Many women encounter harassment and intimidation on a daily basis, but the consequences for its perpetrators are often lukewarm or nonexistent altogether.
‘It’s a f**king road you sh*tc*nts’ he screamed out the window of his shiny SUV as he accelerated across the pavement into the garage forecourt.
With cool indifference, I swaggered up to the front of his car. Resting my boot on the bumper of the brand new Range Rover, I challenged him to repeat his words and explain himself. Failing to meet my cold, level stare, he dribbled out an apology, promising to be more respectful to people in the future and to pay more attention when driving.
Alas, this cool exchange only happened in my head. Sadly, however, the incident that inspired it was real. In fact, my partner and I were too stunned to react immediately, so we turned to one another in shock and giggled at the fury of the man who had chosen the unlikely word combination for his insult. The reason he felt confident to shout obscenities with impunity is that I’m 4’8” and like my less diminutive partner, female. He was abusive to two small women in a way that he was unlikely to have been to a man capable of thumping him back. He knew he could get away with it, and he did. Had we have challenged him, he would have had no difficulty flattening us, and I’m fairly confident he would have. So what we actually did was try not to show he had got to us and walk on without looking back.
He wasn’t alone in the car; there was a woman with him. I found myself pondering, if he had no qualms behaving this aggressively towards strangers in broad daylight, what was her relationship with him like? This is the third time in as many months that I have encountered harassment from random men in the same stretch of street; sometimes it’s been based on my appearance, sometimes just my presence. What is interesting is that it is always from men.
Each time a man has shouted at me, or whispered obscenities as I’ve walked passed, my world has become a little smaller. I’m neither a victim nor a coward, but I am also not impervious to hate or the burn of humiliation, which, however misplaced, scars.
Whether it’s a comment about my ‘sexy arse’ or just straightforward abuse, the message is the same. I am reminded of my weakness and punished for daring to walk as equal in the public sphere. As it happens I don’t think of myself as an equal. I know I am superior to these insecure men, but what I think is irrelevant because I know that if I answer back I will ‘be asking for it’, for confrontation. So, like most women, I shut up and go on my way.
But what would have happened had I have reported this to the police? Chances are, not a lot. My local police force have seemingly endless consultations about hate crime. Yet, the daily abuse and harassment of women by men is never recognised as such, neither by most women nor the police. Indeed, when I looked at the most recent survey circulated by my local constabulary, it asks for every facets of an individual’s identity, aside from their sex.
In these days of gender-neutral pronouns and safe spaces, we’re not supposed to recognise that sex matters. But I guarantee that no matter how I identify, my female body will mark me out as a target to those with male bodies. Hate is about power and in short, some men feel entitled to talk to women in a way they would never dare to with other men. Indeed, it is my contention that some men think commenting on women to keep us in check is both a duty and a male-bonding activity. By reducing us to fools who dare to walk in front of their cars, or body parts for their consumption, men remind us that we are lesser and that we step out of the domestic sphere at their sufferance.
Hate from some men is what all women live with. From daily interactions on the street to institutions, misogyny is woven through society and it is so normal that is hard to recognise. In a world where most men masturbate to images of women in pain, is that any surprise? Greer’s observation that “women have very little idea of how much men hate them” rings more true with each day.
What happened to my partner and I is just one in a series of everyday instances that will go unmarked. There is no incident number, there was no crime, and if I were to tell the other women in the office, they would be quick to dig out examples of abusive women, because recognising male violence as a pattern is too alarming. My partner and I weren’t beaten, we weren’t hurt, and yet the hatred of women by men continues to shape our lives in ways that are simply brushed off.