Of all the forms of micro-patriarchy, taking up too much space in public, talking over women, dismissing women’s opinions, offering unsolicited advice and guidance and many, many, many more, street harassment has to be the most infuriating. You are in a public place, governed by the common law of polite interaction, which men appear to consider involves giving you their time and attention. Street harassment varies from the innocuous to the downright dangerous, but the astonishing thing is how men appear to see women in public places as objects placed there for their own self-gratification.
Street harassment of women, I’m fairly certain, is a global phenomenon, but I have never experienced it as badly as I currently do in Greece. It is rare for me to leave the house on any given day and not experience some form of unwanted male demand for my attention.
Earlier this evening, I nipped out to the local shops. As usual the pavements were full of men: standing, taking up space, staring. The only women you ever see on the streets at night around this area are Somali women – quite why that is I really have no idea. They never seem to get the kind of hassle that other women do, and appear to negotiate the dickheads with ease. They clearly have some secret ninja trick that I really need to get them to teach me. But to the tale.
Anyway, there I was walking along the road minding my own fucking business, behind two men dawdling along, taking up the entire pavement, as the men here do. I stepped around them, off the kerb, and as I passed, one of the men said “Hello“. Being the polite soul that I am, I replied “Hello“, and walked on. I had got about 5 paces when he appeared by my side. I turned and he asked “Are you married?” Heart fucking sinks, in what kind of universe do people think that it is acceptable to go up to random strangers in the street and ask them about their legal status?
“What business is that of yours?” I respond.
He smiles broadly. “I should have introduced myself, he said “I’m <Dick Head>”.
I nod, coldly.
“Where are you from? Are you Greek?”
Again I respond “What business is that of yours?”.
And again he smiles. “Where are you going?”, he asks.
“That is none of your business”, I respond more forcefully.
He smiles yet again,” I am just going to the shop up there to buy…”.
At this point, my politeness has worn very thin. I cut him off. “Dont let me keep you then” … and walk off into the shop to which I was headed. Another few minutes of my life given over to a prick who thinks he is entitled to my time and attention. So I head round the shop, carefully dodging one of the shop assistants who has already inquired after my marital status, then wait until yet another dickhead had made his purchases and left the shop before going up to the till. This particular dickhead had blocked my exit to that exact shop a few months prior, trying it would seem, to wheedle my address out of me and I had no desire for a repeat of the below encounter…
Where do you live? Athens.
Where in Athens? Fairly close. Excuse me.
Which street? You are in my way.
On this street? EXCUSE ME
On the next street? CAN YOU LET ME PAST!
At this point a man appears behind dickheadchops trying to get into the shop. One small Συγγνώμη from him is all that it takes for dickheadchops to move sufficiently for me to squeeze by and escape
Purchases completed and prior identified dickheads avoided, I head home. So, there I am walking home, minding my own fucking business, when just up ahead, I spot the prick from earlier.
“I waited for you”, he said, beaming broadly.
“Because I wanted to talk to you”
“What makes you think I want to talk to you?”
He laughs and smiles .
“I saw you walking down the road earlier and I wanted to talk to you but you didn’t seem to want to talk to me, so I waited for you here so that we could talk”
“So you realise that I don’t want to talk to you, but still you waited for me, because YOU wanted to talk to ME?”
“Yes“, he said, beaming from ear to ear, and then launched into this long diatribe about how he had seen me in the street (for all of one nanosecond) and decided that he absolutely must talk to me.
“But I don’t want to talk to you. I didn’t want to talk to you earlier and I don’t want to talk to you now.”
I am informed that the only reason I don’t want to talk to him because I don’t know enough about him, and I don’t realise what we have in common because we haven’t had time to have a proper chat to get to know one another.
“But I don’t want to talk to you at all.”
I am treated to a long lecture on the philosophy of life, on friendship, and the dangers of solipsism. The randomness of chance encounters and the need to make connections with others and how completely and utterly amazing it is that we both happened to be walking down the same street at precisely the same time.
“I think I’ve made it clear that I don’t want to talk to you, you have already taken up my time and attention earlier, and now you are doing the same now. Now, how can we end this conversation”
He beams broadly and says brightly “You can give me your facebook and skype details and then I can get in touch with you”
“Wait a moment, I have just stood here and told you over and over again about how you are demanding time and attention that I don’t want to give you, and yet you seem to feel entitled to ask for my online details so that you can harass me more. Why on earth would I give you those?”
