It is Friday at 6pm on a train. There are enough people packed into the carriage to make anyone forget that the weekend is here and you spend most of the 20 minute journey trying not to stand too close to the armpit of the man next to you. This is only made harder when said man refuses to hold onto any of the railings tightly enough and therefore falls into you, pit first, every time the train so much as jitters. As the carriage empties he moves away from me and I can finally go back to breathing through my nose.
“Hi”, he said. I wasn’t really sure if he was addressing me initially and as Riscas were getting me in the mood for Friday night I wasn’t about to turn them off for anyone so I smiled a tight lipped smile and looked back down at my book.
“Excuse me…hi.” I took an ear bud out thinking he was going to tell me I had something on my face. “How are you?” Evidently, he didn’t realise that we are in Britain and any social interaction on public transport should be restricted to apologising when you hit someone with your bag. “Yea I’m good thank you.” Silence…
“I recognise you, do we know each other?” He asked moving to my side of the carriage. “No, not unless you have seen me on the train before,” I said taking a step back and willing the conversation to end. Nonchalantly leaning against the door he said “Well I would like to really get to know all of ‘that’,” looking me up and down, “come for a drink at my flat tonight?” In an ideal world the doors of the train would have opened and he would be gone. But instead I told him to go to hell and walked off down the carriage. Then, in front of at least 20 other passengers he shouted “you shouldn’t play hard to get babe, you’re not pretty enough for that shit.” No one said anything.
This is tame and by no means exceptional to the experiences of so many people every day. The Huffington Post revealed that around 1 in 3 women experience sexual harassment on the street. It was the year of naming and shaming and #MeToo but is anything really changing?
As I got home and set about spilling my anger over the page of a note book, cup of tea in hand, I started to let go of how upset I felt but couldn’t help but wonder how many women had experienced something very similar the same day. How many would that be?
Sophie Sandberg is a student in New York. Over the last couple of years women have sent her unwanted comments they have received and she has gone to the place where it happened and written them out in big chalk letters on the pavement. She hopes people will recognise their own words in her work and will make them think twice about catcalling.
I first found Sophie’s Instagram, @catcallsofNewYork after reading Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates. Fixated on how people express their own personal trauma, opening up and speaking out in the hope that it empowers someone somewhere. When it happens it so often sounds like a compliment- “Hey girl, hey gorgeous” but it makes you feel so uncomfortable and dirty in your own body as if, by token of being a woman in a public space you are being watched and open for comment on.
The perfect thing about #MeToo, Everyday Sexism and Catcalls of New York is that it lets people know they’re not alone and that they aren’t doing anything to provoke unwanted attention or advances. Women are expressing their pain and experiences so that a conversation that has always been going on behind closed doors is now in the mainstream and it isn’t going anywhere. It is no secret anymore that it is nice, normal boys that are harassing, assaulting and abusing women. It isn’t always the creep that jumps out of a bush. They are the boys you went to university with, that you work with, that come from good homes and your mum asks you how they are from time to time.
TIME announced their person of the year for 2017 were The Silence Breakers pushing for change. The more we speak out, the more people will listen and I know after some of the most unpleasant encounters that I have experienced this has got me through.