They went away, eventually

Hadley Freeman writes:

A recent YouGov survey found that 86% of women aged 18-24 in the UK have been sexually harassed. This statistic shocked me: did the other 14% not understand the question? To live in fear of harassment or assault is such a universal female experience that many of us don’t even think about it, having learned to accept it from an absurdly early age. It doesn’t break you but it shapes you, like a rock face getting battered by strong waves.

She provides ten examples from her own life.

Aged seven: my friends and I are in the park when a bush next to us trembles. A man climbs out holding his penis towards us, as if he’s offering a special on the menu. This is the first time I’ve seen a penis, and it is disgusting and terrifying, an impression it takes decades to shake.

Her point in the piece is that all women have experienced this kind of thing. Interesting to think about how that shapes their feelings about sex.

Aged 33: I am having a one-night stand and suddenly he puts his hands around my neck and squeezes. This is how it ends, I think. In some guy’s flat in Harlesden. “I can tell you like it,” he whispers in my ear. When I sneak out the next morning, a man comes up to me on the street: “I can smell your cunt,” he snarls.

Aged 42: I take my children to Clapham Common for Sarah Everard’s vigil. Bath-time schedules mean we miss the later arrests, so we only see the flowers, the sunset, the women, all of us knowing we are no different from Everard, only luckier.

How to explain any of this to a pair of five-year-old boys? “A woman called Sarah got hurt,” I told them beforehand. “Why?” they asked. “Because men are bigger and stronger than women, and some are bullies,” I said. The boys make signs: “I don’t like bullies” and “Be gentle” they read, and we tape them on to sticks and go to the common. One of them asks if a bully ever hurt me. Not really, I say. I was lucky. They went away, eventually.


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