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London - Walking along in the sun, I felt full of the joys of spring until a man was in my face saying: “Cheer up, darlin’. It might never happen.”
It happened. It always happens. It happened to my friend in a hospital corridor just after her dad had died. “Cheer up, love ... “
Hey, this was a clumsy remark I should laugh at, but it’s too late now.
Johnny Cash was playing in my head - “I shot a man in Reno. Just to watch him die ...” - possibly because I have been harassed all over the world all my life and sometimes I feel I just can’t take it any more.
So I asked the guy to explain his own sadness to me. He looked rather terrified, as some men do when you ask them about emotions, and shot back into his van.
Some would not count this as harassment. But why do I, like so many women, have to protect my own space in the street or in a restaurant? Why am I ever vigilant?
Why do I take a book if I have to wait for someone in a public place? To signal I don’t want company, although inevitably some Wildean wit says: “You like reading, then?”
Of course, as I age, it happens less, and when I am with my daughters I am invisible, but they too have had to fend off men making remarks ever since they were 11.
Before you say it’s harmless, ask yourself if you would want crude remarks made to your wife or daughter while she was pushing a child on a swing. Or in the supermarket. Or the park.
The delusion that somehow women are flattered by this constant assessment of their sexual attractiveness is one that only some men can maintain. It is deeply patronising to say that most men don’t know the difference between mutual flirting and making a woman feel deeply uncomfortable.
Communicating through whistling and groping is not even a highly successful method of seduction. Unwanted comments feel threatening, not funny.
Some of this is to do with class, culture, basic manners. And bullying. For a woman to walk past a group of men cat-calling is not pleasant.
We know what compliments are, as they make us feel good. “Nice legs. Do you want something between them?” does not.
All the women hurrying along alone, walking purposefully, avoiding eye contact, wondering whether to get into that train carriage, are not feeling enormously at ease.
Nor has it crossed our minds to yell at a random man in the street that he looks miserable, that he is homosexual or a prostitute. Yes, I know the picture we always see is of lairy drunk girls who are not delicate flowers, but that’s not the whole picture.
Attitudes do change. We can civilise ourselves. Racist abuse happens in public but we now think it’s wrong.
Cameron and Clegg signed a pledge this week saying they would support the necessary legislation to stop “verbal, non-verbal or physical harassment”. They will finally also take stalking more seriously.
I welcome anything that makes our environment one in which women are not routinely degraded or humiliated. Yet laws can but signal that certain behaviour is not acceptable. For many women, the simple pleasure of being out and about without men commenting on how we look, what we are and what they want to do to us would indeed cheer us up.
If it did ever happen ... - Daily Mail