On the way to work today I got shouted at by a man leaning out of a van.
Now, this was a tiny and brief incident and I’m not particularly bothered by it as such – that is, I’m offended but I’m not upset. I find it interesting, though, because it’s an example of both bad behaviour and misogyny in its purest form. Here’s why:
- I didn’t catch most of what was shouted but from what I did catch, it was insulting, and there is no way that the guy in the van would have shouted it to a male stranger.
- Men, when asked about the habit of addressing female strangers with comments about their appearance, will often claim that the women ought to be flattered. This is stupid, but in this case it clearly doesn’t apply anyway. I wasn’t meant to be flattered; I was being insulted.
- The phrase ‘asking for it’ is often used in these situations or more serious ones. Just to be clear, the only time you should interpret anyone as asking for anything is when you literally hear them making a request. But even apart from that, I am currently wearing very boring clothes with no skin revealed, and I’m average-looking and don’t have any make-up on. Even if the man had been complimenting me, you really couldn’t say I’d invited it even in the most wild of sexist dreams.
- At the time it happened I was walking down a street – the street next to the one I live in – at 8am, on the way to the train station to go to work. I was paying no attention to the van. The men in it were probably also on their way to work, and not drunk. The decision to briefly harass me was presumably taken, therefore, in a spirit of rationality. The man who shouted saw me walking along and decided on the spur of the moment that insulting a woman he had never met would be funny. Or perhaps that I needed to be informed that I wasn’t attractive to him, just in case I was wondering. Is the sight of a woman you don’t fancy perhaps threatening in some way, or offensive? I find it hard to empathise, as I encounter people I don’t fancy all the time and never feel the urge to inform them of the fact unless they utter the phrase “Do you fancy me?”
- Women are judged by their appearance all the time and taught that how they look is what really matters. So clearly this insult was intended to hurt. It was intended to devalue me, consciously or not. The assumption behind it was that any other attributes I might have were irrelevant in the face of, well, my face.
So mostly I’d like to know what the man himself would say if asked why he shouts insults at women. (I’d bet large amounts of money I’m not the only one.) I genuinely can’t think what his considered answer would be.