I had a fantastic day out in Sheffield yesterday; I’m exhausted, mentally and physically today though. It would have been perfect but for the behaviour of some bad mannered little brats. If that wasn’t bad enough my aching legs carried me past a white-van-man this morning who though shouting insults at me was acceptable. This is a rant, by the way. Read on at your peril.
After I hugged my girls goodbye yesterday I had to get a bus to the tram that would take me to the train station. Being that I was tired I had little patience for anyone; unfortunately a group of young teenage boys got on the bus and went upstairs.
This wasn’t actually a problem until they started shouting racist and sexist remarks out of the window at people the bus passed. I was at the front of the bus, downstairs, and watched people’s reactions to the abuse they received. They either ignored the boys or reacted in shock.
When the boys got off the bus at the same stop as myself I felt intimidated and hung back to see which tram stop they were going to. I was relieved when they didn’t go to the stop I needed.
Today, after sleeping badly because of anxiety and back pain I had to walk to the doctors for my usual appointment about my depression, and to get another medical certificate. My anxiety, and a dream I had about being in a shopping center and getting abuse from teenagers about my size, put me on edge.
A van drove passed containing two workmen. The passenger felt the need to lead out of his window and yell at me.
“Get to the gym, fat ass.”
My immediate react was to tell him to fuck off. Trying to harass me results in snark, if I have the chance, but drive-by insulters get sworn at. It’s one of my worst nightmares that I’ll get put in an intimidated position and will respond by shouting and swearing rather than controlled, coherent arguments. I do actually have nightmares about that, especially when I’m anxious.
What makes people think this is acceptable behaviour?
Are they illmannered?
Are they ignorant?
Do they need a slap?
Yes, to all of the above (except, I really can’t and won’t condone violence unless you’re being assaulted, then beat them enough to run to safety).
[Author’s note – re-reading before publishing, this is the point where rant ends. Please continue.]
My anxiety dreams aside, these two incidents are connected. They are both examples of bullying and street harassment. It seems to indicate a general cultural acceptance of harassment against those who don’t fit your idea of ‘normal’. It suggests a feeling of entitlement: that it is not just acceptable, but a man’s right to judge the body of, and comment on, any female walking down the street; that a particular ethnicity and class excuses ignorance and bullying – whether that be the victims’ or perpetrators’. Just for example.
It doesn’t take much effort to keep your gob shut. Nobody has the right to abuse another person for any reason, nor to treat someone as less that human because of their outward appearance (or anything else).
Some people wonder why I find other human beings anxiety inducing, to the point that I don’t want to leave the house (my former therapist for example); the answer of course is that too many people think it’s okay for them to open their mouths about stuff that’s absolutely none of their business. I was bullied badly as a younger person, I still get harassment for not conforming to unrealistic, unattainable social ideas of appearance; is it any surprise I find it safer to stay home?
At what point do people learn that harassment is accepted behaviour? How young are children when they start bullying? Why do some people continue to harass and bully when they become older? What is the social impetus and conditions for this behaviour? What changes in society – because it is a social, rather than individual, problem – need to take place to make such behaviour not just unacceptable but less likely to occur?
Since many behaviours seem to be inherited, in the sense that children copy the adults in their lives and respond to the general cultural milieu, how do we change that culture? If you grow up in a family that tells you that people who are *insert ethnicity*, *insert sexuality*, *insert medical condition* etc, are less-than, how do you know differently? Extend that to communities – the area you live, the people you socialise with, co-religionists etc. – and outward to the society you live in; if there is only reinforcement of the beliefs expressed in the original environment you’re never going to know that *insert gender expression*, *insert nationality*, *insert marital status*, *insert social class*, *insert educational level*, *insert body size/shape* etc. people aren’t the way your parents always said they were.
I don’t know the answer to my ‘why/what/how/when’ questions, but the only solution I can think of to end the cycle of entitlement and harassment is education. Only by taking people out of their ‘little world’ into the rest of the world can you start to show different points of view, make a crack in the shell of prejudices.
This was supposed to be me venting about stupid people with no manners making me feel vulnerable in public. Something happened. It turned into a social comment. I promise the next post will be about writing.