By Emily Inkpen
Men of the world, I know most of you are reasonable, rational human beings who do not go out of your way to make women you’ve never met feel uncomfortable… so where do the few who do come from?
It’s only Wednesday and this week I’ve already had three complete strangers approach me on the street, two hoping for a date, one was just hurling abuse.
When I’m with my fiance this doesn’t happen, and for that reason I know it’s quite possible you have no idea what happens on a sometimes daily basis to those who are female, alone, and walking around in public. It’s not your fault, you’re not the target and it’s unlikely you’re a perpetrator, which leads to a very compelling question: who are those guys?
On Monday I went out to grab some lunch and catch some pokemon. I was waiting to cross a road when a guy shouts ‘Sarah!’ right behind me. I turn around, even though I’m not Sarah, and two guys see my face, smile, and indicate I’m not who they’re looking for. Fine. I continue on my way. After purchasing my lunch I’m walking in the direction of a couple of lures and one of the men appears at my side and starts talking to me. I tell him I’m on my way back to my office, which weirdly enough is on the same street as his office! Strange coincidence. So he’s talking away about how embarrassing it was that he thought I was Sarah, and how he hopes I wasn’t offended. Then tells me I’m much prettier than Sarah (poor Sarah, I’m sure she’s lovely) and that he knows of a great place where we could have lunch some time, and it would make him very sad if I said no.
It’s only then I’m able to tell him I’m engaged, at which point he launches into an awkward monologue about how whoever he is, he’s a lucky guy. Eventually, feeling more than a bit flustered, I manage to dive into my office, zero pokemon caught.
The next day on my way home, again playing pokemon, a man crossing the street behind me belches really loudly. I glance around for a split second because the sound caught my attention. At that the man in question, who is now following me along the pavement, begins hurling abuse at my back, just loud enough for me to hear him. That’s important because there were other men outside a pub on the other side of the road but they would have been unable to hear, which is exactly why reasonable men have no idea this is happening - it’s always out of your earshot.
“I don’t see why you should be such a judgemental cow. Look at you, you think because you’re beautiful you can judge me. Well I’m telling you, there’s much nicer looking women about than you sweetheart so don’t think you’re worth anything...”
This was being said to me as I walked along the street, just loud enough for me to hear it over my game. He turned off along Regent Street and I carried on over the road, but he was talking the whole time.
About twenty minutes later I’m entering Hyde Park and thirty seconds after I walk through the gate a guy walks up alongside me and engages me in a very one-sided conversation. Apparently I look nice, like I’m a chilled-out person enjoying the summer weather, like I’m easy going and like good company… etc etc. This very shallow character assessment continues for a remarkably long time. He asks me what I’m doing right now. I reply, rather tiredly, that I’m playing pokemon (please just let me play pokemon!) and he scoffs and says "isn’t that for ten year olds?"
Here’s a pro tip - if you are one of these guys and you have just one piece of concrete information about the girl you’re harassing, don’t make fun of it.
After this short dialogue he decides to invite me for lunch some time in Kensington. Only at this point am I able to tell him I’m engaged, and he leaves me alone.
The fact remains that even if I weren’t engaged I wouldn’t even consider giving my number to a complete stranger who is in the habit of accosting other strangers as they walk into the park. That doesn’t make me a bitch, that makes me sensible. Still, it’s not as if being engaged puts all of them off…
A few weeks ago, having literally just left my office, I was walking through Piccadilly Circus and amongst the faces I caught the eye of a guy in a crowd of others who were laughing and enjoying the sunshine. I smiled briefly in acknowledgement of their fun. I did not break step. This all took a fraction of a second - like it does when you’re walking through crowded areas and smile in an indifferently friendly way at anyone you happen to make eye contact with.
I was walking pretty fast on that occasion and about thirty seconds later one of the guys came jogging up alongside me. He had literally chased me down the street.
“Hey, do you like hanging out with smart looking guys who are fun to be around?”
“Sure.” I said. Well I’m not going to lie even if those particular guys are unlikely to fall into that category.
“Then you should come and hang out with us right now.”
“Oh I’m sorry, I’m engaged.” I say.
“Oh really? How long for?” I blink. Seriously?
“Just over a year.”
“And when’s your wedding?” I double-blink.
“November.” His smile slips.
“Oh right, well I just know lots of girls who say they’re engaged but it turns out they’ve been engaged for, like, five years and it’s never going to go anywhere… so…”
So what? So, freaking, what?
This person didn’t know me, didn’t have any reason to think that approaching me on the street would end in anything more than an awkward conversation, and yet he decided in that moment to call into question the basis of my entire relationship. And, what’s more, he looked like he expected an actual response.
Now I know you’re not one of these guys. I know you don’t do this to random women walking along the street, I just need you to know that men like this are at large in public places every day. These instances are not unusual, I know it’s not just me because every woman I know can list a dozen recent examples of street harassment. If you don’t believe me, try asking.
I’m not going to go into the psychological impact of these small encounters, built up over the months and years. Despite what you might think they are never complimentary. At no point have I ever thought to myself ‘Gosh I wish a complete stranger would come up to me and ask me on a date right now.’
So, two questions remain:
Who are these guys?
What do they expect to get from these encounters?
If you have any thoughts or opinions on the subject I would love to hear them.