Walking down a quiet street at around 7pm a few nights ago I noticed, without thinking anything of it, that there were two men coming towards me in the opposite direction. It being dark but for the street lamps, it wasn't until they came quite a lot closer that I started to notice the tell-tale signs. As they neared, the men were overtly looking me up and down, eyes lingering on my breasts and legs, before turning back to one another, saying something I couldn't hear, and sniggering. My heartbeat quickened, the hair rose on my arms, and I felt the usual emotions flood through me. Fear. Anxiety. Impotence. Anger. Frustration. Misplaced embarrassment and shame.
This is one of the things I think some men don't understand, the men who ask you what the big deal is about street harassment, say they'd love it if it happened to them, or suggest you just "take it as a compliment". It's not a simple, one-moment experience. It's a horribly drawn-out affair. The process of scanning the street as you walk; the constant alert tension; the moment of revelation and the sinking feeling as you realise what is going to happen. Countless women have written to me about the defence mechanisms they put in place – walking with keys between their knuckles just to feel safe – wearing their earphones so they can keep their head down and ignore it. The whole process of going out, particularly at night, can become fraught and difficult.