I’m on a bit of a health kick at the moment. No wait, don’t switch off yet. I’m not here to bore you about macros and HIIT workouts. I want to talk about something else.
In the past couple of weeks I’ve been making the most of the crisp autumn climes and going for a couple of modest jogs. It’s been quite enjoyable, except for one thing.
On my last two ventures into the great outdoors, I’ve been beeped at by men. The first time it happened it was dark, and I was jogging down a small, quiet residential street. I didn’t realise because I had my headphones in, but a man in a van drove up right next to me and beeped his horn. I jumped out of my skin, and the van drove off. Simple as that: he beeped, I was startled, and then he left.
The second time was less than 48 hours later. A taxi driver driving a licensed car in the early afternoon slowed down while I stretched against a lamp post. Same situation really: he beeped, I was left feeling alarmed, and then he went about the rest of his day.
These encounters are weird. I could maybe understand trying to get the attention of a woman if you thought there was something to be gained from it: an exchange of phone numbers, or even a friendly conversation. But that’s not what this is about. These are lone men whose faces we cannot see startling women while they are minding their own business.
“Lighten up, snowflake! It’s just a bit of banter,” bellows the 1970s leftover who is sick of women talking about how they don’t want to be heckled in the street. But it’s not banter. Nobody was laughing. Harassing women in the street is never a compliment or a bit of harmless fun. It is a statement of power. It is a woman being told that no matter what she is doing, where she is or what she is wearing, her appearance is up for analysis, appraisal and discussion, whether she likes it or not.
Last week a report by the Women and Equalities Committee concluded street harassment is “relentless” for women and girls. It happens in schools, in nightclubs, in gyms and on buses, and I am just one of 64 per cent of women who have been harassed in public.
I was left feeling rattled. I couldn’t help but think about the new mum who might be attempting her first jog since the birth of her baby, or the anxiety sufferer trying to give her mind some relief. And then something I’d read a couple of weeks earlier came back to me: one in three UK schoolgirls have been sexually harassed in public while wearing their school uniform.
I remember vividly walking home from school at the age of 13 and being subject to crude comments shouted out of rolled-down windows. Since then there have been numerous debates about boundaries and consent, and yet nothing has changed.
What are we supposed to say to teenage girls the first time a man shouts a humiliating comment at them in the street? “Welcome to womanhood, dear. You are just going to have to get used to it”? I don’t think so.
I decided to report the taxi driver to his employer. I don’t want him to lose his job or anything, but I have told the firm to politely pass on the message that beeping at women in the street is intimidating and inappropriate. But my guess is he already knows.