Things that happen to us

Not too long ago, I hit the town with some wonderful, intelligent, entertaining girlfriends. Ostensibly for my birthday, it was really an excuse to get a group of married n’ mothering mates out of the house for a meal not cooked by us and a cocktail or two. Having eaten, we moved our cosy party to a bar for a bevvy. We were dressed up, hair down, feeling great and free when we experienced an intrusion that almost ruined the night and got us all thinking about the Things That Happen To Us.

Here’s what happened.

We’ve all been there: women seated at a bar. Heeled, bejeweled, low-cut. Feeling great. Third, or maybe fourth drink of the night. Talking about crushes, comedies, embarrassments, bodies. We were thoroughly engrossed in each other’s company and sharing a laugh over a screen image. I noticed a man walk over to our corner, look out the window, and then turn around. He then appeared – intruded – into our intimate circle. He was prepared. He had a line. He persisted. We tried to give him nothing, but were fearful of getting him agitated. So we toed a line between polite and disinterested, hoping our ambivalence would bore him and he would move on. But perhaps he took our politeness as flirtation, because he kept going. Badgering us with one liners that we should have ignored, but by now he had commandeered the space. We were there for him now, not ourselves. His presence made us feel awkward, nervous, uncomfortable. Like we should leave, even though we were first there.

Eventually, he took the hint and when I said something about him being very good at annoying people he finally staggered off. By now, our bubble had truly burst. We had gone from being happily out to feeling pissed off. It got us talking about the experiences we’ve had with men and we came to the conclusion that, sometimes, men think they OWN THE SPACE AROUND US.

Think about the times you have had a man intrude on your space. We’ve all had it. Followed and flashed at. Chatted up. Been called cold, frigid, a bore for not returning advances. A slut for responding to them at all. We are told to walk down the street a certain way lest we be seen as vulnerable. Head up. Shoulders back. Heavy stride. A “man’s walk”: I own this space and you cannot enter.

There are men who see the world as their’s and women as objects within it. We do not have any true claim to independence or autonomy. If things happen to us it is because we were there, not because someone did them to us. If we are attacked it is because we were walking alone at night. If we are abused at home it is because we are too weak to leave. These arguments infer that what is inflicted upon us is our fault. Our presence in the space caused the aggression, ergo, the aggressor owns the space.

Why should a street, a home, a bar be owned by an aggressor? Why is it that we need to adapt to the aggressor’s presence, and not the other way around? Do we have to accept that there are some men who will persist in treating women as objects? Why is this still perpetuated?

When I was younger I attended Reclaim the Night marches, feeling proud but without a full grasp of what it meant for women to walk together at night without fear. To truly reclaim the space. Walking how they want. In heels. In skirts. Invulnerable. Now that I’m older and have experienced more, I need to go again. But perhaps more importantly, I need to raise my boys to respect the space women inhabit. To counter the aggression of some of their male counterparts. To help add to the number of men who see women as true equals, and not as objects.

I truly hope I can succeed.

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2 Responses to “Things that happen to us”

  1. jennie G Says:

    A story we are all too familiar with, thanks for sharing and may your boys be good men! It certainly make’s you think about other cultures where women cover up to avoid men’s advances!

  2. Clare Says:

    Only just read this and the only thing I can think is “if it was teh night I’m thinking it was, bugger, glad I went home when I did!”

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