This afternoon I was on a train and a man asked if he could sit next to me. I said “yes” and moved my bag. As he sat down I could smell that he smelt of alcohol. He spread his legs so his leg was pressed against mine and put his hand down and placed it on my leg. Seeing that he was obviously drunk, I pushed back against his leg to shove it back and then moved my legs closer together so that he had no reason to invade my space. He immediately moved his leg against mine again and put his hand down on my leg. He didn’t move it as if it fondle it, but it made me feel uncomfortable and I shuffled in my seat to move my leg as far as I could – which wasn’t far as I was already as close to the window as possible. He took the hint and said “I better move”. And off he went.
A couple of women across the train aisle asked what had happened and I said quietly “he touched my leg”. They pulled faces in disgust and asked if I was OK. The man opposite me said “he was just drunk”.
I was OK but a bit deflated by the event. Before that I was in a good mood and excited for the trip I was on, and this event took the edge off how I’d been feeling. Also, as mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve got quite low self-esteem and am not confident about my body. The event today made me feel ugly and wishing I had a huge baggy jumper on me to hide under. I’d had a few compliments on my appearance this past week, and although I struggled to accept them, I was feeling happier in myself about myself. Almost instantly I felt I had taken 20 steps backwards again and wondered what I’d done to receive this attention. Was my top too low-cut?, was the bra I’m wearing making me look too large-chested? Had I looked too smiley and happy? What had I done wrong? Was I just making too much of what happened?
I put a status on Facebook. Mainly to document what had happened. I wasn’t looking for sympathy, but it helped that others stated that what the man had done was wrong and that I should have punched him in the balls or made a scene or something. I had advice from a friend who works for the railway that I should report it.
As the man had been drunk I wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t an accident. I didn’t want to cause a scene if it was just an accident, but at the same time it had spoilt my journey.
I didn’t report it. But this in itself made me think back to other instances in my life when I’d been made to feel uncomfortable by the actions of men and I did nothing.
I should make it clear that I’ve suffered nothing compared to other women and men I know, but it’s the subtle things that people get away with that possibly lead the perpetrators to go on and push things further and further until they do something which is very, very wrong.
I’ve tolerated loads of sexual comments on football terraces – chants about my tits, chants asking me to show where I piss from, etc. All banter I’ve tried to take in good humour. But that doesn’t make it right or acceptable as others may not laugh it off as easily as I have.
My first examples of sexual wrongness come from junior school where I was a pupil in a year which only had 3 girls in my year. The boys would pay us girls 10p to show us what was under our knickers. It was the late 70s, that was a lot of money to me and another girl did it so it felt normal. They didn’t touch, it was just a quick flash. I didn’t even realise it was wrong.
I don’t remember anything else til I was at uni. I was so naïve that I thought when a lad asked to walk you home from a nightclub it would be like in the movies. A kiss at the door and then arrange a date. I didn’t realise it meant a grope or more and if you didn’t allow that you’d be called a tease, frigid or whatever. Anything to make me feel I’d done wrong, that I’d led them on. I remember being forced to hold a guy’s dick because I felt I had no way out of the situation. Another time I wanked a guy off because I felt I had no choice as I was made to feel I was a horrible person for not wanting to do more. I felt ashamed of myself and I didn’t report it.
I had a relationship with someone. He made me feel worthless as he ditched me for someone who he said was prettier and more feminine as she wore dresses and high heels. He said he’d stay with me if I stopped wearing plimsolls and fringed skirts and wore ‘grown-up’ clothes and high heels. I decided I was better off being me than being the person a guy wanted me to be, even if that meant I dressed unattractively.
Another memory was once on Skegness beach, my best friend and I were walking down to the sea when a man walked out from the sea totally naked. He walked up to us and held his dick and said “look how floppy and small this is from swimming in the sea”. We ignored him and he ran off. Again, I didn’t report it.
