In which I confront a street harasser and it goes a bit wrong

I just waited 50 minutes for a 208 bus before giving up and coming home (whole other TfL rant), but while I was waiting at the bus stop I did something… Was it stupid? I don’t think in principle it was stupid. It just ended up being slightly unfortunate.

At around 35 minutes into my bus wait I noticed a man, maybe in his 50s, start approaching women in the street asking for a cigarette or a light or something (he already had a lit, half-smoked cigarette in his hand). And when I say ‘asking’, I mean lurching at them, getting up very close, with a look of glee that wasn’t, on closer inspection, all that gleeful but actually rather malicious. Then he approached two young women (16, 17) and freaked them out so badly that they ran off.

He ignored a bus that pulled up until he saw that a woman had got on, at which point he dived through the exit doors and started shouting at her. He was ushered off, then spotted a pretty blonde woman sitting by a window and started banging, with the full force of his forearm, on the window and didn’t stop until the bus drove off.

He didn’t approach me. I was watching him the whole time with a scowl on my face, hopefully projecting a vibe of ‘come near me sunshine and it will end badly for you’. I don’t get much street harassment; the occasional yell out of a van, something stupid mumbled on a street. I get far less since I dyed my hair purple than I did when I was blonde; it upsets me a little that the main reason I will never go blonde again (which would be far easier for me to manage, what with my rapidly greying hair) is because I don’t want to attract wankers.

The man wandered away a bit. The two young women came back. He saw them and retraced his steps, leering. Oh, that’s it, I thought. So, channeling Hollaback, I shouted:

No, get out of here before I call the police. You don’t get to harass women in the street. Go on, leave.

His face turned to pure fury. He advanced on me screaming – how dare I talk to him like that? Who the fuck did I think I was? At this point I yelled at him to go on, fuck off, get out of here.

He walked right up to me, yelling in my face

You should be grateful you’re a woman, I’m a man beater not a woman beater! If you were a man I’d fucking beat you! You don’t have the right to talk to me like that!

By this point another woman at the bus stop had come to stand next to me and was murmuring to me ‘he’s a local, I work round here, don’t worry’ and had put her arm between me and him. He stumbled off. The two young women, the woman who intervened and another woman came to check I was OK (I was fine; I’d just stood there glaring at him with my arms folded, but no idea what my face was doing. Red? White?). I felt stupid that by trying to stop other women feeling threatened I’d forced other women to come to my aid. The woman who intervened said he’s well known in that bit of Lewisham High Street and that it’s best if people just ignore him and that the police never do anything (I guess we know how she felt about my outburst) and the other woman, who works in a local school, gave me some background, including that he’s been under the care of mental health services but not any longer. The two young women said he had genuinely scared them so I feel like I did some smidgen of good if I at least got him to piss off.

I also feel a bit stupid for not recognising that this guy was clearly an alcoholic and had problems… No, actually, scratch that. I don’t care what problems he has. Ignoring him and letting him have free rein to harass and scare means that one day he could easily go too far with some poor girl who doesn’t have the nerve or the experience to run into a shop or a bus (and why should anyone have to run away to feel safe?), or maybe it’ll be at night and she’ll be too traumatised to go out again on her own. Yes, fuck it, I’d do that again; in fact, I’d have taken a smack in the face if it meant he could be arrested for assault.

Not sure how to end this post, my heart is still racing a little bit. In a good way. Hmm.

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Why I should stop expecting sitcoms to be feminist

I’m very fond of How I Met Your Mother. I like the way characters are allowed to get drunk without it being a plot point. I like the way it has a normal couple in the main group. I like how it messes with linear narrative. OK, I’m not all that thrilled with the way it treats the “strippers, skanks and bimbos” Barney screws around with, but having him played by a gay man does subvert the character somewhat. As does making him a douche.

I like the way its single woman, Robin, is uncompromisingly feisty and career minded. Or, I did until the last couple of episodes. Just to catch you up, Robin Scherbatsky is a TV journalist. She wants to travel and work abroad. She’s not that bothered about having a long term relationship. And she definitely, definitely does not want kids.

In the episode before the mid season break, Robin discovers that she actually can’t have children. It was Cobie Smulders’ Emmy shot: the character has to deal with having the choice of whether or not to have kids taken away from her. There’s a lot of wandering through snow and being upset. Naturally. But then came the final voiceover line, as Robin returns home to find Ted has decked out the apartment in all its Christmas finery for her – something like, “because kids, the one thing your Aunt Robin never was, was alone”.

OH FUCK OFF. Don’t you dare take a strong female character and imply that without children, her life would be empty. That winding up alone is a distinct possibility for the childless woman. Is the childless woman not allowed to have lifelong friends? Is the childless woman not allowed to have other family? Are the children of a fertile woman guaranteed to never fall out / emigrate / do whatever else they could do to fail to fulfil their apparent destiny to make sure their mother is never ‘alone’? Is the childless woman not allowed to get married?

Hmm. Well. This last was addressed in this week’s episode. Robin’s bland [i.e., ‘nice’ in TV land] boyfriend of about six months proposes to her. She tells him she can’t have children. He still wants to marry her. Hooray! Then she explains that even though she can’t have children, she’s still choosing not to have any – which rules out adoption, surrogacy, etc. He does want children after all, so he breaks it off. OK, fine. Incompatible life plans. This is still about Robin’s choices, not her infertility. It’s quite empowering. Until the final scene where Robin, weeping, explains to Ted what’s happened, and says “he couldn’t look past it [the infertility]. Who could?”

