The rasping sound got louder.
Sensing where it was coming from, I continued walking.
Focussing on crossing the road, I maintained my path.
He was nearing me now. I kept up a constant stride and carried on walking.
“Big tits! Come on!”
Only a few more feet and then our paths would cross; I couldn’t avoid him. As I turned, he shouted at me again.
“Yeah you! Big breasts. Whooah!”
With him now in front of me, I was forced to stop. I looked up at him.
“Fucking big tits!”
With a quick motion of his hands, he gestured the size of my breasts, then looked at me triumphantly and exclaimed:
“Your breasts are fucking huge!”
Unable to hold back my fury any longer and feeling courageous for a millisecond, I lost it and shouted back at him:
“Fuck you! Tosser! Fuck off.”
And then swiftly immersed myself into the small group of people surrounding the entrance to the late-night supermarket.
Glancing back, I saw him standing there, watching me, an angry expression appearing on his face.
I disappeared into the store, seething: How dare he speak to me like that? What the fuck did he think he was going to achieve? Did he really think that I would respond,
“Oh god, I love it when men make remarks about my body; I adore it when I am seen as nothing more than a pair of breasts. Being shouted at in a sexist and sexually condescending way by strangers in the street really turns me on: please come over here now, pull down my jeans and fuck me hard.”?
Normally, I would let something like this pass me by. I would conclude that obviously this guy was a twat, totally incapable of relating to women. I would laugh at his feeble attempt to communicate with me and how pathetic he was. I would even see seen the comedic value in the scenario and recall the whole stupid incident for humorous exploitation on this blog later.
But this was different: instead of laughing it off, I felt scared.
Scared because this man had approached me – aggressively – as I walked down the street.
Scared because he had used sexually graphic language and actions to insult and intimidate me.
Scared because it was late at night, dark, and he could see I was all alone.
And as I walked round the store, this worried me: he might still be outside; he might be angry that I had shouted back; he might hurt me.
Some that might argue that this man was most likely harmless; that he was just trying to undermine and bully me and that nothing would have happened had I bumped into him again.
But even though this may be true, I don’t think my fear was an overreaction: as many women can no doubt relate, there comes a point where we look at every man walking behind us at night with suspicion and fear; where we find ourselves wondering, if this night, will be when our worst nightmare happens; where we fear that the sexual aggression we experience will turn to sexual violence.
Although perhaps statistically unlikely to happen on the street, the fear of being attacked or raped is not that irrational: every woman I know has, at some point in their life, experienced some kind of coercion or force in relation to sex. Each of us has a story: it is a telling and somewhat depressing reality about our society today.
Added to this, is our daily endurance of sexual harassment and vitriol at work. When I complained to my (male) boss about guys grabbing my arse and tits on set, he told me I should contact a lawyer and sue, before then stating,
“But you’ll never work again in the industry. At least, not with me.”
Which put me in my place – literally: to keep my job as the only female in my department, I had to accept the sexist, hateful, bullshit I encountered and counteract it with sharp sarcasm and sexualised wit; when faced with groping hands, I had to give the arseholes a swift slap. It’s been exhausting, but I put up with it.
But away from the relative safety of a film set, and when faced with unambiguous sexual aggression toward me when alone on a quiet, dark street, late at night, I had a horrible awareness that this time, it might not be such a huge leap from hateful words to hateful action: rape is a manifestation of hatred after all.
With a mixture of fury and fear, I exited the store, worried that he might still be outside. I felt nervous, exposed and conscious of my body. For a woman who normally walks down the street with her head held high, projecting physical confidence, it was striking that in the space of minutes, I was reduced to insecurity and fear.
As I made my way back home, I found myself looking over my shoulder, worried that at any minute he might reappear; wishing I had a weapon to protect myself, desperately trying to remember those self-defence karate moves I learned years ago. Shaking with fear and anger, I made it back safely, vowing never to go last-minute food shopping late at night again.
Situations like these throw me: I like men, I enjoy their company, I respect them. Plus of course, I love to have sex with them. And yet, to be reduced to fear of them, fills me with deep unease: how can I ever truly trust a man, when I can be simultaneously fearful of what they might be capable of?
I don’t know the answer to this. But I do know that the men in my life, whether they be friends, lovers, or exes are good, solid, sound men; men who would rush to my defence if I needed it; men who respect me; men whom I trust. I am able to relax with them and be myself - not be defined by my gender.
That’s not to say we don’t occasionally fit into gender-specific roles: I have long given up fighting men’s insistence on their opening doors for me; or with their offering me a seat; or their demanding they give me a few orgasms prior to penetration etc. But overall we connect, relate and respect each other as equals, regardless of gender. This makes me feel positive about men; clearly the majority do not shout at single women on a dark street at night.
As for the arsehole minority, they might even get some brownie points in the future if instead they offered to carry my shopping bags.
Though I couldn’t be blamed if I accidentally happened to hit them over the head with my melons.