It’s easy to feel like a passionate and empowered feminist when I’m sitting comfortably with like-minded people, condemning the patriarchy over a cappuccino, but throw me out into a world where the patriarchy is still the law and suddenly I don’t know where my lines are, I don’t know how to voice them, and I’m wearing a bra so aren’t I going against it all anyway?? My friends are well aware of my views, and many a night ends in a semi-sober discussion of how we can contribute to making the world a fairer and more equal place for everyone involved. So why is it that when I come across someone who goes directly against these strong convictions of mine, I feel unable to stand up for myself and instead tend to smile and nod, or remove myself from the situation, leaving the perpetrator potentially unaware of how their behaviour is affecting those around them and of why their actions are offensive.
For example – I was out recently with a small group of girlfriends, chatting animatedly over a few drinks, clearly not expecting or requiring anyone else to join us. Suddenly, my chair was dragged backwards and we were surrounded by a group of adult men eager to get involved in what they clearly saw as an open forum. They proceeded to act like they were treating us to their company, and when I asked them, politely, to leave several times, their merriment turned to disdain and they seemed genuinely bewildered – ‘what’s wrong with her?’ they grumbled. Our group once again closed in so we were just chatting to one another, and we proceeded to ignore them which resulted in me getting a kiss on the head and the declaration that ‘she loves it really!’. This was quite enough and we left.
I do not love unwanted physical contact, I do not love persistent men who feel you should be grateful for their attention, and most of all I do not love the assumption that I am not aware of what I do and I don’t love. Why, then, did I feel wholly unequipped to defend myself and set these men straight? Why were we the ones who altered our plans and left? I am well versed in my opinions on unwanted physical contact, harassment and the rigid expectations of how women should behave, and yet when these situations arise I clam up. I have tried to outline the reasons for this, specifically in a bar setting, and have depressed myself by coming up with the following:
- The pervasive rhetoric employed by men, women, drinks adverts, rom coms, society at large, that women should hope for and be grateful for ANY attention – giving some men a ridiculous sense of entitlement on the dance floor, at the bar and even in a small secluded table in the corner. As soon as you reject this attention, you become the one at fault – I’ve encountered in multiple and various forms over the years ‘moody bitch’ , ‘frigid’ and even that ludicrous concept that if you don’t like THIS man you can’t like ANY man – ‘are you a lesbian??’
- Further to this, the concept that women are an aesthetic addition to any bar, should therefore always be smiling, pleasant, and welcoming should a man choose to engage with you – ‘cheer up love, it might never happen’, and again that classic ‘moody bitch’ – it’s a good all-rounder I find.
- The sense that the bar is not your territory – you have put yourself out there into a world where unwanted physical contact is a risk and a consequence of leaving the safe-haven of your home, and like the prolific victim blaming in our judicial system, if you are doing a sexy dance move and your bum gets groped, well, you were asking for it!
These men have been supplied with a patronising and intimidating come-back for every reaction you can have, from laughing down your response, to telling you to ‘get back on your leash’. It is bizarre that they have been equipped with gormless rhetorical replies through ‘lad culture’ and the media, whilst some women (myself included) are still struggling to find the voice and strength to fend off such intimidation.
So, how can I feel braver for next time? It frustrates me endlessly that the very perceptions I want to dismantle result in me clamming up and sitting tightly, waiting for the ordeal to end. Does anyone else have a similar stabbing panic, embarrassment and discomfort when cornered and receiving unwanted chair-drags and head-kisses? Or even better, any tried and tested techniques for mastering that inner critic that denies you a voice in this on-going battle?