street harassment

‘Confronting’ random women is called street harassment

All too often I use this blog to rage about all the bastards in the world but today I’m going to engage in some unprecedented activity (like the badass ex Muslim I am) and actually thank some of you for doing your human duty. If I’d had you Twitter treasures on the bus that time I was racially abused I’d probably still feel ok to go out on my own. On that occasion 50 odd people chose to laugh at my pleas for help. They fell on the side of the racist who’d just called me a Paki bitch for ignoring his sexual harassment. The packed top deck of a London bus, in Kilburn, a multicultural area, at 3am, and not one person thought it unacceptable I’d been targeted for racist and sexist harassment. Even the other poc on the bus looked away, a black man shook his head and looked at his feet. Luckily my white best friend was there to slap the offender and stand in his way so he couldn’t actually physically reach me.


When Matthew Doyle tweeted this, whatever his intentions, he had assumed solidarity from Twitter. The majority of people I follow were still reeling from #StopIslam which was trending in the UK yesterday following the Brussels attacks but it was trending for a reason, a significant number of my fellow citizens/twitterers are in fact white supremacists, even if they do not think of themselves as racist. With this in mind, Doyle tweeted his encounter with a random Muslim woman on the street in which he demanded an explanation for Brussels. What he wasn’t expecting was for common sense to prevail and for people to afford that woman the humanity and dignity each and every single one of us deserves; the right to exist free from harm and collective punishment.

On seeing that tweet my heart fell, my initial reaction isn’t anger as you might expect of me. I ALWAYS feel toxic shame first, a latent trickle of self hate and abject fear, I feel intensely vulnerable, then apprehensive because I was still unsure of how Twitter would react. How many times have we said x is racist only for the fair, well meaning apologists to deny/erase our perspectives? On this occasion though, I felt buoyed by the outright repulsion for this man and his bigoted actions.

Thank you friends, allies, comrades for showing me that there are some of us at least who took on board what it is to be human, that we can be outraged on the behalf of a woman none of us personally know, who might not even exist, because whether she does or not it’s the absolute right thing to do, especially when many more suffer incidents like this in their day to day dealings with the Great British public. Every. Single. Day. Every time there is a terror attack the media reporting provokes/incites a wave of increasingly violent attacks on women like me, because white men like Doyle are too cowardly to pick on someone their own size. He calls himself a feminist and I guess he can; telling Muslim women what to wear *is* the white feminist’s modus operandi, I just wish they’d stop pretending they see us as equals.

On a final note it is worth mentioning that there were still some people on ‘our side’ who thought that tweet wasn’t real or else intended to be a ‘joke’ or *insert well meaning excuse here* just not what we as people of colour say it is. Nice middle class white people, why do you still refuse to listen? People have been murdered in this country for being brown or ‘looking Muslim’ these past few years and still you think we’re just making it up, or overreacting? You cannot tackle a problem until you call it what it is. Doyle tweeted it in all seriousness then backtracked when he realised people were upset but changed his mind again, perhaps galvanised by incoming tweets of racist solidarity.

When you deny the experiences of the people living it, it only gets worse.


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.

Street Harassment and Ramadan: A Solution?

With a foot in both worlds, life has been utterly confusing. I am: yet what I am, none cares or knows. I am British; I am British Asian, with Pakistani/Kashmiri ‘roots’. I was born a Muslim (though I’ll die none the wiser). I am aware the effect the colour of my skin has on the atmosphere and I resent the ways in which I must try harder. But it is with considerable thought and painstaking investigation, I have come to the conclusion; at first glance, I am a woman.

Eid Mubarak to those completing Ramadan. Very soon there’ll be food and gifts of money, people who have narrowly avoided each other all year will embrace and they will savour the moment, joy and unity overriding any bad feeling. Everyone is cleansed and revved up for another year of good deeds (Inshallah). I watch from inside my ‘local community’ but am very much an outsider. I grew up in this neighbourhood; I walked these streets in a hijab once upon a very long time ago. But I don’t now and make sure everyone knows it. Not by thrusting it in people’s faces, just by being myself. I’ve noticed people twitch around me a lot. Seemingly my bare calves are too much for the brain to compute. But I don’t care and I wear them with pride. Sometimes I don’t even bother shaving! But even I get a little respect when they’re all too hungry and humble to fight.

I love Ramadan. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE slows down. They say please and thank you. They call on each other to share food when they eventually soothe their grumbling bellies with sticky sweet dates, a little salt and some milk. Food is communal and people trip over themselves to host an evening. There is a togetherness, simply not enough strength to fight or waste energy thinking about pointless things. Because the community looks inward and is there for each other, it becomes difficult to deviate. Perhaps this is why, during the month of Ramadan, I feel safe. I don’t change any part of myself but the community around me lowers its gaze. For one month of the year, I am free to walk the streets of my local area without strange, hostile men breathing down my neck. Street harassment is virtually zero.

This is where the ‘East’ is beating the ‘West’. Our media consistently portray Muslims as savage to women, executing them and subjecting them to abusive tribal practices (FGM) and for the most part, they’re right. Women are subjugated in horrific ways, in many parts of the world they are considered subhuman and treated as such. But I’ve struggled my whole life trying to understand what makes the West so brazen as to hold the East up as an example when here, at home, the struggle for equality is reversing so rapidly. There are worrying levels of domestic abuse, many cases going unreported. With the burqa as the universal symbol of oppression, we bear more to show how free we are, but then we are violated for revealing too much. Millions of women march to highlight the absurdity of street harassment in our developed world, but it doesn’t affect the everyday sexism we are all subjected to. In the East, a strange man can beat you for showing your hair or wearing nail varnish. In the West, strange men will invade your personal space, threaten you with what they’d like to do to you and maybe even touch your breasts or backside, depending on how packed the train is. Once, in a club, a man grabbed my groin. When I responded by throwing him back and screaming blue murder, a crowd formed and it was me that was hushed. The girls, they pulled me away, “it’s not worth it, leave it be, what can you do?”

Among women there is a general feeling of resignation, that they cannot fight patriarchy because it is too strong and too violent. It cannot change because that is how men are designed, they can’t help themselves. Except, Ramadan is a clear example of how whole communities have the ability to change and in a very short space of time. They can be less ‘rapey’. To me, Ramadan is an exercise in how patriarchy can be affected. And it makes me even angrier when I come to the realisation that patriarchy actively chooses not to change.

Imagine a UK where, for one month of the year, we own the streets. We can keep our earphones in, safe in the knowledge that our community will not allow any harm to come to us. Perpetrators would be dealt with, abusive behaviour simply not tolerated. It’d really be something, wouldn’t it? Imagine if we managed it all by ourselves and not just because God said so.

Many happy returns Ramadan, can’t wait for next year.