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12 February 2015

Women should never have to lie about being “taken” to stop men from harassing them

Any woman who’s ever made her way home, alone, from a night out will know that feeling of dread that comes from unwelcome conversation.

By Eleanor Margolis

“Can I share your umbrella?” is a quite harmless question to ask someone who’s standing next to you in the rain.

If, on the other hand, it’s three in the morning and you’re a man already sheltered by a massive hood and the umbrella owner is a solitary woman you’ve never met, maybe not so much.

It’s a Saturday night (or morning, I suppose) and I’m at a bus stop, fairly safely ensconced in a crowd of about thirty drunk people. I’m wearing headphones, which is understood worldwide to mean, “Do not, under any circumstances, speak to me”. But Massive Hood Guy has done and that “utter boringness is about to happen” sinking feeling – the one that feels a bit like a backwards orgasm – nips at my guts.

Any woman who’s ever made her way home, alone, from a night out will probably know that feeling. The dread of knowing you’re about have The Conversation with a sad and horny drunk guy, who’s just been out on the pull and failed to bag anything sexier than a kebab.

Massive Hood Guy, whose name is actually John, is being perfectly affable. He’s talking about his German shepherd for fuck’s sake. What could be more innocent than a man standing in the rain and talking about his dog? But, at the same time, he’s invading my personal space and generally imposing himself on me. I’m a bit tired, a bit drunk and, by now, a bit irritable. I just, more than anything in the known universe, want to be left alone. But I also don’t what to be “That Bitch” – the paranoid woman who wouldn’t share her umbrella and exchange pleasantries. John hasn’t said anything gross, he’s just being outstandingly dull.

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And, in the name of niceness, I’m outstandingly dull back. This is something, I’ve decided, I need to stop doing. Feeling the need to be nice, that is. I don’t owe this guy anything. And if I don’t want to speak to him, then I should be able to without being That Bitch.

Another night, I was on a train heading out somewhere. A man sits next to me and says, “If you could have any magic power, what would it be?” Bless him, he actually said that. I was half expecting Cilla Black to appear and wish the two of us “a lorra lorra laughs”. That particular night, I wasn’t having it.

“No,” I said, “nope, we’re not doing this right now.”

He shrugged this off and went and sat back with his friends, leaving me feeling a lot like That Bitch. I felt guilty about my bluntness for the rest of the night. But I hadn’t been unreasonable. I was just trying to save the both of us from 20 minutes of pure tedium.

Recently, in the British Museum of all places, a man tried to chat up one of my friends. She was trying to look at a vase in peace, but he wanted her number. He really wanted it. After a while, she managed to brush him off and re-joined the rest of us, who had been watching the uncomfortable situation unfold and wondering whether we should intervene.

“Why didn’t you just tell him you have a boyfriend?” I asked her.

“Why should I?” she said, “I don’t.”

She was absolutely right. Women should never have to lie about being “taken” to stop men from harassing them. Because that’s the only thing so many of these guys seem to respect – another man in the picture. Screw the fact that this woman thinks you look like a spanner and smell like TCP, she’s single. This is entitlement at its most entitled.

But back to the bus stop and John. The rain has now turned into snow. If this was an indie film, we’d now kiss to Bon Iver. If I wasn’t a lesbian and he wasn’t boring, this whole situation could actually be quite romantic. Similarly, when an Uber driver started cracking onto me the other week, it struck me that this is one of those ways that people’s grandparents met.

“I got in his cab and he told me I was the prettiest fare he’d had all day,” says your grandma, “I sent him packing, but, ooh, he got me in the end.” The subtext here being, “if your granddad hadn’t been an almighty creep, you wouldn’t exist. So how do you like them apples?”

I find those apples uncomfortable, Grandma.

Eventually John’s bus arrives. He waves goodbye and leaves me feeling more relieved than you can ever imagine.

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