Staged or unstaged, the video of a woman ripping off the wing mirror of a white van after she was catcalled and groped while cycling was a victorious moment.
Anyone (slash woman) who's cycled through London or indeed many major cities, will be sadly familiar with the sexual harassment waiting to be launched at you as you pass through the city.
If you haven't seen the video yet - in which case, where have you been? - but also, here's a catch up: a motorcyclist captures on camera a female cyclist being harassed and touched by men in a white van (including "are you on your period?"), as they drive off the woman chases after them and ends up ripping off the wing mirror of the van and cycling down a one-way street.
The video has provoked intense discussion: do two wrongs make a right? Well, the obvious answer is no. But such a question only oversimplifies the issue. The woman (or the woman the actor is playing) probably has a long history of being catcalled and objectified by men, especially on her bike. So, I'm not surprised she reached breaking point (literally).
I'm not an advocate of criminal damage or vandalism. I'd also like to think I'm above the whole 'an eye for an eye' thing. But when a woman is accosted or grabbed by a stranger, does that not also constitute vandalism and violence?
The truth is, no matter how many times I've been catcalled, intimidated or even grabbed by a man I do not know, I wouldn't dare to retaliate. I might scowl, but ultimately I am so shocked and intimidated that I get out of the way as soon as I can.
I know enough women and have interviewed enough female cyclists about this very issue to know that we pretty much all do the same. Truth is: we're scared.
When I was a student and a lot more hot headed, I hit a man who grabbed my breasts in a nightclub. It was an instinctive reaction. The guy was stunned and walked away, and I didn't think about it again all night.
I told my dad what had happened the next day and he rebuked me. Not because he didn't think the guy deserved it, he was incensed as any father slash normal human being would be. But he was more concerned about my safety.
"You don't know what people are capable of," he explained. "If a man grabs you like that, what's not to say he won't punch you in the face?"
His alternative was to get out of harm's way and contact someone who could help, whether that's a bouncer, a police officer or a friend.
Obviously this works when you're in a busy place, not so much when there aren't others around, but this was specific advice. (His advice for those times when you're alone: get a taxi. But then he is a black taxi driver, so I can't guarantee he was being completely objective.)
He had a point and to this day I haven't answered a single cat-caller back. Not because I don't want to shout and scream and kick and rip off wing mirrors, but because I wonder what a man who is capable to shouting obscenities or grabbing me while unprovoked could do to me if provoked.
The woman in the video got away with fighting back, if someone could guarantee the same to me I'd have broken the wing mirror, too.Suggest a correction