LUNCH recently with friends and the subject of heckling comes up.
Heckling, groping, harrassment. Every one of us has a story to tell. Every one. And not just anecdotes about the odd catcall in the street or tea-making jibes in the office.
Here's one of mine: on the train home from my first visit to Manchester a man sat down next to me, and undid his tracksuit bottoms. There were only three other people in the carriage at the time, one another young woman, who was really quite shaken. He'd been sporadically bothering both of us before the grand finale and she hadn't known what to do. My new friend was about 6ft 4in with his tracksuit trousers tucked into Homer Simpson socks. I gave him what my grandmother liked to call a Paddington stare and excused myself. The ticket collector, when I asked him to, refused to call the police. When I told my tutor at uni she said: "I hate when that happens."
That's an extreme example but harassment in myriad forms is par for the course for women. This week this issue made UK-wide headlines when Glasgow University Union (GUU) became the backdrop for a shameful debating chamber debacle as two of the top-rated student debaters in the world were harangued by sexist chants from their male peers. A female judge was called a "frigid b***h" when she complained.
This is a red rag to a bullish feminist. It is disgusting. But not surprising.
Journalist Laura Bates last year set up the Everyday Sexism Project (ESP), a website where women can record their experiences of being harassed in public or at work and it's received more than 20,000 entries. On Tuesday a Glasgow page was set up, the GUU Everyday Sexism Project, on Facebook, and it too is heavy with entries.
I wrote previously about Hollaback, a website similar to the Everyday Sexism Project, set up in 2011 also to record street harrassment. A lovely old gentleman wrote in with the very best of intentions to tell me that my problem is I'm just "too bonny". For street harassment apologists this is the issue: they think it's complimentary rather than insulting, objectifying and, at times, intimidating.
My friend Nadine says she'd like to do some kind of feminist ninja training. When you're on the receiving end of slithering tentacles or sleazy words it's difficult not to want to deliver a hard fist to soft regions. I like the thought of a band of renegade feminist ninjas roaming the streets, twisting the fingers of groping hands and pinching catcalling tongues.
This topic was touched on this week by my colleague Alan Taylor. He says we need more difficult women. We do. We also need more men, like Alan, who are willing to recognise it. It's tricky for men, I think, to get it right sometimes. The smart ones will worry about seeming paternalistic.
My favourite entry so far on ESP is from a woman who says: "Dear random man who lifted his top up when builders shouted 'get yer t*** out' at me, thanks. You made my day." I like the thought of feminist ninjas. I like the thought better of more men like this one, taking sides. That's not paternalism, it's teamwork. And that's what we need.
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