Whistling, pinching, “sweetheart” – it’s all harassment
This week Sophie Peeters, a film student from France released a video called Femme De La Rue. In the film Sophie walks around her local neighbourhood in Brussels. For most of the film she is wearing a knee length summer dress and cowboy boots, and sometimes she is wearing a cardigan and a scarf. A hidden camera films her progress. As she sits in the park reading a book, or walks past a bustling café she is called everything from ”sexy” to “tramp” to “whore”, she is propositioned for sex and occasionally, dinner dates.
About the making of the film Peeters has said that…
“Even if I wear long trousers and a t-shirt, they find it appropriate to call me “baby”, “slut”, “doll” and other degrading names. They follow me around clicking their tongue and asking me where I live, if I’m married and how much it costs to have sex with them. It’s even worse when you wear a skirt or a dress…you are a whore and deserve to be treated that way. This name-calling happens all the time: I counted once, just for “fun”. In the fifteen minutes…I was called names like this eleven times!”
Some controversy has flared up about the film, in particular because many of the men who harass Peeter’s in the film are of North African extraction, and Peeters is a white woman. But for those of you, who think that this sort of harassment is unique to the streets of Brussels or a racial matter, you are mistaken. I was shocked when I first saw the film but then I had to admit to myself that this was all too familiar.
I have lived in London for most of my life, I am now 21 and for the last four years almost every day I have experienced harassment of this kind. When I was sixteen it was much the same as Peeters shows in her film… men asking me for my number or for a “fuck”, and the occasional a white van bibbing as they sped past. My usual response is to look at my feet and pretend I haven’t heard them, to this I usually get called either a “are you deaf…lesbian” or told to “fuck off, whore”. Unfortunately as I have got older it has become significantly worse.
Whilst travelling on the tube in rush hour, with barely any room to breathe, I am forced to endure middle aged men standing close, asking for my name and not giving up until I am forced to leave the train before I have reached my stop. When I was seventeen a man in his mid-forties stood next to me and pushed his erect penis against me. I was trapped between him and the glass door at rush hour. I returned home in a torrent of tears.
I have had my bum grabbed in the street, in broad daylight, twice in the last two years. The first time two men stood in front of me whilst their friend was behind me, again in the middle of the day, on a busy North London Street on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve been followed down an escalator one step at a time, and chased to my front door in the dead of night.
Last week at 5pm two men in a car followed me down a street nearly a mile long. At first the driver started slowing down, asking me relatively harmless questions like “Will you marry me?” to which I responded in my usual manner- I looked at the ground and kept silent. Then he became progressively more aggressive. He started to pull up and get out of his car, asking me for sex. He did this four times in total. Luckily, a friend of mine called me on my mobile phone and I made her stay on the phone to me till I reached my destination, trying my best to ignore the man pursuing me down the street.
UK polls have revealed that four in every ten women have been harassed on the street s of London last year. The poll also found that 31% of women aged 18 to 24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention on public transport and 21% of 25- to 34-year-olds. Overall, 5% of the women surveyed had experienced unwanted sexual contact on public transport.
London is my favourite city and I love living here. I’m lucky that I have never witness racial hated or discrimination against the disabled on London’s streets. Yet every day, I and many, many women in London experience sexual harassment which leaves you feeling isolated, intimidated and scared.
Racial hatred was endemic throughout the UK for much of the 20th Century. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, there were mass acts of civil protests against racial violence and institutional racism. With the onset on the Paralympics I’m sure the issue of discrimination against the disabled will be raised in the British media. But when will Britain decide that violence against women is not something that should be tolerated and ignored, but something which should be brought to an end?Tagged in: Femme De La Rue, sexual harrassment, Sophie Peeters, women
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