So lovely weather has at last descended on the capital, but with a hectic week full of interviews and assessment days, I wasn’t able to properly enjoy it. Yesterday I had my first day off, from work or interview preparation, in what feels like weeks. Shame, then, that I had to go and ruin it by announcing to the world that I was freely available for catcalls, comments, and general creepdom.
Yes, chaps, I decided not to wear tights. I had the audacity to walk round London bare-legged (from the knee-cap down, no less) and then react with outrage (and perhaps more naively, surprise) at the sudden increase of unwanted attention on the London streets.
I hope the sarcasm has become self evident now, because to be honest, it totally ruined my day. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve had to put up with the kind of treatment I despair of daily on The Everyday Sexism Project, but it seems that, by shedding my winter uniform of thick black tights, my parole officially ended yesterday.
My encounters ranged from the irritating but manageable (a car horn, a couple of catcalls from passing vans) to the genuinely scary. At one point, a guy followed me down the street making weird comments and trying to engage me in conversation. When I tried to dodge him by ducking into a women’s clothes shop, he followed me in and browsed beside me, continually offering to buy me things. On another occasion a clearly drunk guy passed me on the entrance to the underpass, then turned around and followed me back into the tunnel, whispering “compliments” about the 30cm of bare leg on show, and crudely speculating “how far they go”. I only didn’t run because I didn’t want to prompt a chase.
So that kind of sucked, but it wasn’t what ruined my day. What ruined my day was looking back and wishing I’d acted differently; I wish I hadn’t given in to fear by responding politely, I wish I’d had the guts to tell these men to piss off and leave me alone, that I’m not a piece of meat to be appraised and bargained over, and that I can wear my legs bare if I damn well please.
I especially wish that this had been the way I ended my two more creepy encounters. I’d have loved to send them away with their tails between their legs and feminist fury in their ears. Instead, I had to resort to that age old adage “I have a boyfriend”.
Yep, it wasn’t my resolute ignoring of the guy in the underpass, nor the five minutes of saying “no thank you” and goodbye” to the man in the shop, which finally got them to leave me alone. It was my positive response to the question “Does another man have a claim to you?” that bought me my peace. How sad is that? A guy shouldn’t leave you alone solely because he’s realised he’s treading on another man’s territory; he should leave you alone as soon as you make it clear, on your own account, that you want him to. I’d like to manage my own border control, thanks.
Next time, and with the warm weather approaching, it’s all too certain that there will be a next time, I’m not going to answer that kind of question in the affirmative. As long as it’s safe to do so, I’m promising myself to make it clear exactly why how they’re behaving is wrong, and why I, and not a totally absent and irrelevant boyfriend, should be allowed to call the shots on who I interact with and how.
So, summer-time disclaimer, here is what my bare legs are saying: it’s hot today. End of.