Here at the Vagenda, we pride ourselves on not taking things too
seriously. We love a good joke, us, and have never posited ourselves as
spokespeople for feminism in a political sense; there are plenty of awesome
ladies (and men) out there doing this already. Our main aim as a blog is to
highlight is to act as a kind of media watchdog, highlighting the ridiculous
and the banal in an attempt to embarrass a lot of these shitrags into sorting
their content out. We know they’re reading, and we know that for a fact,
because they keep asking us to stop what we’re doing. Ideally, of course, we
wouldn’t need to exist. So blogging for the Vagenda is sort of like taking on a
new job where the company’s main aim is to make your post redundant.
Sometimes, however, there are things which are impossible to joke about,
yet which are important to us as feminists. So what do we do? Do we avoid the
dark side, the traumatic stories, the things which make us angry? Do we try and
take a funny stance and risk trivialising the issue? One of these things, for
me personally, is street harassment.
Next week is anti-street harassment week. We’ve already done plenty of
stuff against catcalling, some of it humorous, to raise more awareness of how
truly shit it is for a bloke in a Citroen Saxo to feel he’s entitled to ask you
for head on a Tuesday morning. Sometimes, the stuff men in the street come out
with in hilarious. Two Italian men beeping and hollering from the front seats
of a hearse, complete with coffin, has an element of the surreal and ridiculous
which renders it a funny anecdote (it happened to one of us.) Equally, a white
van man’s passing “Wanna sit on my face, love?” uttered at 30 mph on Holloway
Road displayed a preoccupation with female pleasure that is unusual in your average
workaday letch. At the same time, having one of our contributors filing an
article late because a man at Tottenham Court Road showed her his penis is not
Sometimes, there are things that are difficult to joke about, perhaps
often for personal reasons. This, for me, is one of them. And I wanted to
explain why, so that perhaps any men reading this might reconsider catcalling
or wolf-whistling in the future.
Nearly two years ago, I was violently attacked while walking home from a
party late at night. The attacker, and his accomplices (there were three of
them) began by catcalling and harassing me (“Can I walk you home, sexy?”) One
of them then proceeded to try and strangle me to death.
It’s been many months since that night, but when someone has violated
your person so acutely, it is not something that is easy to get over. I now
have PTSD. The trauma has not left me. I am reminded of it on a daily basis. I
cannot go out at night alone. And for the many women who have been assaulted,
physically or sexually, or raped, the feeling is often the same.
One in four women have experienced rape or attempted rape. Many more have been mugged of
physically attacked in some way while walking the streets. Often, the result
will be that the victim begins to view all men as inherently predatory. This is
what has happened to me. The rational part of my brain will know that most
strangers in the street pose no threat, but the irrational part takes over and
I become convinced that they will hurt me.
So what to you is a casual wolf-whistle, or a passing comment, or even
what you regard as a friendly leer, well, to me, is the beginning of something
life-threatening. Because that is how trauma works; you become subject to
certain triggers which will force you to replay the event in your mind, over
and over again.
All I am asking, oh men of the world, most of whom I believe are
benevolent, is that you think twice before catcalling. Not just because it is
sexist, impolite, and thoroughly bad behaviour, but also because there is a
relatively strong chance that the object of your attention is dealing with the
trauma of rape, sexual or physical assault, or violence. So when you appear out
of the darkness, leering in what you believe to be a sensual matter, and murmer
“hey sexy,” lasciviously under your breath, it scares the ABSOLUTE FUCKING SHIT
OUT OF US. And lads, I know that most of you don’t want that. So please, just give it some thought before doing it next time. Because
it’s not big, it’s not clever, and it most certainly isn’t funny. Mostly, it’s
just fucking terrifying.