Last night I was heading home with my husband and feeling great: I’d had a productive day in the library, then met my husband in central London for a bite to eat and a few drinks. Being in one of those nice ‘Aah, isn’t life great’ moods, I was snapped out of it pretty abruptly when, going down the escalators at Holborn tube station, one of a group of three guys passing on the up escalator next to us decided to vocalise the simple machinations going on inside his head by simply barking at me “Fit!” (In the UK, ‘fit’ is a pretty commonly used word to refer to someone being attractive.)
Admittedly this isn’t the worst thing that’s ever been shouted at me in public, but the way in which he delivered his little pearl of wisdom riled me more than usual: apart from the fact that it was almost like a Pavlovian response in its ridiculous urgency, it was shouted in such a dead kind of way that made me feel more objectified than ever.
As so often happens with the shock of street harassment, I wasn’t thinking quite fast enough to deliver a measured response, and gave him the finger. My husband, standing directly behind me on the escalator, got angry – as husbands are generally wont to do when some moron starts shouting at their wife – and gave him a rather impassioned, “Fuck you.” He can look pretty mean when he’s angry, and there was a prompt, ‘Oh shit, let’s look the other way and pretend we didn’t do anything’ move from the three guys.
Part of me wanted to dash back up the escalators and confront them, but more than that I felt utterly defeated and upset. I hadn’t been expecting it, generally feeling shielded from street harassment when I’m with my husband in public. The completely unembarrassed way in which these guys exercised their supposed ‘right’ to pass comment on a woman’s appearance in such a way, in front of around 50 other people on the escalators at the time, really got to me. They had purposefully chosen a moment when they knew neither I nor my husband could reasonably retaliate, and didn’t seem at all phased by other tube passengers hearing their stupid verbalisations. By the time we got home, I was in tears, absolutely sick at feeling unsafe and vulnerable in a capital city that, currently hosting the Olympics, wants to pride itself on its friendliness.
The only saving grace of the whole thing was the woman of a couple standing behind us on the escalator. Far from shaking her head at the two people swearing at the tops of their voices in front of her (and, no, it’s not a great response, but a somewhat automatic one), she leaned in to sympathise with us, saying that the men had ‘no respect’. This is the first time that I have ever, after many street harassment incidents in London, had any sympathy or back-up from a bystander, and it meant a lot. Please, please, voice your support to other women in these situations – I still felt defeated, but I didn’t feel quite as alone.
Location: Holborn tube station, London
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