I find myself unable to sleep. Relaying events over and over in my head of recent happenings that presented themselves throughout the festive period. Events that at the time seemed like harmless, drunken fun, when in actuality and in the sober light of the days and weeks afterwards have resulted in me saying to myself, "Wait a sec, I actually wasn't okay with that."
I read an article on VICE recently about the numerous assaults on women at a square in front of the central station in Cologne, Germany on New Years Eve. Groups of "two to 20 men" allegedly began targeting women by touching them inappropriately in a bid to distract them and then robbing them. Video footage depicts the chaos of the scene and surrounding the loud fireworks being let off in the middle of the crowd are boyfriends earnestly wrapping their arms around their girlfriends' shoulders in an attempt to clutch onto them and their safety. The gesture, commonplace on such a celebrated and busy night differs from its usual use of a sign of simple affection however. For me, it was not just an act of symbolic protection bestowed upon the women but a message to the possible attackers. One that says because she is with a man she is much less of an easy target. Because these attackers would respect another man's ownership over a woman than one a woman has over herself.
The attacks prompted Cologne's Mayor, Henriette Reker to suggest to women around the area that they keep men at an arm's length, resulting in the Twitter hashtag #eineArmlänge (an arm's length). While I could churn out a 700 word piece on how this deplorable attempt of tackling a situation that has resulted in 90 charges has not only made light of a situation but does nothing to tackle the assaulters I won't. Twitter users have taken care of that. (Just be sure to turn on your Google Translate if you didn't pass your German A-Level).
While thankfully over the celebratory period I did not feel the fear that these women must have felt at such a planned and premeditated range of attacks. It did however make me evaluate the times that I have been made feel uncomfortable or violated this holiday season. Much less by strangers wearing dark hoodys, but worryingly, ones closer to home. For argument's sake what happens when you can't keep the men making you uncomfortable at arm's length? When they are intertwined as friend's of friends, friends of friend's significant others or that friend's flirty boss. Christmas and New Years Eve is rife with the awkward introducing of people that would for no other reason be making small talk about overpriced taxi fares at this time of year other than knowing the same person at different stages of their life.
I lay in bed recounting the memorable tales of recent club nights and gatherings but I am also unwillingly forced to think of the multitude of occurrences in which I have been touched, felt up, lifted up (an incredible pet peeve) or kissed. All of them being done by people who are supposed to be good friends of friends. And the majority of these with my boyfriend present in the same venue or close by. But as I have said before, the inappropriate nature of a person should not be determined by their partner being present or not. It is about respecting the other person and their body.
If any of these occurrences had been done by a stranger or a random club-goer I would probably have shouted or slapped or let the Irish rage bubbling up inside erupt. Instead I kept quiet and for the most part, laughed it off. So as not to cause unnecessary drama amongst friendships or to maintain a polite-ish persona.
The thing that bothers me the most with these people that lay somewhere between a stranger and an acquaintance is that the actions they felt they had permission to take out, none of my other friends would ever dream of doing.
I feel as women very little of us have escaped the unwanted and often inappropriate attention from a friend's pal or family member that you feel you have to remain polite to despite internally almost spontaneously combusting. For those perhaps reading this that excuse a quick feel-up with it being no big deal at such an exciting time of year, when drink is flowing and all are merry, I don't care for your excuse. Nothing allows you to inappropriately touch me, regardless of who you are or who you know. If you don't know me well enough to know how much I despise it, then we are certainly not close that you should feel it is acceptable.
But yes, next time someone I know vaguely through someone else has their hands over me is swinging me in the air or forcing their face upon mine maybe I'll try Reker's technique and shout "EINE ARMLÄNGE!" in a thick German accent and see how far that gets me.