When I was 17 years old a man pulled over an articulated lorry on a busy road to hit on me. I can't be sure, but I think that's when a lifetime of being hit on constantly began. Now wait - before you think "ugh, what is this woman complaining about now?" I'm here to explain why women need to stop thinking other women are bragging when they tell these stories.
I've never been able to figure out why I attract so much attention. I'm no Samantha Brick. I don't think it's because I'm so good-looking my mere presence scrambles the brains and hearts of men. The best I've come up with is, I stand out in a crowd. I've got a misleadingly friendly face. I'm what your parents would politely refer to as a big girl. I'm all limbs and boobs and facial piercings and I guess that makes the creepers look twice.
I don't define myself by the way men look at me; at least I try not to. But it's been happening to me so frequently and for so long, it's one of the few constants in my life. Ask any one of my closest friends and they'll have a hilarious tome to tell you about the time a man said something creepy to me in the street, or the guy who, after being rebuffed, told me "if you were on Come Dine With Me, you'd get a zero!" Harsh words man. Harsh.
But for every friend I've got who sympathises with my plight, I've got a bundle who think I'm showing off. People who say things like "...and nobody even looks twice at me" as if being leered at is the ultimate goal in life. These might be people in successful relationships, but would still prefer the validation of stranger yelling "nice tits!" out of a white van. It baffles me.
It genuinely hurts my feelings when I tell someone that it's horrible to feel like I'm not safe anywhere and they dismiss me. For instance when the mover I hired started hitting on me via text. As far as I'm concerned, that's terrifying. It was a professional transaction, and he abused it. He knows where I live and that I live alone. For a friend's response to be "you wouldn't be complaining if he was hot" is not helpful, and makes me feel even more like I'm alone in this situation.
For comparison - yesterday I was walking through a shopping centre and a man stared me right in the eye and then touched my hand. This doesn't sound like much, but that's a complete stranger who saw me and thought "Screw her rights and her personal space boundaries; I want to touch her so I will". I texted a friend to tell him about it, and his response was "Punch him and set him on fire!" Now, whilst I absolutely don't encourage any kind of violence, that sort of visceral reaction (via text) is far more preferable than "lol, men love you".
I've been followed home by men on foot and in cars. I've had men wait in doorways and jump out at me. I've had men threaten to hurt me to get my attention. I've been called "stuck up", "too white", "a typical black girl". I've had to weigh up actual and potential danger in the middle of the night whilst being followed home, by asking a less threatening looking man to stand with me until the man who has followed me from the bus, to the local shop, to my street, goes away.
And sometimes I can laugh about it, whether it's our Come Dine With Me friend from earlier, the man who yelled "legs looking strong, can't go wrong" or my personal favourite "hey tall girl! Why you so tall?", they don't all make me feel like I'm about to be murdered. But the occasional anecdote isn't worth the constant discomfort, the feeling that I have to be careful where I walk, how I dress, or who I accidentally make eye contact with because as a woman alone, I'm not safe anywhere.
There's no need to feel jealous of someone who is being harassed, scared, followed or grabbed by strangers. Being leered at by a creepy stranger does not make me feel superior, attractive or confident. Not all attention is positive attention. Just because people aren't always being threatening, it doesn't mean I feel like I'm in a romcom where everyone is just so taken aback by my effervescent beauty they must stop me and do anything to make it known to me.
But heck, there might genuinely be some women who enjoy this attention, and you might be friends with that woman, and she might be a real bitch about it, putting you down, constantly bragging about how hot she is and how men love her, claiming that she can't walk down the street without people mistaking her for Beyoncé. If you're certain your friend is just being a jerk, you have my personal handwritten permission to tell her to shut up.
And I think I know what your question for me is. Why didn't I choose to attack this problem at the source, to make a worldwide plea to the men who sexually harass me to kindly stop doing it? Well honestly, I don't think they're reading this. I don't think they're not going to pick this up and go "damn, girl - you were right!" So instead, I'm making a request to my lovely female friends. We need to stand together, be nice to each other and not react flippantly when that one friend you have is complaining AGAIN that a stranger called her sexy when she was trying to shop for groceries. Because frankly, she deserves more.