As I start thinking about the incipit (first few words) of this article, I realise I was about to describe my outfit to you. Then I stopped. There is nothing wrong with my outfit. There is nothing wrong with me. The men who holler out “hey sexy” are the ones who are wrong. Not me.
In case you’re wondering, it’s a navy and orange knee-length shift dress with cap sleeves. I was wearing it with the most basic flat sandals you can imagine: T-strap holding foot & big toe made of plain untreated leather. I wasn’t asking for attention. I was walking to work.
It is like blaming women’s clothes for those women being raped. Since when does the length of a skirt override one’s self control, sense of propriety, and make a grown man say and do otherwise unacceptable things?
I took a new job 6 weeks ago, not far from my house. It is in the office park next to the massive Tesco by Earl’s Court / West Kensington. I live down by Fulham Broadway, and to go home I often walk the length of North End Road. Yesterday afternoon, I walked to my partner’s flat instead.
On my way, two guys behind me started commenting on my legs. “Beautiful legs and a beautiful face”, they said, loud enough so I would hear that part of the conversation from 5 steps ahead. I ignored them and walked imperceptibly faster, texting my partner that I would go into his flat’s private gardens (you need an access code) and wait for him there. (There are no spare keys to his apartment)
I hate feeling like this. It is broad daylight. It is summer. What will it be like when the night comes? And the winter? (yes, winter is coming) Will I need to get a taxi home everyday? Or do I need to change to a job in the City where people seem to be less aggressive? What is wrong with this neighbourhood?
I wonder if education and occupation have anything to do with such misbehaving: if they were smart enough to get paid £80k to wear suits and bear the responsibility of juggling millions of pounds (yes, this is how I imagine a typical City job…), would they still act lewdly? Is that one way to fix things? Putting more people to good use?
This morning a young guy in a poofa jacket and slouchy jeans (he looked 22, barely) asked me where Iwas from, if I’m studying here, and if I was single (in that order, with barely a breath between my answers). At least he approached me and had a chat instead of hollering things out?
And this left me with the passing desire to put on a burqa or a fake wedding ring or somehow disfigure myself so i would no longer receive such unsolicited advances.
I am mediterranean and have always seen such behaviour as part-compliment. In the Med, men are loud. But they are also more creative in their comments, perhaps engaging, almost friendly, bantering and playful. Not lewd. They’ll never call out things from behind your back, they do it to your face, daring you to start a conversation. Somehow it’s different.
And yet, it was one of the reasons I left Greece. Gender discrimination is rampant there, especially in the IT sector. I remember applying for a developer job, and being told I was pretty and wouldn’t I rather be a consultant (a client-facing role). That job lasted 7 months, and then I left the country.
I thought I had found a safe haven in London, but perhaps I have chosen the wrong neighbourhood. Could I afford to move somewhere better? Not really. Not alone. The irony of that does not escape me.
What am I complaining about? Clearly I look decent enough for people to loudly comment positively. At 35, being asked if you’re studying is a compliment, surely. And yet it leaves me with the shrinking sadness that I need to hide in a dark place, for safety, instead of enjoying the sun. To lock my doors at night and wear flat shoes in case I need to run. Or that I need a man by my side constantly, to prevent other men from wanting to claim me.
Later in the day I mention this to a male colleague. “So wait a few years and it will stop”, he says. I choose to think he was joking.