My Own Everyday Sexism

On Saturday, a few of my friends and I went for a meal in Newcastle to celebrate my friend’s birthday. We met just before six in the evening so we could all walk down to the restaurant (on the Quayside) together. During this ten minute walk we encountered four separate incidents of shouting (one man shouted ‘Do you like rohypnol?’) or leering (one man stood across the road and blatantly took a picture of us). Later, whilst waiting alone for a bus, an adult man tried persistently to talk to me, a 15-year-old girl.

None of this, of course, should come as a surprise. I recently reviewed Laura Bates’ book Everyday Sexism, which gives hundreds (still a small portion of entries on the website of the same name) of stories similar to this – indeed, in some cases, much more severe. But even I, someone well aware of the issue and who has experienced such occurrences before, was surprised by the vigour and frequency of the shouting, although this is probably more than likely due to how infrequently I am out walking in town at that sort of time, rather than it being an irregular occurrence. I have to say, with all this in mind, what upset me most was the resignation and lack of surprise from my friends. One of the girls asked why people felt the need to go on like that, and was answered by another ‘That’s just what happens when you’re a girl and you go out in town’.

Not only this, but it wasn’t a first-time experience for any of us. I was the most sensitive to it, it has to be said, because of how strongly I feel about these things and how generally uncomfortable I feel at any sort of encounter with strangers, let alone being shouted at in the street by a large group of older men. I did not forget easily my encounter with a much older man on a cramped train who repeatedly gripped me closer to him as I moved to let people past, breathing down my neck and muttering about intimacy. Nor do my friends forget the phase the boys in our year went through of grabbing girl’s breasts and bums for ‘lad points’. It scared me how none of us, even the most easily startled (myself) weren’t all that surprised by what happened, and the fact that this sort of thing is part of everyday life for teenage girls is frankly disgusting. The majority of women will experience these sort of events within their lifetime, and for most of these women it is not infrequent. It sickens me to think women aren’t being told enough how wrong this behaviour is, how we can and should fight it and how widely this is accepted – or even how so many attempt to justify it – baffles me. It is a much-discussed topic, and I may well be repeating points I have already made in previous articles, but it really is something that we should stand up and point at every time it happens, otherwise those who don’t believe it exists won’t ever see the scale of what we face.