After nearly three months in the UK and five days in France, I was going to write a post about sexual harrassment. Specifically how, even as I may have complained over the years about the romantic reticence that characterises many of the Australian men I know, at least, I was grateful that Australian women had to put up with less sexual harrassment than women in other countries - even countries ostensibly similar to our own.
Then I read over an old journal entry I wrote on the same issue six years ago, and was sobered.
I’ve reposted my early-twentysomething thoughts for you below - they’re quite visceral - but I think that to some extent, my original point stands. Whether it’s because I’m older, or because the once perpetrators are older and smarter about how they treat women, I’m pretty well left alone most of the time in Australia.
Not so in most other places I’ve visited. In Paris on Tuesday, a man tried to kiss me while I sat in a park looking through the pictures I’d taken on my camera. Last week in London, powerwalking down my street shortly after sunrise in a bid to make a 7:30am train, another man tried to spark up a conversation. In fact, one of the first things I noticed upon moving to London was the dramatically increased frequency with which I was hit on.
Not all of it is as outrageous as the guy in the park in central Paris - I suspect he was drunk. Much of the time, it’s simply strangers trying to spark up conversation on the street. But this isn’t a matter of being friendly or unfriendly; as any woman can attest, people don’t strike up conversations with strangers walking down the street unless they want something from them. On the bus? Perhaps. At a party? Absolutely. But walking down the street? People are generally after something, whether it’s money or sex or something else.
As I say, not all of these interactions are aggressive per se - although in my younger years, when I didn’t shut them down as quickly, when I engaged in polite-but-not-encouraging conversation through gritted teeth, they often ended up that way. It’s not in the league of a comment on your arse or a declaration that the person in question would like to “bang one up you”, as my story from 2004 begins.
But it is, I think - especially in countries where this happens multiple times daily - a form of harrassment. To be constantly approached and encroached upon, to constantly have to say “no, no, no”, to be forced to build up walls which some male readers will probably interpret as rudeness or arrogance, because to not shut the interaction down from the outset would only mean having to do it later. To feel bad each time you shut down an interaction, because that’s not what a “nice” person would do (and like many women, I do like to be nice).
It takes energy, like batting at a mosquito that refuses to go away, and it whittles away at you over time.
Or as I wrote in 2004…