Today I Experienced What It Felt Like To Be Sexually Harassed

I recently read Daisy Buchanan’s article over at The Guardian about the pressure to respond or be polite to harassers in order to be safe. I shared her indignation.

“We’ve all been bothered by persistent guys who pester us relentlessly, believing themselves to be entitled to our company and more. We’re under pressure to be polite and manage their expectations”.

Then something happened today, which turned my agreement to anger.

I was waiting for a friend in North London to begin a house viewing and decided to do so in the nearby park. On my way, a man and his friend approached me and asked if they could talk to me. I declined. However, one of the men continued to walk next to me and ask questions about my personal life and comment about my appearance. Eventually, I came to a garden and saw another woman sitting inside, so thought if I joined her, the men would be on their way. However, the particularly confrontational one of the two persisted and sat next to me, asking why I didn’t want to talk him and if it was because he was black. (Oh sure, because if a white man approached and heckled me, I’d be lapping that up).

I tried two tactics. Initially I ignored him, at which point he became aggressive. So I began to engage with his questions and literally used ‘stranger danger’ as a reason for not wanting to talk to him. He continued to posit the argument that for two people to begin dating they had to start as strangers (not only was he delusional about the future of our interactions, he had a beer in hand, so was on his way to drunkenness too).

Conversation, as well as intercourse, should be consensual and the fact that a stranger feels compelled to talk to you doesn’t mean you should have to respond. Especially if the topics of conversation are not only invasive but offensive.

The point at which he dared to touch my knee with his hand, was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I got up and proceeded to walk back to the high street. This inspired the poor soul to launch a profane attack, my rejection of him clearly indicating my promiscuity and wanton ways (you can guess the types of slurs that were being shouted at me). And I mean shouted. I literally had to walk through a public space with derogatory comments echoing in the distance.

Initially, I had thought ‘how silly of me to walk into a park alone’. Yet during this incident I saw another two solo women, who were managing to go about their days uninhibited. The fault doesn’t lie with the women who dare to do something sans-companionship, it lies with the thinking that men somehow have a right to our attention.

Buchanan highlighted the issue that law enforcement is lacking and that “we need to spread the message that it isn’t flirting if it feels frightening. To create spaces where all women feel they are safe to look their harasser in the eye and say: “Leave me alone. I do not want to talk to you.”

And whilst this remains true, what happens if you tell the person bothering you exactly that and they prevail. After explicitly telling this man I didn’t want to talk to him and that he was making me uncomfortable, his mission to hassle me was only invigorated.

It was at this point I felt completely vulnerable. My voice and my concerns were not being heard and beyond that there was seemingly little I could do to restore my sense of safety. This man had intruded on my morning and I was unable to stop him.

In an era where the harassment of women is so common there’s over 75,000 entries in the Everyday Sexism Project, going out has become a game of roulette where we count ourselves lucky to be left unperturbed. Where walking along a certain street, at certain time is considered a risk.

It’s ridiculous that if a woman were to approach a man and ask if he had girlfriend they’d most likely be surprised, and somewhat flattered. When this man did the same to me, I felt endangered.

Ageing in Hollywood

Ageing in Hollywood is a double-edged sword. Either you embrace the graceful climb over the hill and vie with Meryl Streep for all the peachy roles coming your way. Or you try and stay looking as youthful as possible for as long as possible, because let’s face it, there are more roles for those lithe, glowing-skinned, and eternally energised monsters known as ‘young women’ than there are for their predecessors (and most likely, trail-brazers). And if you do beat one of those taut beauties to the part, then you have Russell Crowe breathing down your neck saying that ageism isn’t a problem at all and you should just embrace the whole getting older shebang. Sigh.

MIC wrote a very accurate and incisive piece on the issue with his comments, which initially appears as though he’s encouraging (more like demanding that) female actresses to be happy in their own skin. And rather than selling themselves short by competing with all the up and comers of the film industry, they should focus on playing women their own age.

Oh Russell. How funny you are. All those intelligent, wise and elegant elder ladies of Hollywood must have bypassed the reams and reams of intelligent, wise and elegant roles written for them, in search of bit parts as muses, girlfriends, manic-pixie-dream-girls, supporting wives and leggy prostitutes. Oh wait.

He appears to have glossed over, and trivialised the issue at hand – the fact that roles suited to older women in Hollywood are few and far between. According to a 2013 study, It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: Onscreen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2013, researcher Martha Lauzen found that:

“Females comprised 15% of protagonists, 29% of major characters and 30% of all speaking characters. Female characters remain younger than their male counterparts,” Lauzen writes. “The majority of female characters were in their 20s (26%) and 30s (28%). The majority of male characters were in their 30s (27%) and 40s (31%).”

The hard fact to face is that it’s easier for men to sustain careers in Hollywood simply because there are more roles for them. Whereas their trajectory into fame might remain pretty consistent, or even soar as they age, for women it’s more likely to decline (unless you’re Amy Adams). Paul Rudd, at the age of 45 is playing the hero in Marvel’s latest outing Ant-Man. Whereas the only superhero roles currently available to women are being assumed by the significantly younger Scarlett Johansson. For guys over 40 like Crowe, 55% of all male characters on screen are for guys who are his age or older. Flip the side of the coin, or undergo a sex change operation (and besides making headlines) he would discover the number of roles available to him decreases dramatically.

His comments also do a disservice to the fantastic actresses that do live in their own skin, and consistently turn in performances that celebrate the process of the ageing, and the complexities that come with it. Generalising actresses that are only in the market for youthful roles, neglects the fact that are many talented thesps besides Streep that showcase their capabilities, neuroses and wrinkles – and are all the more fantastic for doing so. Here are a handful of my favourite characters/role over 40 played by terrific, multi-faceted actresses over 40 in the past few years. From ball-busting bosses and gun-toting assassins, to pill-popping anti heroines and everything in between, these women are fierce, vulnerable, sharp-tongued, witty, acerbic, badass, and most of all, show strength in the face of adversity. They are role models not just for women their age, but for a younger generation of women and actresses who demand longevity out of their careers.

movies_skyfall_update_8‘M’ – Judi Dench (Skyfall, Casino Royale, Die Another Day, The World Is Not Enough)

Meryl Streep (Doubt, Mamma Mia, The Devil Wears Prada, The Iron Lady, It’s Complicated)051abba1MOS_468x641

‘Nic’ – Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)

‘Dr. Alice Howland’ – Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

rotator_gravitycover‘Ryan Stone’ – Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

‘Penny Chenery’ – Diane Lane (Secretariat)

Kate’ – Catherine Keener (Please Give)

Helen Mirren (Gosford Park, The Queen, The Tempest, RED, Hitchcock)

‘Abby’ Rosemarie DeWitt (Touchy Feely)

‘P.L. Travers’ – Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)

19JPKITTREDGE2-articleLarge‘Olive Kitteridge’ – Frances McDormand (Olive Kitteridge)

‘Claire Bennett’ – Jennifer Aniston (Cake)

‘Liz Gilbert’ – Julia Roberts (Eat, Pray, Love) and ‘Barbara Weston’ (August: Osage County)

‘Maria’ – Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

jasbreakdown‘Jasmine’ – Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

‘Elizabeth Taylor’ – Helena Bonham Carter (Burton and Taylor)

‘Cathy’ – Allison Janney – (The Oranges)

tilda-swinton-as-mason-in-snowpiercerTilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer, The Grand Budapest Hotel)