• charlottebinns96

Misogyny, misplaced 'compliments' and the fear of being female in 2021

The peace is suddenly shattered by the beeping horn of a nondescript van as I go about minding my own business.

I am four weeks away from my first ever half marathon and I feel mightily unprepared. Training has made me realise two very important things recently: running is extremely boring, and certain men in their work vans appear to have a penchant for young women in gym leggings (I caveat that with the emphasis being placed firmly on it being only certain men, not all of them).

Cheers of “nice arse darling”, wolf-whistles, and even the occasional (and certainly unwarranted) bark pierce through the music coming from my headphones whenever I find myself running. Or walking. Or sitting down for that matter.

Seven months on from the tragic death of Sarah Everard has the male perspective on what constitutes sexual harassment really not changed?

When recounting the tale of the aforementioned man-in-white-van to a family member I was shocked by their response that I should be flattered by their supposed "compliments"; and herein lies the problem. It is still the case that many in our society believe that oggling, heckling and let's call it what it frankly is, harassing young women should be taken as the compliment it was intended as. That we should feel flattered that at least we are deemed societally attractive enough to warrant the time and effort of a horn tooting. That our bottoms looks fine enough to be on the receiving end of these men's lust and wandering eyes.

My first experiences of unwanted male attention coincide with the start of secondary school. It would be a weekly occurrence that a man passing in his car or van would cat-call and beep as I'd be walking down my road to the bus stop, in my school uniform and very clearly not of an age where any sexual advances would be legal, let alone appreciated.

I was 15 when a friend and I were the victims of an indecent exposure charge while walking back home from school through the park.

Luckily there was a police office (female, and following the devastating revelations of the Sarah Everard case perhaps of not much consolation had it been a male one) who we were able to report it straight to. It resulted in a conviction, and what emerged as being even scarier was the fact this conviction only arose as my friend recognised him from hanging around her street.

Fast forward 10 years and I wondered why I found myself in tears following yet another incident where a man in his van - presumably on his way to work - began to holler things such as "alright love you're looking good, nice arse." As the tears flowed, and my middle finger went up to him, I couldn't get my head around why I was so upset over something so trivial that happens frequently to many women that I know.

And then it dawned on me. If these men are so brazen to perform these acts in broad daylight, while on their way to work; if they could so casually shout comments and leer and heckle you for your number first thing at morning when the sun is shining and children are being taken on their way to school, what would they do to you if they encountered you alone down a dark alleyway? If their sexual urges are really so strong and uncontrollable that they are unable to refrain from beeping their horn and commenting on your body, what would happen if they got their hands on you when you were in a more vulnerable situation?

Nobody wants to feel unsafe in their own body or in their own neighbourhood nor should these men have the power to make you feel you need to alter your behaviour around them. You shouldn't have to tie a jumper around your waist to prevent the cat-calls, you shouldn't have to walk the longer route home past security cameras and more street lights, you shouldn't have to worry about walking through the park in broad daylight as a child worrying a man would walk by with his erect penis out of his jeans as he was pleasuring himself. This is not a female issue, and the burden needs to lay firmly where it belongs: with the men who are unable to control their urges to express this misplaced, and often extremely threatening, unwanted sexual attention.

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