Forget the male gaze. Let’s talk about the ‘wandering touch’
Surely in 2018 I should feel okay with speaking out about a man groping me
This morning, like a lot of mornings, a man unnecessarily touched me. I’m instantly humiliated, embarrassed and frightened. On a crowded tube, though, I don’t want to say anything.
I can try and convince myself that it was an accident. I mean, the train is full, right? And he only brushed against me. Yes. That’s what happened. It’s fine. It’s fine. But deep down, I know that there’s a reason why only men accidentally brush their palms across the upper back of my tights.
And it happens so, so much. At least three times a week. I’ve never had women fall hands first on my chest, or accidentally moving their groin into mine. That just doesn’t happen. Women don’t find their hands mindlessly up my skirt or touching my waist. But I still doubt myself and my own understanding of what is happening to me because I have to. It’s the only way I can mentally cope with the sheer amount of unwanted touching I receive every day.
I want to turn around, look at this faceless stranger who just raised his hand to trace my upper legs and say “Why did you do that?”
I don’t. I stand there blushing, humiliated. I could be wrong, I think. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe he’ll get violent. What could me saying anything actually do, anyway? It wouldn’t stop anything. There are a million more accidental touches, whatever happens to this guy.
I mentioned reporting it to my friend (let’s call her Sarah) and she shook her head. “I’d never go to the police. Ever. You can’t win.” Her strident refusal to seek help shocked me.
“They’ll always have you down as a liar or mistaken. Always. You were always too hormonal, too skimpily dressed, too emotional, too drunk: believe me, they’ll work from the basis of defending the guy. They’ll look for reasons why you might be wrong as a priority. They’ll talk about his future and what prison will do to him and whether he should really have his reputation assaulted for a silly mistake. That could be you just misreading things, of course.”
As Sarah is a woman who did go to the police — and have the experience of them failing to prosecute her abuser of several years— I can’t say I blame her. I’ve experienced the ‘toughen up’ speech from people myself when I’ve complained about wandering hands. He just touched your chest, right? He didn’t hurt you. He didn’t actually hurt you.
And Sarah isn’t alone in her distrust of authorities or the public in taking sexual touching seriously. Of the 110 women I spoke to between the ages of 18 and 28, only 20% would consider reporting unwanted ‘over clothes touching’ on public transport.
Of course, this isn’t something that’s going to magically stop because I’ve written a medium post about it. I don’t blame you for not speaking out when I myself feel I am too embarrassed or scared.
But we do need this conversation.
Just because it won’t kill you, it doesn’t mean you have to tolerate it.