Thursday, 19 March 2015

Unwanted Male Attention

Unwanted male attention. It's something that pretty much every woman on the planet will have experienced at some point in their life. It's uncomfortable, it's awkward and it can even get scary. We can all differentiate between men approaching after you've maybe given out "the signals" and guys that enjoy your squirming as their eyes bore a very deep hole into your chest. I was lucky enough (please enjoy the sarcasm) to experience one of these situations last week and it got me thinking a lot about those unwelcome advances from the opposite sex.

Before I begin, I will say that this is not exclusive to men approaching women. It goes for women "creeping" on men and of course extends into homosexual relations. I'm just writing about men approaching women because that is something I have experienced and can relate to. Regardless of your sexual preferences or gender, it still comes down to the fact that no one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable and cross certain boundaries without your permission.

So with that said, I ask you to picture the following: 
It was Monday evening, I'd been at university all day and was happily strolling through a deserted campus, excited to get home to my warm house and a hearty fish pie waiting for me in the oven, when I hear "EXCUSE ME, EXCUSE ME!!!". 
I turn around to see a man approaching me and the conversation between us went a little something like this:


Guy: Excuse me... I like your look.
Me: Erm, sorry?
Guy: I like your look... You look like Cleopatra.
Me: Erm, thank you? 
Guy: Are you Persian?
Me: Erm, no.
Guy: Arabic.
Me: No.
Guy: So what's your heritage? Where are you from? 
Me: I'm from round here... (Thinking: Where is this conversation going? and I really can't be bothered to explain the breakdown of my Manx/Irish/Scottish/English heritage.)
Guy: Oh right, what are you studying?
Me: English and Communications, erm, and you?
Guy: I don't study here, I'm a pharmacist though.
Me: Oh right... Cool... (Thinking: Why are you on campus if you don't study here?) 
Guy: How old are you?
Me: 22... 
Guy: I'm 30.
Me: Oh right... (Thinking: Why are you on campus if you're 30, obviously not a lecturer and don't even study here?!) 
Guy: Can I take your number and take you for drinks some time?
Me: Erm... 


So let's pause there. 
I could have said a million things, whether they were true or not. I could have said "I have a boyfriend/Sorry but I've got to dash/Thanks but I'm not interested" etc. The thing is however, I wanted to be polite to this man because I didn't want him to feel uncomfortable. Yes the situation was a bit odd but I like to think of myself as a nice, friendly person and didn't want this man to take offence. 

It was only when he started to close in on me, blocking my way that I assessed the situation. His mobile was shoved in my face, ready for me to type my number in. As I looked around, it was getting dark, there were a couple of people about but the edge of campus where we were was getting a bit empty for my liking. I decided on giving a fake number and getting away ASAP when "slightly forceful guy" turned plain threatening.

Guy: I'm going to ring you now to check you've not given me a fake number. Ha!

Except there was absolutely nothing funny about it. 

I typed my number in, accepted his call and made my excuses to get away, reassuring myself with the fact I could block his number as soon as I was out of sight. Walking away from him, I was so angry at myself for not being firm and for not setting my boundaries. As I've already said, I didn't want to make another person feel uncomfortable but it was only afterwards I realised that this man did not extend the same courtesy to me.

My mum often says I'm too polite for my own good and she's right. I think it's something a lot of women struggle with in these situations. What kind of situations do I mean? I'm talking about the builder's wolf whistle, the drunken leery guy at a bar, the stranger sat opposite who's overtly staring at your legs. Where do you cross the line from a polite refusal to just being rude to someone?

 As women we're conditioned by society to believe we should accept this attention happily, that we should even be grateful for it. This encounter with the man who took my number, without even asking my name, got me thinking about how other females feel about attention from men they do not know. The responses I got from women I know were a mixed bag of opinions; some love it, some hate it.


So why is that? Why do some women enjoy sexual advances from men who know nothing about them other than how they look? Is it because we live in such an image conscious society that some women now seek approval that their physical appearance is socially acceptable. In a way, a wolf whistle says a lot. It almost says:

Well done. You are acceptable to society because you are a sexually attractive and therefore fulfilling your role as a woman.

I sit on the other side of the fence however, in that these encounters make me shrink into myself. I'm not saying I'm any Christina Hendricks, Kelly brook, or Nigella Lawson (insert your idea of an attractive woman here) but I've had my fair share of these experiences like most women and they have never made me feel "good" about myself. If anything they have made me feel incredibly self concious.


Whether male attention peps you up for the day or makes you feel mortified, I think a large part of a woman's reaction lies in both her personality and the severity of the advance. 

A wolf whistle would perhaps make me blush but I wouldn't feel particularly offended by it. A man old enough to be my grandfather touching my legs on a train journey whilst calling me "gorgeous girl" is another issue entirely (True Story Bro). 

Some people might say  "lighten up, you should be flattered if someone approaches you" but I have a huge problem with this sort of attitude. Why should women be grateful that a man approves of your "look" without knowing anything about who you truly are? This goes back to one of the biggest problems in our society, that too much of a persons worth is based on their appearance. For anyone that has ever been in a serious relationship, or enjoyed a long term friendship - you'll know that personality is without a doubt the most important thing about that person and your compatibility with their personality is the foundation of a good relationship.  


So with all that "The problem with society today..." stuff aside, lets get to the crux of the matter: As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, I am under no illusion that it is only females that fall "victim" to unwanted advances. I absolutely know that there are women out there who have intimidated a man they find sexually attractive, and consequently made him feel uncomfortable and awkward. I have seen it in practice and can safely say it is equally as wrong. Ultimately, what it comes down to whether you're a male or female in this sort of situation, is that nobody has the right to make you feel uncomfortable and nobody has the right to invade your personal boundaries. You have the right at any time to say politely but firmly, please stop that or to simply walk away as I should have done... and certainly will do next time.