Shame of Spitalfields

Pride of Spitalfields is the name of the pub where Meow Meet – a gathering of like-minded individuals’ crazy about communism and cats – took place. There was a planned pub crawl but as the night went on, we settled and occupied the back quarter of the pub. Being with kindred spirits aside, I felt myself on full alert having clocked the various leering geezers dotted around the bar. Very early on in the evening a large skinhead attempted to woo me with his American accent all the while slurring how much he liked the cat on my dress, his eyes fixated on my breasts. After we’d done a good job of ignoring him, he sloped off.

I felt safe. A mixed group, I was friends with many of them and since we’d been out together and tackled patriarchy effectively before, I felt reassured I could just be. With these righteous men and women I felt free. Except patriarchy was more brazen that night. I caught the bald American through the corner of my eye, as he left his table to walk past me for the loo. He stroked my shoulders and back whilst I was sat on a stool between two of my friends. Shocked and utterly grossed out, I told the group what had just happened. When he came out of the toilet, one of my beautiful sisters pointed at him and said “how dare you touch her? Don’t fucking do it again?” Far from being embarrassed he’d been caught out, he leant in to her and asked her to slap him. In an attempt to distract him, I asked if he was American. When he replied yes, I said “figures”. Well, then he called me a “fucking cunt”. When the rest of our group stood up, he crawled off, mumbling expletives.

Shaken but proud and empowered, I told one of the barmaids what had happened. I was happy when she immediately said she would not serve him anymore. She also said he had been aggressive but they couldn’t throw them out because there were only three women behind the bar. However, I was just pleased that she’d acknowledged what had happened. Shortly after, the man and his friends left. One of them even apologised to one of the men in our group. We were able to enjoy a few more drinks before the second incident of the evening.

Sat on my stool at the side of the table, somebody grabbed the back of my neck and pushed me down. Alarming and distressing, yes, but I also have a spinal injury. I’ve been told never to attempt to touch my toes. I have to think of my every movement before I make it. I am having an MRI in three days. Livid, I shot up and shouted at the man. I can’t remember what I said; I was too frightened and angry. Other people in the bar started shouting at me, how it was funny it was always the same girl complaining, how our stools were in the way of the path to the toilet and my blood ran cold. I asked the older landlady whether they were saying I was making it up and she matter of factly nodded yes. I didn’t exactly want to burst into tears and start rolling off all the other times I hadn’t been believed but that’s what happened. Like a collage of all the other times I’d been violated but made to feel like the evil scheming temptress I must be. All of it poured out as the mascara gushed down my cheeks. I’d had a drink but the pain is always the same and I react in exactly the same way. Triggers, emotions so strong and so embedded because of careless caretakers and patriarchy; that I try and keep a lid on. For years, I slapped a smile on it until the corners of my mouth hurt so much from smiling, they’d quiver. Now, I cannot.

One of the things said to me by the patrons of that pub was that we should just accept it. Accept what? Being groped? Being leered at? My body does not belong to the public. It is mine and it is fragile. If anyone touches me without my consent, I will shout and scream blue murder.

When I finally calmed down I learnt the man who’d grabbed my neck had also groped one of our teenage comrades (her account). The guy was in his 50s. One of my friends hugged me as she said she’d challenged one of the younger barmaids as to whether she’d been harassed more than a coupla times in one evening and she said yes. The landlady responded there was little they could do with their customers of old. And there, patriarchy is atoned. Capitalism is what makes the misogo man’s world go round.

I can’t keep it in any more. And I know there are many others like me. I’m not going to get quieter as time goes on; I’m going to get louder. And if aggression is what they understand, I might have to do what is required of me.

I think if someone touches you without consent, you should be allowed to hurt them back without theirs. That seems a fair exchange.

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6 comments

  1. Unwanted male attention, especially when it becomes physical, makes me really angry and it is disturbing that the invasion of your personal space often starts when you are very young. For me, I was barely into my teens, commuting on the tube to school, when I first fell prey to perverts intent on groping underage girls. At such a tender age, you would rather endure it and try to escape than suffer the humiliation of confronting the man and drawing the attention of the entire carriage to the disgusting thing he has just done to you. After all, they might think you encouraged it! Your early teens is about the time that builders start embarrassing you by whistling and calling out to you, which is kind of sick when you think about it. And how many nights have been compromised by intrusive behaviour from men who are either too drunk or too ignorant to read your body language and who think it’s okay to touch you, even when you have already politely rebuffed them? You are then placed in the awkward position of either getting shirty and causing a scene (not my idea of a fun night out) or leaving the venue. Cheers! Thanks for that! And if you do have the guts to stand up for yourself you have to be prepared for a possible onslaught of verbal abuse. You are absolutely right. We should not “accept it”.

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  2. Your tears were a perfectly reasonable reaction well-suited to the situation, don’t give yourself a hard time for them. I am shocked by the physical assault described here by you and by many young women today. It is not touching, groping, or anything that mild. It is physical, sexual assault and should be reported and prosecuted as such. Also, a can of mace would not go amiss.

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