted him walking towards me again, big smile. But this time, instead of continuing past me, he stopped, extended a hand and started talking. ‘Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Andrew, what’s your name? Just thought I’d say Merry Christmas to you, do you have any plans?’ I was initially polite, said nothing much, just at home with the family, yes, I’m walking home after dropping my kids at school, yes, I have children, no I’m not single, I have a partner, no, I don’t want to meet you for a drink, no, please let go of my hand, I said let go of my hand, FUCK OFF.
Happily for me, I have a plethora of other roads to walk home along in the morning, so I haven’t walked back that way since term started back. I’ve told a few people about it, and the difference in reactions is telling. Before I even get halfway through it, the women are already rolling their eyes and saying ‘I know where this is going.’ The men seem quite stunned by it. Men, it seems, just don’t get it.
Men don’t get ogled when they’re walking down the road. Men don’t get pinned up against the wall at a PTA ceilidh and groped. Men don’t have to fend off wandering hands in the pub. Men don’t have a car pull up alongside them and ask ‘How much?’ when they’re 16 and on their way to take their RE GCSE exam. Men don’t get their arses grabbed in the middle of a busy street. Men don’t have to step in and physically remove unwelcome hands that are fondling their friends when they’re out for the night. Men don’t feel intimidated when they have to walk past a group of people of the opposite sex, and steel themselves for the shout that will inevitably come.
Men don’t have the experience of being chased through an underpass by a group of drunk people they thought were friends, the ‘friends’ shouting that they’re ‘going to fuck you up good and proper.’ Men don’t get confronted by flashers when they’re out walking in Earlham Park. Men don’t have people offering to light their cigarettes and holding the lighter too low so their top can be looked down. Men aren’t confronted with images of other semi-naked men in national newspapers on a daily basis, and being told ‘it’s just a bit of fun’. Men don’t get their clothes torn in a hotel room, trying to get away from a hotel employee, when they’re 14. Men don’t get followed around Valley of the Kings when they’re 17.
Men don’t get a penis pressed into their back on public transport. Men don’t get rape threats online. Men don’t get told not to wear certain clothes. Men don’t get told not to go out alone after dark. Men don’t get told not to get drunk in case someone takes advantage of them. Men don’t get told to take it as a compliment. Men don’t get raped on a beach when they’re five years old, and then asked why they didn't shout or scream at the time.
Men don’t get it. But women do. The above is only my experience to date. If you think I’m exaggerating, have a look at Everyday Sexism and see for yourself. See what women get. And if you’re a man, you might just get it.