Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Is there a generational divide in society's attitude to sexual harassment and is it a problem?

Pic by Saskia Nelson
On Friday morning, about 20 metres from my front door on the way to Brixton tube station, I walked past a young man. As I passed, he said, "Hey gorgeous, wanna be my girlfriend?"

Naturally, I ignored him, as I (and I imagine the majority of women) always do. Sure, it was annoying but it was ultimately harmless and not particularly threatening. It happens all the time. I marched on.

Less than fifteen minutes and four stops on the tube later, just after turning out of the stairs at the exit to the tube at Victoria station, a man grabbed my bum.

I whipped round to see a tall man with dark hair in a khaki jacket scurrying off through the crowds in exactly the opposite direction to the way I was going.

I couldn't believe it.

A blonde lady with a pushchair nearby caught my eye. She'd seen it and asked if I was alright. I was really glad for that, as the previous time no one had seemed to notice.

Ah yes, the previous time. A mere two months earlier. An almost entirely identical incident in almost exactly the same location. It actually made me wonder whether it was the same man.

The difference is that this time I wasn't upset. I. Was. Livid!

Fuming. Raging. I'm not an angry person but I was so angry.

I tweeted, again (and prepared myself for the subsequent barrage of trolling that I got last time). But I didn't report it, go off and cry or even think about it much over the course of the day because it was manic at work and I had so much to do.

But what infuriated me even more was seeing these letters in the paper that very morning:
In case you missed it, they were in response to a story reporting that Nottinghamshire Police will now be treating misogyny and harassment of women as a hate crime. Disappointingly, the headline in the Telegraph and subsequently the letters chose to focus on wolf-whistling, when actually the story is about so much more.

But I just found it so frustrating that these attitudes persist amongst women!

And OK, I will hold my hands up and say I don't know the ages of the women whose letters were published, but I would put money on them being over 60 - I do some work with the letters desk at the Telegraph and I know for a fact the vast majority of their letters come in from retirees.

And when I posted the picture on Facebook, the comments from my friends - the majority of whom are in their early 20s - further hammered home the generational divide on this issue.

Rowena: "Anyone who talks about the "days of non-PC fun" of 50+ years ago is not to be taken seriously."

Rachel: "Ah yes, the days of non-PC fun when you could compliment your secretary's lovely rack without having to worry about pesky 'lawsuits'... Seriously, what is wrong with people!"

Amber: "It's a bit sad to think that women used to be happy about being validated on their looks alone and feel like it was a poor day if they hadn't be 'complimented' by a stranger as they liked the way they looked..."

Emily: "People aren't 'too PC', we just don't stand for the s**t we used to. F***ing morons. It's part of a bigger problem - starts with a wolf whistle, ends with sexual assault."

Valid points, don't you think?

Now I'm not saying by any means that all older people don't understand sexual harassment - many of my aunties and parents' friends have joined my Facebook outcry - but there's clearly something of a difference in the general view on this matter.

And how could there not be? Today's retired women grew up in a very different age to me and my friends.

But actually what I take away from this is encouraging: if the vast majority of my generation consider sexual harassment in the street as unacceptable, surely that will soon be the dominant view?

I mean... I know, I know: my Facebook friends do not reflect the UK as a whole - I grew up in a very pleasant middle-class bubble, and of course the circle I live now in reflects that - but still, I think there's hope that things will change for the better.

And the more we talk about it, the better. Hence why I am ranting about this subject again and am so thrilled to see more and more of my peers discussing sexual assault.

I implore you to read this post by my friend Hannah, as well as this one by my fantastically feminist friend Emily, oh and I'd also love to draw your attention to the Object Project which aims to highlight and shout about incidents of sexual assault, be that a grope or rape.

None of it is OK.

Because whilst a wolf-whistle from the occasional workman is usually harmless, there have been many times when - especially when alone at night but just as equally in the day - leery comments from male strangers have made me feel very uncomfortable, scared and vulnerable. I hate that when walking through a park alone I feel afraid. And I shouldn't have to. None of us should.

Women make up over half the population! We are not a minority!

Not that I'm saying it would be OK to treat a minority group in such a way. I guess it kind of just makes me sad that there are people, and women especially, who don't see the problem with this kind of behaviour. But like I said, I hope that's changing.

And men, I'm not trying to make you scared to pay a woman any attention lest it come across as sexual harassment, but there is a humongous difference between having a flirt with someone in a bar or at a party when she's been giving you the eye and the vibes, and paying absolutely unwanted attention as a stranger on the street when a gal is just going about her daily life.

Pretty obviously different contexts, wouldn't you say? I don't think it's difficult to understand, and I'm fairly certain all the men I know get it.

But maybe there are in fact women my age who enjoy having crude hand gestures directed at them by men in vans or being cat-called by a group of male builders. Do you? Does it feel flattering? Please do tell me, I'd love to try and understand.

And dear god, if I get groped at Victoria Station AGAIN I am going to hit the roof. And chase down the man, accuse him of sexual assault and see how big and strong he feels then. Ha!

Please do let me know your thoughts on all this.


  1. I’m so glad you wrote this post Rachel, particularly after the idiotic trolls who reared their ugly heads after you wrote your last post. I’m so infuriated this has happened to you again. What’s with all the creeps at Victoria station?!

    I hate that these attitudes exist in general, but particularly amongst women! I do understand that things were different in previous times, and we are definitely a generation of women who have the freedom to be more outspoken but I don’t understand how those women can’t see the bigger picture. Sure, a wolf-whistle or cat-calling may be ‘harmless’ enough (although, like you’ve said, can be intimidating and make you feel wary about being out on your own at night) but rape isn’t harmless and it’s these kind of attitudes and people just claiming that cat-calling is ‘harmless’ that encourages the kind of culture that leads to more serious sexual assault.
    You’re right; none of us should have to feel afraid. Just gotta keep fighting these attitudes!
    Thanks for posting on this topic!
    Kate x

    1. Thanks so much, Kate. I couldn't agree more and really appreciate your support x

  2. Well done for posting this and getting people talking about sexual assault. I think these kind of discussions are important ones that need to happen so that people know it is wrong and that it shouldn't be a commonplace thing in society. I enjoy (perhaps enjoy is the wrong word but I hope you get my drift) these types of posts where you write about important topics much more than the fluffy fashion, makeup and food posts that are often on your (and others') blogs. There is a need for women and girls to talk about things that are more important than the latest lipstick and thanks for being one to start a conversation.

    1. Hi anon, thanks for your comment and feedback. I'm really glad you enjoyed my post. Unfortunately I don't always have things to say on matters like this and I do enjoy writing about more lighthearted subjects too - I don't think there's anything wrong with blogging about 'fluffy' things, as you put it - but rest assured, whenever I have something to say on more serious matters I will always post about it.

  3. This was an interesting read and written so well. It's funny cause I'm actually typing up a post about my experience of Sexual Harassment, the reason I decided to because I've not seen it spoken about until now so I thought it needed to be done. It's not flattering and didn't make me think "ohh yeah I want a bit of him" It made me feel disgusting and knocked my confidence by a lot if I'm honest, curled right back up into my shell

    Claire ❤ | My Little Memoir

    1. Thanks so much, Claire. And good for you for writing about your experience - sorry you experienced sexual harassment. We must all speak up! x


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
© Handbags and Cupcakes. All rights reserved.