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It’s 2:55pm and I’ve just gotten off the bus ready to get my son from school. I’m loaded down with shopping (board games in big, flat, colourful bags) and I’m clearly in a hurry.
I’m walking along in my typical “Leave me be” fashion – not making eye contact with anyone; keeping a fast, purposeful pace; trying to keep a look of determination on my face.
I pass a cook shop. There’s a guy in the doorway. “Good afternoon, Young Lady,” he says to me. Seems innocuous enough. For community’s sake, I reply “Hi” without slowing down. This was a mistake.
“Hey! Baby! Why so hurried! Get your ass back here, baby!”
I’m still processing this (In my mind, my cocky, confident persona is taking a bashing, “Does this guy know who he’s messing with?” I saying to myself in an Emergency Inner Pep Talk, “I’m going to ruin his ass come August”) as the guy immediately in front of me turns around to see what the first guy is yelling about. He stops right in front of me so suddenly I almost pile into the back of him.
Asshole #1 is still calling to me from his doorway. Asshole #2 decides to join in.
This is the first time in YEARS I’ve experienced a moment of panic; there’s no escape route. Major road to one side, buildings to my other. Harassing Guy #1 is behind and this other asshole is right in front of me. Better yet, I’m frozen in the spot wondering what the hell to do while Guy #2 is reaching his hand out toward me.
“Get the fuck away” I mumble. I move the shopping to my other hand, so it forms a barrier between me and his hand and push past him. Everything I’ve learned about rape and sexual assault is scrolling, Terminator-style, through my mind. My first thought isn’t to hurt him to defend myself; my only thought is to escape.
Five yards ahead is a shop where I go sometimes with my son. I fumble my way in there and stand with my back against the wall. Not quite sure what to do now, I wait a couple of beats while the guy behind the counter asks me if I’m okay. I am, I tell him so. I look at my watch – it’s almost time for my son to get collected.
It’s only this thought that gets me moving again. The truth is, I could have stayed in the shop for an hour, but my son needs me to be at school.
I step out, both assholes have gone: it’s just another rainy day in Bristol and while their days are continuing uninterrupted, mine has been marred. That same old feeling of powerlessness is back again, the “What Ifs” are playing in my head as I get to school and wait for my son to come out. Suddenly I can’t wait to get home, to log on and to Hollaback. And now I’ve written out what happened, I’m already feeling calmer and safer.
I’m starting a Hollaback in Bristol in August; I like to think I know enough about street harassment to remain cool and unflustered. Goes to show, you can never really be prepared – all the responses I’ve drilled in my head came to nothing. Now I’m home, fear has turned to fury – I find I’m blaming myself: did I overreact? Should I have answered the first guy? Did I really need to use that bus-stop instead of the next? Was I “asking for it” by reciprocating? Was my aggression really warranted?
The truth is, in that moment I was trapped between two guys who were giving me obviously unwanted advances: one was shouting for my attention, the other was making physical advances. I’m now feeling incredibly angry and more determined than ever to end this kind of culture that allows men to randomly surround a woman who clearly wasn’t interested in anything other than getting where she was going.
I’m more determined than ever to stop these assholes.
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