Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Wither art thou, Sexism?

I got called a cunt yesterday.

I know! Not really that unusual: we get called that, and worse, every day, for the crime of being a lady and talking about it. And as street harassment goes, it was a fairly unambiguous, not particularly painful episode. A dude was smoking outside the pub on the corner of my road - it's a nice little boozer, serves curried goat and fried locusts, shows football and is the perfect place to curl up with an afternoon Guinness and coddle your hangover - and as I walked up, he started singing at me, something along the lines of "Oo-ooh honey baby, you're so fine you blow my mind I'd like to put my penis in your vagina, yeah yeah". I'm paraphrasing a little, but you get my drift.

He asked for the time. Because this was approximately the fifteen-thousand-and-twenty-ninth time this has happened, I made the snap decision not to engage: you give him the time, he asks your name. You tell him your name, he asks for your number. You refuse, he follows you to the tube. And what then? So no. Just, "no."


Now, there's something about the instant switch from "you are a sexy lady!" to "BITCHDYKECUNTWHORE", the turn-on-a-dime reversal that happens when you don't simper and giggle at a guy's advances, that somehow never fails to amuse me. In a wry, bitter, what kind of a fucking world do we live in sort of way. So I burst out laughing, and turned round, and mentally flipped through my Dealing With Sexual Harassment Survival Tips garnered over the years - Remain Polite, Name The Behaviour, Do Not Get Angry Or Use Profanity, etc - and went for the ultimate come-back: "well, FUCK you sideways."


I'm never sure what I think about that word. I never really understood why it was officially ratified as The Worst Word Of All The Words: I've challenged people for using "pussy" specifically to mean "crap and weak, like a woman", but "cunt", when it's bandied about between men, just doesn't make me feel anything in particular. These things are subjective; it's not rocket science.

When it's directed at a woman by a man, though, it feels like a punch in the gut.


A dear friend once asked me - long ago, before we got close - whether I'd ever experienced sexism. I'd been talking about The Feminism a lot, and I guess he wanted to know if I had some sort of personal stake in it. More than, you know, just being girl. I was utterly floored at the time - what are you asking? Have I been raped? Have I been beaten? Have I lost a job because I'm female? I haven't, but imagine if I had: if I say "no", I lose the argument; if I say "yes" I'm revealing intensely personal information to a pub full of my colleagues.

But also because it was such a ridiculous question. Have I ever experienced sexism? As if Sexism happens as isolated, discrete episodes, and then you go back to living your Normal Life. As if it's not there, all the time, colouring every single conversation you have. It's 10:40 am, and today I have been offered a seat on the tube because I'm a woman, been groped in the queue for the escalator, given up on an argument because nice girls don't answer back and because the dude in question is actually incapable of conceding to a woman, and had my interest in football been ridiculed because girls don't really care. (OH YOU BIG MAN, EXPLAIN THE OFFSIDE RULE TO ME AGAIN, MY POOR LADY BRAIN CANNOT COMPREHEND SUCH COMPLEXITY.) That's just off the top of my head. They're only the most obvious examples. It's ingrained into the fabric of our lives.

But for well-meaning people who don't live with this reality, the big blatant clear-cut Episodes Of Sexism are a necessary introduction. Hollaback and the like are fantastic resources, but you don't go looking for them unless you're already aware of the problem. So today, when people ask how I am, I will be answering:

"Good, ta, new job, new eyes, nearly Christmas, oh but yesterday I declined to give a guy the time, so he called me a cunt."

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