“Because I might not meet you again.” <my jaw is actually starting to drop at this point>. And a further long soliloquy follows about the randomness of the urban environment, the chances of meeting any given individual in the vastness of the city landscape and the benefits of technology in ensuring that enduring connections are made.
“I dont think you understand. I didn’t want to talk to you earlier, I dont want to be having this discussion now and I don’t want to give you my details because I don’t want to talk to you in future. Do you understand?”
“Of course”, he says, “You still don’t know me. It is best that we go for coffee, so that we can get to know each other and then you can give me your facebook address”
“You demanded my time earlier, you have now just taken up a further ten minutes of my time now, I have no intention of giving you any more of my time, now how can we end this conversation.
“Can you do me a favour”
I actually splutter at this point. “A FAVOUR?! You have just taken up a huge amount of my time and attention, when I have clearly and repeatedly told you that I don’t want to talk to you, demanded my online details and NOW you want ME to do YOU a favour?! Are you serious?!
For the first time, he looks slightly vexed and a little sheepish.
“Now, how do we end this conversation….”
He looks confused. “I don’t really know…I think maybe if you give me your facebo….” he trails off in response to a stern look.
“It starts with ‘G‘ “, I offer helpfully.
He stares dumbly
“Goodbye” I say, shaking his hand and walking off.
So, home I trot. Crossing the street to avoid the man playing Ludo outside his shop (who is actually perfectly polite as we exchange pleasantries , our conversation being generally limited to the weather and traffic, but I’m really in no mood to deal with any more of men’s conversations). And on getting home, I launch into a diatribe about dickheads, recounting the story of earlier. Once I have finished ranting, there is silence for an instant.
“You do know why this happened, don’t you?“.
“Of course I do. Because men are over-entitled pricks who think that women in public places are there for their personal amusement and have nothing better to do with their time than provide them with self-gratification and attention so that they can feel better about their inadequacies by utilising the norms of polite behaviour to manipulate women into providing emotional support, comfort and entertainment and give an audience for their hyper-inflated egos.”
“No. It was because you said ‘Hello’. “
I have no fucking words.
This is actually beyond satire. Both the random bloke on the street, and the man that I recounted the story to seemed to think that someone responding to “Hello” with “Hello”, entitled the first person to…
- Inquire about their marital status, their nationality and their purpose for leaving their home.
- Demand that the second person got to know them
- Listen to their take on the philosophy of life
- Take up their time and attention in a public place
- Demand access to their private online spaces
- Demand that they accompany them to a cafe
- Request a favour.
Only it isn’t really about one person responding to another, its about a woman responding to a man. Because women in public places aren’t actually people but simply objects to be prodded and if that prod results in a response, the “object in a public place” is magically transferred into the recipients inventory and all barriers and boundaries are consequently null and void.
The statement “That is none of your business” is negated by “Hello“, because as a woman saying “Hello” you have entitled them to know intimate details about your legal status, nationality and purpose for being in a public place. By saying “Hello“, you have forfeited the right over how to spend your time because that “Hello“, entitles the recipient to determine how it is spent. A refusal to provide access to private space is a transgression of the rules of “Hello”, which dictate that as an object who has provided “Hello” rights to someone is now an object in their inventory, the properties of which are now at their disposal.
This is far from being one of the most scary encounters that I’ve had. On the scale of creepiness, it only rated about a 3. Πάμε (which in the context of street harassment is roughly translated as “Come with me so that I can fuck you” ) was one of the first Greek words that I learnt because its so fucking damn universal for a woman walking along the street on her own. Twice now I’ve had to run when common and garden street harassment threatened to turn into something nastier and on another occasion narrowly escaped getting dragged off a busy main street in the early evening. And being stared at from long distances with eyes which bore through you is something that I’ve learned to live with.
On this occasion, it has to be said, despite being an over-entitled, egotistical, arrogant prick who seemed to be utterly at a loss to why his “Hello” rights were being undermined, there was no undercurrent of menace or violence which all too frequently accompanies street harassment, but this culture of street harassment where men feel entitled to women’s time translates into a whole load of other entitlements which they assume. The sheer fucking space that men take up in Athens is unbelievable. You only have to watch any given street on any given day to find out how women have to physically step around men. And the amount of urban space given over to men’s sexual gratification – the strip clubs, the brothels, the sex shops, the street prostitution all provides a background hum of a city made for men, littered with objects for their comfort and gratification.