See sexism? Challenge it. Because nice girls DO make a scene

I'd become used to the comments. But this time, I spoke back - and wondered why I hadn't made a scene every time a man had tried to frighten, shame or humiliate me

Share
Related Topics

One of my favourite books as a twelve-year-old was called, “Just Don’t Make a Scene, Mum!” As you can guess, the “mum(s)” of the title used, frequently, to cause huge scenes: over poorly manufactured clothes, bad table service and rude shop assistants, but also over school bullies, teenage diets and sexist boyfriends.

It made me wonder if there has been a generational shift in women’s willingness to “make a scene.” The feminists of my own mother’s generation used to excel at them, and I had always assumed I would be similarly brave when required. However, a recent experience made me question this.

As a runner, I have become used to men keeping an ongoing commentary on my progress, with everything from the supportive (“Keep your knees up, love!”) to the inane (“I can see your bum”). I always thought I was preserving a dignified silence as I puffed along, pretending not to have heard.

But was I really maintaining an aloof distance, or was I simply too scared to confront them? Or, even worse, was I part of a generation of seemingly empowered ladettes who, in exchange for being honorary members of team “lad”, had agreed quietly to avoid challenging the misogyny underpinning it?

This summer, my attitude was suddenly changed when, on my morning run, I had worked up an admirable sweat. Puce-faced, I was on the final stretch, down the market street where I lived, and passed three bleary-eyed, polo-shirted men, on their way in the opposite direction, presumably to get a morning-after bacon roll from a local van.

As I scooted past, the bleariest of the man turned, saw me, and called out, “You must be hot, love,” before turning to his friend and adding, “but she doesn't look it.” Sniggers abounded.

My heart sank. I clearly looked hideous. I should have gone the long way round, avoiding offending the public eye with my sweaty, malodorous form. Sad and humiliated. I sped up, wanting to escape my public shame and get safely indoors.

And then I slowed my pace. I stopped. Suddenly, I turned around and headed back in the opposite direction.

Polo-shirt man wasn't getting away with it this time.

Fortuitously, he was still nearby, staggering amongst the stalls. I appeared at his elbow.

“Excuse me, mate,” I said, loudly and clearly enough to cause a few local ears to prick up.

“Hnnh?” said Polo-Shirt-Man, turning in confusion. He'd clearly intended his attack to be a hit-and-run. Why had I re-appeared?

I continued, even more clearly than before.

“When I'm running and you say things to me like, 'You must be hot but you don't look it,' it doesn't make you cool.”

Public interest was picking up. Polo-Shirt-Man looked at me in panic. What was going on?

“I know! I know it doesn't make me cool,” he stammered, looking wildly around him. Several people were looking at us. He had started to sweat. His friends had moved slightly away.

“Yes, it doesn't,” I agreed firmly. “It just makes you a tw*t.”

The watching market-stall men loved that.

“Yeah! That's right, love!” “You tell him, love!”

I turned around and jogged away, arms held up in a victory V, leaving Polo-Shirt-Man standing stupidly, mouth-agape. I was a hero, and Polo-Shirt-Man was public enemy number one.

I was struck, after this, by the unfathomable fact that I hadn't made a similar scene every time a man had tried to frighten, shame, mock or humiliate me. Looking to share my triumph, I headed to the Everday Sexism Blog, and was struck by how few similar stories of victory it contained. In fact, most of the entries could have been written by me, pre-Polo-Shirt-Man, and ended with the words, “but I didn't know what to do / didn’t want to cause a fuss / didn’t want to make a scene / didn’t want to upset people / felt so embarrassed so I never said anything.”

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said that no-one can make you feel inferior without your consent. So frequently, we let people take our silence as our permission. Think of any woman you admire, even grudgingly. Sharon Osborne. Beyonce. The Queen. Caitlin Moran. Barbie. Your older sister. Your mum. Your old English teacher. The prefect you had a crush on at school. I hope you can’t imagine any of them silently accepting an instance of sexism.

Making a scene takes courage, because it is embarrassing. It makes the personal public, and that can be scary – what if the public disapprove? It can also potentially be dangerous. Your safety is always paramount. However, when the situation is safe, and the only thing at risk is personal pride, we owe it to ourselves and each other to end our stories of sexism not with an embarrassed silence, but with a triumphant shout of victory. The next time a Polo-Shirt-Man tries it on with you, make a scene – your mum would be proud.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness