After one “vile” catcalling incident too many, Lucy Mangan has a message for men everywhere.
I was walking home at about 4pm a few days ago, and a girl in school uniform was walking towards me. She was about 13 or 14 and, with about 10 feet between us, she passed a man leaning against a shop window. His expression coarsened to a leer and he announced: “I’d break the law for you.”
I would add an exclamation mark to convey the volume – I wouldn’t like you to think he felt the need to mutter or anything – but that might also make it read as a lightheartedly intended remark, when in fact its innate vileness was actually aggravated by his delivery of it as a considered statement.
She – swiftly, smoothly, practisedly – stepped to her right, away from him, and carried on quickly past without breaking step but eyes sweeping the path in front of her for further hazards, a getaway route, potential support, and witnesses to her (unjustified of course but, especially at her age, deeply felt) embarrassment.
There was an old, infirm lady who had stepped similarly away, aware of her physical vulnerability in front of a man who had already shown his disregard for behavioural conventions. There was me, who was doing similar calculations because I had my little boy with me.
I managed to give her what I hoped was a look of solidarity and sympathy and nod to her harasser and murmur “dick” as she passed me. And when I looked beyond her to check he wasn’t following the girl, I saw a middle-aged woman, I presume her mother, hurry to catch up with her, obviously realising from our collective body language and his presence something of what had happened even if she was too far away to hear the actual words.
And there was a man in his late 20s who stepped the other way, towards the man. He said, “Fuck off, mate,” and waited until the other man slunk away. “Thank you,” said the mother as she hurried past. “No worries,” he said, and turned the corner and went – I hope with a little bit of pride in his good deed warming him – about his day.
In a weird way, though, the presence of such an ally (wonderful though it was) made me even angrier than I usually become when I witness women being intimidated by men. There were several points further inflaming my rage.
Why, for one, are such allies so rare? Are men really so often oblivious to what is happening to the women around them, do they not care, or – when it comes down to it – do they really almost exclusively side with Mr I’d Break The Law For You? Am I to assume that there is some part of almost all of them that would rather tacitly support Mr I Want That Teenage Vagina So Badly I Have to Humiliate Its Owner, than risk a breach in the patriarchal wall?
Or, given that men like Mr Fuck Off, Mate exist, men who have managed to grow up in control of themselves and are sickened by those who aren’t… why aren’t there more of them? So many excuses are made for men – maybe not ones quite so rabidly unpleasant as the harasser here, but plenty for many far, far along the spectrum – and their behaviours that it’s easy to slide into the belief that there is something ‘natural’ about it, something inevitable, and that there is only so much we should ever expect things to improve.
No. Not while there are brimming-eyed teenagers sidestepping perverts, women shrinking from suddenly probable violence, mothers rushing to try and undo damage and expend more sorrowful energy teaching their daughters to navigate a newly dangerous world.
Next time, I will try and do more than mutter “dick” and meanwhile I will never stop expecting better from them all.