Verbal abuse of women in public
Sir, – I would like to share with you my recent experience of being a young woman in Dublin city.
It was a Saturday evening, 10.45pm on Camden Street. For me, this was the beginning of my journey home from work and the source of overwhelming feelings of degradation, objectification, anger, fear and raw sadness.
As I reached my bus stop last night, I realised I would have a long wait and so zipped up my long, padded jacket and braced myself against the cold October night. It was not long before it became clear that the cold would be the least of my worries that evening. As I looked around me at the all too familiar (yet, at the time, harmless) scenes of energetic groups of friends enjoying their weekend, I sensed it was a particularly busy night. There were significant numbers of all-male groups coming from all directions.
Now, upon reflection, I can find no word more suitable to describe these groups than “packs”, based on their behaviour towards me, one another and other members of the public. As I stood at my bus stop, the wolf whistles, comments on my physical appearance and “hellos” loaded with intention began and brought with them those well known feelings of self-consciousness, awkwardness and embarrassment that I am certain countless women in Dublin face on an irritatingly regular basis.
My experience of this night has made me realise that I have become somewhat desensitised to this kind of behaviour and so my reaction to these acts was quite muted.
I stood, I waited, I ignored. They continued. It was not until one group in particular passed that my vulnerability became acutely apparent.
It began with one group member looking directly into my eyes, pointing at me, turning to the others and announcing, “I fancy that one.” That “one”. To which another member replied in agreement, suggesting what he might like to do if he got me home. To which another added further details to this imagined scenario in which I was an object with the sole purpose of fulfilling their desires; details which filled me with pure white rage and, if I am honest, questions around my own value as a person.
If I can be seen in this way, I must not be perceived as an equal member of society by these people. Right? My thoughts were supported by the roars of laughter that followed as the group passed me by. They laughed, I became filled with fear. I was alone and it was now screamingly obvious that not only was I a source of entertainment for these groups, but a target.
I decided then to walk towards another bus stop at Eden Quay, simply to feel like I was not placidly awaiting the next wave of comments and jeers. As I walked briskly by, dodging and ignoring as I went, I noticed the faces of many other women on their own – all looking blankly ahead, also dodging and ignoring. I thought to myself, “Why don’t we say something back? Why don’t we tell them that we deserve more than to be objectified in this way? Why don’t we explain why we respond to their ‘compliments’ of how attractive we are with a stare of distaste rather than the gratitude they so clearly feel entitled to?”
The ever-growing nervousness in my stomach gave me the answer to my own question; resounding fear and intimidation.
Caitlin Moran explains that women are forever aware that “you can grab us, and we would struggle to get away. We know if you hit us, we’ll go down.”
I was furious that I allowed this fear to engulf me and now I am equally furious in the knowledge that it will stop me from speaking up in the future.
It was a long bus ride home. I sat close to the driver. The degradation that filled my commute that night was not yet over.
As I got off the bus, I heard thrashing against the windows and looked up to find yet another group of males. They taunted and made sexually explicit gestures towards me out the window.
I walked home. I opened the door and sat in my kitchen. I cried. I was so very, very tired. I knew then that just because I was home it did not mean it was all over. I too am exhausted, not only for myself but for those who have had and will have similar experiences, and the innumerable amount of men who do value and respect women and anyone who believes that gender should not influence a person’s right to be viewed as an equal in the eyes of another. – Yours, etc,