After all that. I met someone who worshipped me. I thought that was great to start with, I was happy that someone appeared to like me for me, we had a great relationship and married. Then a few years in things turned horrible and then horrific. His obsessive, possessive and addictive personality became impossible to live with. I didn’t stop loving him, but I couldn’t be the wife he wanted. I was becoming more independent and he hated that. He’d lock me in the house to stop me visiting friends, and he got violent and worse. I loved him even though I no longer liked him. I didn’t report what he did.
A few years later, a boyfriend was away for the weekend in Poland with his mates. I watched an England football game on TV. England won. I wanted to be amongst people celebrating so I got a bus into town. I was walking to a pub where I thought some people I knew might be when I was pushed up into a dark corner by some lads. One of them held my arms and stifled my mouth whilst another undid and pulled down my jeans and knickers. He only managed to touch me forcefully before someone else saw what was going on and shouted at them and they ran off. This time I did report it. I was inspected and swabbed and gave statements but I couldn’t give very good descriptions and I heard nothing more.
Years later I was at a work Christmas do and was told by a colleague that we could have free drinks all night if I slept with the waiter at the end of the night. I was disgusted with this offer and couldn’t wait to leave. I stuck to water the rest of the night. I avoided my colleague as much as I could and I didn’t report the waiter.
I messaged someone on an online dating site a couple of years ago. We got on great and we were both keen to meet. I suggested a venue a few miles between where we both lived. He said that was no good as “where would we go for sex?” I assured him we wouldn’t be doing that on a first date. He assured me we would. I stopped messaging him as no way was I getting myself in a situation where I might be pressurised to do something I didn’t want to do or be subjected to verbal abuse when I said “no”.
More recently someone took his humour too far and made me feel uncomfortable. He thought he was God’s gift and couldn’t grasp that I wasn’t desperate enough to take him up on his offers. I didn’t think I was dressed provocatively, but he seemed to think so and called me a tease and groped a breast. He was drunk. It’s no excuse. I knew him so had words the next day. He apologised.
A couple of months ago I was photographing a gig and a stranger came up to me and told me that a guy had been acting out thrusting sexual gestures behind me as I worked. I’d done nothing to lead him on, I was working. It sickened me and made me feel very self conscious for the rest of the evening. I asked a female friend if she’d seen it happen. She hadn’t. I thought about mentioning it to the person running the gig, but the guy who’d been making the gestures was a friend of his so I didn’t.
There’s probably loads of other instances where I’ve been made to feel inferior or a piece of meat because it suited the person and they got away with it. Each time I wondered what I’d done wrong, whether things would have been different if I’d dressed differently or been a different person.
I’m sure there’s many readers who identify with what I’ve said, and many who wonder what the fuss is about as nothing really bad has happened to me.
However, Just because nothing really bad has happened to me doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected me. I’m often conscious wof how I dress and what signal it might give off. I’m always cautious meeting new people. I’m scared of flirting and don’t even really know how to flirt as I worry that I might be leading someone on. I still get called frigid on dating sites when I’m adamant that I won’t sleep with someone on a first date. I don’t trust people who tell me I’m beautiful- partly because I feel I’m ugly, partly because I think they’re saying it because they want more than I’m prepared to give straight away. I need to feel that I’m more than just a piece of meat. Likewise, I’m scared of telling people I find them attractive, I’m scared of making a move when I want to in case my advances are as unwanted as some of the creeps that have made a move on me. I’m not frigid as I’ve been called over and over, but I am careful. I prefer to get to know a would-be lover first as a friend, and then I’m happy for them to make the first move.
I’m still wondering if I should have reported the man today. I wonder whether me not reporting him has led him to subject another woman to the same thing or worse. Looking back at some of the instances in the past that I’ve mentioned, I know I’d encourage others to report rather than give the offender the benefit of the doubt. That’s got to be a better course of action than to think of all the reasons why I’d possibly been the one to cause the situation to happen.
I’ll be OK. I’ve done up my jacket to make myself look flatter-chested and changed my Facebook profile picture to one showing less cleavage. I need to feel I’m dressed more conservatively for a while…