Monday, 12 March 2012

Red Shoes

I was walking along a fair sized road at about 6pm on a summer evening, wearing low red heels. I was not dressed provocatively. Personally I don't think I should have to recount those details to preface what happened next, but perhaps omitting such judgment informing information would be woefully remiss. I was fifteen at the time, by the way.

A white van slowed down beside me, and the two white men inside, both probably in their mid-30s, heckled me from their position of safety and power. "Nice shoes! Sexyy" was a fairly innocuous starter, and not something that caused my gaze to flicker from the horizon. Then: "Come on. Get in." They kept repeating it, increasingly urgently, the van crawling beside me. I glanced towards them and they were staring straight back, unsmiling.

In a moment of adolescent bravado I tossed my stupid head and muttered, staring at the ground, "Oh FUCK OFF". Before I knew it the van had stopped, and they were shouting, the doors of the van opening. "What did you say? What did you say to me?"

Without hesitating I took off at a sprint (I told you the heels were low) until I reached the corner where my friend was waiting, and we ran together all the way to the tube station. By the time we got there panting, there was no sign of the van or the men, and in the course of the tube journey the whole incident became a sort of hazy, giggly anecdote. An hour later I would have been utterly blasé, embarrassedly murmuring that I had over-reacted, that probably nothing would have happened. Report to the police? Some mild lechery? Let the fifteen-year-old eyerolling commence.

For teenage girls street harassment is just part of daily life. Even fairly recently I found myself wondering if perhaps I looked rubbish tonight, because no passing motorists had chanced a heckle. It gets under our skin, it effects the way we think of ourselves as women. I used to be - still am, to my shame - imperiously pleased when men shout out the car window, and I've had innumerable conversations with sensible, self-respecting girls who say the same. The fact that we're internalising this objectification, coming to unconsciously regard our value as dictated by men (and not just that, but grown men who are revolting enough to slobber over teenagers), is indicative of a wider societal problem. Why should we have to stay ever vigilant to the impingement of sexist values on our consciousness? It shouldn't be something we're faced with, this seige on our self-image, further complicating the plentifully treacherous passage of adolescence. It shouldn't be the case that when a fifteen year old is threatened by grown men, she shrugs it off as part of the fabric of female life.

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