This week one of the young people I work with came into a session upset. She’d been followed and harassed by an ex boyfriend and 2 of his friends who had followed her down the street, put their arm around her and asked for a kiss. We chatted about it, asked what she wanted to do, talked about getting the police involved and making sure she felt safe. I walked home with her singing down the street.
Internally I caught myself thinking, this is a bit much for a couple of schoolboys, and caught myself again. This is exactly the response we’ve been conditioned to have, ‘it’s only a laugh’, ‘they wouldn’t take it further’, ‘it’s only a bit of banter’, ‘it happens to everyone…’
But what now? So when she goes out today to walk to school? Will she have to do extra work to make herself feel safe, calling friends to walk with her, walking with headphones in, getting a taxi? Will she even go? I’ve been there. You walk out with your head held high and inside you question every person who is walking towards you, wishing you have eyes in the back of your head, you suddenly feel as if you want to cross the road whenever you see men of any age walking in pairs, or in groups. Your hypervigilance shoots up. All because a couple of lads wanted a laugh.
I’m re-reading the UK Feminista report into sexism in schools from 2017. Read it here It’s a sobering look at the wide gulf in gender, the frustration of schools in dealing with it and the fear that young women feel everyday. This is a call to work with young men to end the culture of entitlement to women, we’re not here for amusement and we don’t want to have to change our behaviour any more just to feel safe on our own streets.