Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a young prince asked a beautiful young woman to let down her hair. It wasn’t her hair he was interested in however, and the real question he should have asked her is; do you want to fuck?
He saw something he liked, and with a divine confidence inherited by an entire gender, called out to her in an attempt to get what he so desired.
His tale may have only come to life within the realms of fiction, but his question remains our reality. Like him, men today have learnt to just dress it up differently; ‘looking good’, ‘I’m just enjoying the view’, ‘hey sexy’ and ‘damn girl’ have all become code for ‘I want you’ or ‘let’s fuck’. Sometimes it’s not even words or a fully formed sentence. Sometimes it’s just a visceral grunt and a slight lean towards you, as if somehow they hope to catch some passing estrogen, as their eyes scan you up and down appreciatively.
I’m not sure I’ve ever met a woman who hasn’t been subjected to heckling, but I do know I’ve never met a woman who wants it, likes it or utters the sentence, ‘heckle me baby’. But that’s never mattered, because the choice has never been ours.
As I walked through London yesterday afternoon, the question was thrown at me six different times in the space of a ten-minute walk. It might seem sinister to believe that’s what they want, but they didn’t call out to me because of my intelligence or compatibility. I know that because nothing about a person can tell anybody that. Neither am I vain enough to believe that the level of attention I received was directly proportional to my beauty. It’s nothing to do with beauty. Instead, it’s the sway of my hips or the rise of my breasts that catches their eye. It’s the hair hanging down my back or the dress that floats round my ankles. It’s the bare arms and the parts of me that wobble when I walk. They’re the motivations that give birth to their heckles. It’s because I’m a woman and I’m walking alone.
I’m confident and always have been. Yet even I faltered as the fourth man leaned closer than he ever should have to whisper his admiration in an undertone that spoke of a sordid desire. Trying to cross the road, a car with two men in it slowed to give me way, only to accelerate and slow again. As I rocked uncertainly between the road and the pavement, unsure if he was indeed letting me cross, he laughingly rolled down his window and shouted that he just ‘wanted to appreciate the view a little longer’. His friend roared in laughter and they both nodded in appreciation towards me, as if they had just bestowed some great compliment on me. My journey continued and as I saw a café with groups of men sitting outside, I groaned as I realised I would have to walk past it and with gritted teeth I bore the task. I finally arrived at my destination feeling annoyed, unsafe and unsure.
I could have crossed the road to avoid the group of men, I could even travel in packs with others or take more buses to avoid the walks. But then you’re taking away from me my right to be in any place at any time. You’re taking away a freedom that’s wholly mine. I don’t have the strength or the time in my day to stop and confront each one of these men. The statistics are also against me; the numbers tell me that at some point one of those men may retaliate and the consequences would be far greater than a feeling of irritation and uncertainty, and that fear always lurks ominously just below the surface.
The question that remains should never be, what can I do? The question should be; why haven’t we evolved past this? Why is it still acceptable? The heckles and cries flung at women every day is not a compliment. We don’t collect them like pearls of affirmation to our youth or beauty. Instead, they slide of our skin like grease and leave a smudged feeling of grit and dirt.
I don’t need to dress differently or lower my head or travel in packs; what I need is other men to educate their gender, for other men to object to their cries and for other men to appreciate that no, I don’t want to fuck you and no, your question doesn’t make me feel special or elevate me to new heights.
The question is just uncomfortable.