3 men in a van: why we do, actually, still need feminism / by Charlotte Marriner

Yesterday, I wore a skirt. This is not very note-worthy in itself. Wahoo. A skirt. Bore off. It is worth noting, however, that it almost always leaves me feeling self-conscious and awkward; yanking and tugging at the hem or swooping my coat over as much of it as I possibly can, to create a fabric fortress between the world and my lady bits. 

 

I see that judge-y glint in your eye.

 

I shouldn’t wear such short skirts, should I? Well. Let’s see. My skirt is, yes, above the knee. A teeny, tiny bit. However, it flares out all French and cutesy like and, short of it being covered in polka-dot bows or lacy frills, is easily the girliest, most feminine thing I own. It’s irreverent. It’s a bit whimsical. It swishes when I move. I wear it at the same height your mum wears her jeans and I always wear it with something slouchy and shapeless. This is not a sexy outfit. (Or what my mother would call a ‘pussy pelmet’.) And yet…

 

Bouncing off the bus and over to work, headphones in and music blasting, I caught the eye of a bloke in a dodgy looking white van, slathering over me. [SIDE NOTE: This post is not some shallow, self-indulgent, thinly-veiled narcissistic puke-fest where I drone on about how men are just, like, always staring at my boobs. Like. It’s sooooo embarrassing, guys. I promise. I guarantee that this wazzock was ogling everything in a skirt that walked past.] Anyway. I gave him my most withering look that I hoped would say I don’t want you to think I’m a boring feminist, but duuuude and, nothing. About as unfazed as my dog is when I catch him eating fox shit, he even craned his neck around for a better view as I kept walking. I know it kind of sounds funny and, hey, boys will be boys, but it was a bit awful. I turned bright red (curses on my terrible blush), shrank my head as low into my body as I could - like a terminally shy turtle, trying to make myself as small as possible - and succeeded in arriving for work feeling a little bit grubby. 

 

Bowled over by a barrage of work as I sat down at my desk, the Van Creep disappeared from my mind. No biggie. Shake it off. As lunch rolled around though, I ran out to grab a sandwich. (And two packs of biscuits.) (And a giant bag of Percy Pigs.) The sun was out. The sky was blue. Every Londoner knows that this combination makes your heart do a little skip. Grinning like a weirdo, I waltzed face-first into another Van Perv, so fixated on the lower half of my body, that he didn’t even notice the mortified look plastered all over my face. Trying to act natural and hide the rash creeping down my neck I kept walking, just as a fuck monkey leant out of his van and yelled OY OOOOOY in my face, so loudly and so precisely timed, that I could smell his cheese-and-onion-crisps breath. When, ever, has this method of Talking To A Woman worked? And when, if the aim is not to communicate but intimidate, did that become OK?

 

What’s worse, is that this kind of behaviour is so small, so commonplace, that we don’t even tell our friends about it any more, let alone someone who might actually be able to do something about it. It’s inconsequential. It’s nothing compared to the horrors of brutal, sustained attacks on women that, also, tragically happen across the world on a daily basis. But I know that I never want my daughter to feel the way I feel when this happens to me; cheap, small, weak. And I definitely don’t want her to feel like that every day, when it happens over and over, again and again. 

 

And trust me, if someone attempts an amusing, half-considered chat up line on me, I’ll be the first person to laugh. (Or more likely, snort.) When the old man in the corner shop across the road that I often buy wine from, says ‘darling’, I find it kind of endearing and charming. I don’t hate men. And I don’t hate compliments from strangers. But men like the ones above don’t want us to feel complimented. In fact, they would like us to be as passive about their experience with our bodies at possible. As I was writing this, I looked up the word emasculate. A feminine equivalent doesn’t technically exist (another rant for another day), though some use the term ‘defeminized’. When men yell and stare it chips a little bit away from the girl inside us that decides that today, actually, she wants to wear a skirt that swishes when she walks. It defeminizes her. This kind of seemingly harmless, culturally entrenched behaviour is hard to shake and even harder to banish. But until men, and women, have the lady balls to be feminists, to actually take pride in that and to address this kind of behaviour on a massive scale, we’re dooming our daughters, and our daughters' daughters, to that same shitty feeling. And I don’t think, deep down, any of us are OK with that.