A Thing That Happened

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Political Wrangling
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

So a few hours ago, I was walking down the main street in town when I saw three young white Scots – I’d estimate they were about eighteen or nineteen – up ahead on the corner, hooting and making engine sounds in (presumably) appreciation of a car that had just driven past. Then they turned and started heading towards me. And as we passed each other, one of them glanced at me and asked, “Would you shag me for a pound?”

I was, quite literally, dumbstruck. The boys kept walking; I got two paces before my outrage had time to assert itself, at which I shouted after them, “Fuck off, you misogynist bastards!”

Quite clearly, I heard one of them laughingly ask the others, “What did she say?” And then, when his friend repeated the “fuck off”, he got angry and started to yell.

I couldn’t make out what he said next – I’d kept on walking – but just before I rounded the corner, I saw that all three had stopped and were shouting after me.

The encounter went no further than that. It was, after all, the middle of Sunday afternoon, outside a church, in broad daylight. At least one passerby stared at me when I yelled at the boys to fuck off, doubtless because she hadn’t heard their original remark. I was left shaking with fury for at least the next half hour, and though I’ve since calmed down – this was hours ago – I’m shaking again as I type this.

This was not a pleasant experience. It was vile and awful, a breathtakingly casual display of sexism. I did not know these boys. They were younger than me by almost a decade. A minute earlier, they’d been laughing about cars. I’d done nothing to offend them. Bad male behaviour is never excused by what women are wearing, nor do skimpy clothes count as provocation. Nonetheless, as some men clearly don’t understand this fact, you could be forgiven for wondering how I was dressed – after all, the lad in question clearly thought it was appropriate to proposition me for sex.

Behold today’s outfit:

Call me crazy, but I’m struggling to find a definition of ‘provocative attire’ that includes a rainbow beanie, glasses, a Gryffindor scarf, a leather jacket, an ankle-length velvet skirt, and barely-visible boots. I was shapeless and comfy; with my hands pocketed, hair covered and neck scarved against the cold, the only way I could have been showing less skin was if I’d been wearing a niqab or balaclava.

Which only leaves my gender. A stranger insulted me because I was female: nothing more, nothing less. And when I reacted with anger – when I called him and his friends misogynists and told them to fuck off – they got angry, because to their minds, they’d done nothing wrong. To them, the remark was a harmless joke, yet there was I, busting out the swearguns and shouting like a crazy lady with no sense of humour.


OK? It is creepy and invasive and threatening. If a group of men said that to me at night with no one about, I’d be deeply fucking scared. The fact that it was daylight – that I was able to swear at them withΒ impunityΒ and keep walking – is down entirely to luck and privilege: luck, in that I found my voice before they were out of earshot, and that the incident happened in daylight in front of witnesses who would likely have intervened on my behalf; privilege, because I’m white, a fluent English speaker and a legal resident of this country, and therefore had absolutely no reason to think that, if my retaliation made them angry enough to hurt me, I would not be protected or believed by those in power.

This week in America, Republican Rush Limbaugh was forced to make a condescending apology to Sandra Fluke, a young woman he called a slut and a prostitute for her advocacy of birth control, after being shunned by members of his own party.

“In the attempt to be humourous,” he said, “I created a national stir.”

But humour never defends misogyny: not when you’re an idiot teenage boy, and certainly not when you’re a politician.

Grow the fuck up, all of you.

  1. admin says:

    Do you know Foz, this sort of thing has happened so often in so many different parts of the world, I barely notice it anymore. And that isn’t a good thing. That is a depressing thing. Repetition has sort of blunted my outrage. But you are right to rage, right, right, right. It is the only emotion that changes things.

  2. […] up, Foz recounts A Thing That Happened to her in St […]

  3. Mel says:

    Oh my gosh Foz – are you ok?

  4. Anubis says:

    Male assholery. Sometimes even outright anger doesn’t seem to be enough. The post reminds me of the number of times I have been publicly insulted and hissed and shouted at because I, a male person, supposedly didn’t look or behave the proper masculine way. And the post also reminds me of that basic underlining difference in a patriarchal society: As a male heterosexual, I will always be able to try and behave in a more ‘proper’ masculine way. At least I have the choice. A female person on the other hand (or any human being who gets sex-categorized as female) doesn’t have that choice. To say that someone could have avoided misogynistic abuse by behaving in a more ‘appropriate’ way is an outright lie.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Exactly. So often, the problem with people’s responses to this kind of behaviour is the assumption that there’s anything the victim could or ought to have done to prevent it, when in reality, the issue is with the abuser’s state of mind.

  5. Ahhh, crazy St Andrews. I was walking home from work one night (close to midnight) on South Street, judiciously staying on the opposite sidewalk from three male university students, staggering drunk, one of whom was barely upright and screaming at the top of his lungs for no particular reason. Believe me – if I could have gone home sooner or if there had been any other route home that was safer, I’d have been on it.

    Suddenly, one of them appeared just behind my left shoulder, having somehow crossed the street without my noticing. He grabbed me around the shoulders and planted a big kiss on my cheek. I responded quite sensibly by slugging him in the abdomen and bellowing, “BUGGER OFF!” Then I kept walking quickly and briskly, because I long ago discovered that a moving target confuses these idiots and makes them less likely to attack/continue attacking.

    I did take one glance back to see him holding his stomach, looking hurt. Good. Then he started following me again, pawing at my shoulder and saying, “Hey! Hey, it was only a laugh!” over and over. We were coming up on some scaffolding in front of one of the pubs at that point. I had to give serious thought to turning around and doing him some permanent harm that could even get me deported. I was *not* going under that scaffolding with him. Fortunately, he left me alone before we got there and I continued on my merry way. Also fortunately, his two buddies were apparently too loaded to get involved.

    And yes, it was every bit as scary as you envisioned.

    I heard later that these numbskulls were going around doing this to women, randomly, and at least one poor girl ended up in one of the South Street pubs (the one with the beer garden that’s open about two days out of the year. Can’t remember the name now), badly shaken. I sure hope I was their last target. I’d like to think that punch had some salutary effect, since good sense and decency clearly didn’t win out in their pickled brains that night.

    I love the Brits. I really do. Would have stayed there if I could have. But they have some really major issues with booze and misogyny that they desperately need to work out.

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