Last night at about 10.30pm I was travelling home by train and had to ask a group of men, who were clearly a little worse for wear after a day at the races, if they were getting off at the next stop so that I could get to the door. It turns out they weren’t, they were getting off at the stop after, “But”, and I felt a light tap on my shoulder, “I’d love to come home with you.”
The group was made up of men from their late 20s to 70 plus, and the comment came from the 70 plus section. Although I felt my brain click into high alert, my initial reaction was ‘don’t panic, chill out, they all look ‘mainly harmless’ with their shiny suits and sweaty faces, engage in some independent woman banter with them, especially because he’s old and probably doesn’t mean it,” but very quickly the outraged side responded, ‘Err, WTF!!? What has his age got to do with it, and after everything that’s been happening lately, you think that’s okay for him to say that?’
So, I stood up for my own self-respect and for all other women who’ve been ‘paid a compliment’ by a drunken man saying something along the lines of “you can take me home love.” I also stood up for the other men in that group who, for some reason, didn’t feel that they could reprimand one of their own. I tried to make my response as ‘bantery’ as possible, turned round slowly and looked down at the man in question with disdain (which is very hard when he’s much taller and wider than you), “Erm, I don’t think so – on your f’in bike mate!”, at which point his mates all laughed and jeered at him. “And” I continued, “that’s not something you should be saying to me in this day and age.” Nervous laughter, “Err, yeah, well, yeah, fair play”, said one of the younger ones from the back, “That’s slightly changed the atmosphere”, piped up another, “He can’t help it, he’s old” said a final member of the group in a feeble attempt at defence. “I don’t care how old he is – age is irrelevant,” the train doors opened, and off I got.
My husband, when I related the tale back to him, initially thought I’d been a little unfair, pulling out the ‘it’s just banter’ and ‘he was old’ cards, and back in the day, i.e. last year, I would probably have said ‘yeah, you’re right, it’s just banter,’ but today after everything that’s been in the news I feel very differently. Why should I or any other woman have to put up with some drunken man saying he wants to come home with me, clearly for a sexual encounter? Why should I or any other woman have to put up with feeling intimidated by a group of drunken men? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that the gent who made the comment would have run an absolute mile if I’d have grabbed his hand and said, “Why of course, please do come home with me”, but that is as irrelevant as his age. We just shouldn’t have to put up with this everyday sexism anymore, full stop.
I did what I did for my own self respect, and for all those women who feel unable to because of fear, intimidation, lack of support or lack of confidence. But just as importantly I stood up because maybe the next time those men go out for a day at the races or a night on the town they might behave a little bit differently, and who knows, one of them might just stand up before me in the face of everyday sexism.