SERIOUSLY. JUST FUCKING FUCK OFF. A moment ago this was about Robin not wanting children, now we’re back to her being doomed to a life of staring at walls because her womb will be forever empty? I find this offensive, both as someone who chooses not to have children and someone with a friend who has recently been told she’s infertile. How the hell did this show go from having a strong female character who knows what she wants from life, to this supposedly tragic figure? When Robin declared she didn’t want children, were we supposed to be thinking ‘ah, she’ll change her mind’, because everyone knows having children is what women do?

There was an opportunity here to show the shock, internal conflict and coming to terms with being told you’re infertile, which they did quite nicely. Shame it was undone by falling back on ‘she can’t have children OH NO HER LIFE IS RUINED’.

(I’ve spoilered myself about the ending to this series, and I know that the producers aren’t planning for Robin to end up alone. That being the case – some more enlightened dialogue, please, for pity’s sake.)

(Also: this series hasn’t been very good in general. I’m starting to hope Ted meets the mother soon, and puts the show out of its misery.)

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I don’t know. Something about cookies. This template may well use them to track visits. If that bothers you, you should probably turn them off.

And thus ends what will probably be the only post here for another two months. (Customary whine: I’m really really busy. If you miss me – though god knows why you would – you can find me at Londonist. A lot.)

Women are funny

You’ve probably not heard of Newsjack. It’s squirrelled away on Radio 4 Extra (yes, that’s a thing) and is a topical comedy news show. But there’s one difference – it has an open door policy for writers. That means anyone can submit sketches or quick jokes. Anyone. I’d vaguely heard about it because I follow a few comedy writers on Twitter and some people I vaguely know, know the people who work on it. But in the wake of Chortle managing to only nominate two women for their annual awards, @funnywomen retweeted something Newsjack said.

Only around a tenth of submissions for the first episode came from women? Well, there’s only one way to actively make a difference to that. So I submitted four jokes.

And one got aired.

If you really, really want to hear it, it’s on iPlayer til something like next Sunday, comes within the first couple of minutes and is the one about the horse*. It earned me £18.

This post isn’t about me bigging up how brilliant I am – though, clearly, I am sodding amazing and will be writing the autocue bits on HIGNFY by Christmas – it’s about funny women. Because there are tons of them/us. I can kind of understand why there are fewer female standups but women comedy writers? That’s sitting in a room – or, in my case, hanging up the washing when I started giggling (laughing at your own jokes=not cool) – writing some stuff down and emailing it off. Half my timeline on Twitter is people making jokes about stuff in the news. Many of them are women. I suspect fewer women have the ego to think ‘hmm, I wonder if these gags could make me £18? I’ll just have an investigate and see if there’s anywhere I could send it’, or pay attention when they see something like Newsjack mentioned. I certainly didn’t pay attention until my feminist hackles were raised. Me? Write for a comedy show? That’s ludicrous. But apparently not.

And jeez, if I can do it…

* “Somewhere an annoyed [police] officer is shouting ‘no, the journalist was offering YOU a pony’.”

Hither Green community notice

There were tweets last night. There are often tweets at night, of varying degrees of sobriety, but since these particular tweets were about a potential crime I figured I should write up the whole thing in case anyone else has had something similar happen / has something similar happen.

Twice, in the last week, my doorbell has gone late at night. I have bad-temperedly stumped to the front door, but through the glass panels I could see nobody standing outside. So I called out, in my best imperious voice, “hello? Can I help you?”.

At this point, a white guy in his mid twenties, middling height with (and this only definitely applies to the incident last night, didn’t pay too much attention the first time) short brown hair brushed forward, has appeared and said “sorry, I’ve got the wrong flat love” and cleared off.

Maybe he has got the wrong flat. Maybe they are two different men confusing my flat for someone else’s in the same week. Maybe a dealer who’s bad at giving directions has just moved into my street. Or maybe this guy is checking whether I’m home before he burgles the place, or hoping I’ll open the door (which I never, ever do unless I know who’s outside) for easier robbery access or – and this horrific story of what happened to Rachel North London is the basic reason why I never, ever open my front door unless I know who it is – rape.

I can’t remember precisely when this happened the first time, but last night it was only a few minutes after I’d got home. On neither occasion have they/he tried my upstairs neighbour. Am I being targeted? Has anyone else experienced anything similar? I’d love to know. I live on the Hither Green Lane side of Hither Green, in the Co-op area.

Anyway, I reported it to the police; there was a 20 minute delay while I tried to get through to the Lewisham Central Safer Neighbourhoods Team (not exactly an emergency, is it?) and didn’t recognise the beeping on my mobile as a number currently out of service (nice work, SNT). The police did a sweep of the area a number of times and called back to fill me in. They saw nobody fitting the description. If this has happened to you, or it happens to you, please report it. I can give you my reference number so it’s easier for the police to tie the cases together. And for god’s sake, don’t open your door at night.

/Community notice

Overheard while waiting for a bus on Lewisham High Street

“You know sometimes, when I’ve done a lot of coke, prawn cocktail and ready salted crisps really burn my mouth.”