In which Lia Mandaracas sets out how just how commonly women are harassed and violated going about their everyday lives..
Medway Fawcett launched on the 13th March, through an online event supported by several inspiring speakers. At our launch we discussed incidences of sexual harassment, and I realised that these conversations happen quite often between women but rarely are men included. If the conversations on local community groups, discussing #ReclaimTheStreets that evening are anything to go by, communication seems to break down when men are asked to understand just how draining life as a woman can be. That is why I decided it was important to highlight just some of the times, as a 33-year-old average woman, I have been harassed or violated whilst just doing everyday things.
This list is by no means exhaustive. I’ve left some bits out to protect people who I would not want to be tarred by association. I have left other parts out as they are too traumatic for me to feel comfortable putting in the public. And some will have just slipped my mind because this is so common that not everything gets banked.
I’m not sure where to start so the following are in no particular order.
Around 12/13 the man in his 30s at a family party (not a relation and never seen him before or since) who pulled me into a dark room full of men, sat me on his knee, and just carried on his conversation, until my mum got me out me of there.
The man in his mid-20s who when I was around 14 stopped me on the street and refused to believe my age, asked if he could come to my friends with me, and when I said no asked for my number. He didn’t believe I didn’t have a phone, and then said he had seen where I lived and would knock later, never did, but he worked in the local shop and after that day I would notice him following me around, even when I was in school uniform.
My friend’s dad who referred to me as a ‘buxom wench’ at 15 which I didn’t understand but his wife’s awkward laugh told me was inappropriate, and then on a separate occasion pinned me down with a 19 year old who was a friend of ours in their kitchen and tickled me, whilst I shouted for him to stop. This seems, and in many ways was, fairly innocuous, and I still struggle to look back on him with anything but fondness, but it’s a pretty inappropriate way to treat your teenage daughter’s friend.
The married 40ish man, also when I was around 15, who offered to walk me to the bus stop because it was dark, after a Duke of Edinburgh placement, and started making comments about how he shouldn’t because he might be ‘tempted by me in that top’. He then tried to kiss me and, when I pushed him away, suddenly decided that I probably was safer alone and left. I then had to leave that placement because I could not bear to work with his wife but didn’t know how to tell her, so I told a teacher who had arranged the placement and knew everyone involved and he simply said “thanks for telling me, I thought it was someone else” and took it no further. It later came out that the teacher was having an affair with a girl in the year below me and when the case was happening against him he messaged me asking me to ask her to drop the charges.
The man I bumped into in Victoria coach station who I vaguely knew from my corner shop who grabbed and hugged me whilst pushing his hard penis into my leg. The other man on a coach who when I got bored of his chat and pretended to be asleep kissed me full on the lips.
The endless array of men who have stuck up conversations on buses and then followed me home, to the point where my neighbour became accustomed to me knocking on the door, so they would think I lived with a burly bloke rather than alone.
Another man in a corner shop who stood directly under the CCTV camera, the only part of the shop not on camera, and made honking motions inches from my breasts because that part of the shop was incredibly small and we had to touch to pass. That man ran the local shop which I used every day and acted like it hadn’t happened.
The man who threatened to “spark me out” because I told him he was too drunk for me to serve him when I worked in a bar and then did wait outside. I had to get a colleague’s boyfriend to drive me three minutes down the road and wait outside until I was safely inside my house.
The ex-boyfriend who would smash plates and punch walls in arguments to scare me into dropping issues.
The man who invited me to his house to meet his girlfriend, and then told me in front of her that he’d told her fantasy stories about raping me.
The gay man who thought because he was gay it was acceptable to grab and comment on my boobs.
The man I worked with who told me a story about how his friend had been ‘getting off’ with a girl in his car so he got in the car and ‘put his fingers inside her.’ When I was horrified, and told him that was rape, he simply replied ‘oh we all know her, she goes with anyone so it’s fine’. And the woman who couldn’t understand my outrage, and asked ‘have you never been in a club and had someone try and slip a cheeky finger in?’ No, but I have been groped multiple times in clubs, and I am still horrified that she had normalised this behaviour to such an extent, that she believed it was okay.
The man on a late night train who positioned himself between the doors so I’d have no choice but to squeeze past him to get to the loo, and stroked the underneath of my breast as I did so before returning to his group of friends laughing and jeering, whilst I sat in the toilet trying to figure out how to get back to my seat without passing them.
The two men in a car who curb crawled for ages asking me inane questions and then when tired of getting one-word responses, pulled the car onto the corner of a dead-end side road and just waited because I had nowhere to go but walk past them. I did and they didn’t do anything other than roar off once I had passed, because the whole point was to terrify me so they could feel powerful.
The man who looked square in my eyes from his car, which he had slowed right down, and aggressively said “See you? I’d fuck you.” I still recall the guilt I felt because I swore at him, while wearing Labour campaigning material.
The man in my local shop who I’m relatively friendly with, who tells everyone that when he hugged me (unexpectedly) I completely froze. He thinks this is hilarious.
The man at a work party who I’d never met but kissed both my breasts whilst I danced with a friend.
As much as I struggled with where to start, I’m struggling with where to stop. So as I said at the beginning, this list is by no means exhaustive but I’m hoping it starts to show how early fear of male violence and predatory behaviour starts, how normalised it becomes, and why men need to start having conversations with themselves about how to do better. The same conversations that women have, about how to stay confident and keep their own agency.
It is absolutely not all men, and I have some amazing men in my life who I completely trust, but it is enough men to make every man a potential threat and only men can solve this. Analyse your own behaviour and if there are women still in your life that you think you’ve treated badly, apologise. I have had apologies from two men, who I don’t really speak to anymore but they sought me out to say that from speaking to other women they realised their actions ‘weren’t ok’. It is heartening to know that these conversations are happening. Call out your friends, leave women alone in public spaces, and educate your sons. We can do better for future generations if we start these conversations early and revisit them often.
Any woman interested in campaigning for gender equality can join Fawcett Medway, we will be hosting more events over the coming months. Further information on us and how you can get involved can be found here.
I promise we have fun as well as the heavier stuff!
Lia Mandaracas is a Medway mum, Labour activist, and Medway Fawcett member who is passionate about improving local lives.