One of my favourite Halloween costumes of recent years was dressing up as a broomstick. I often forget that there’s a really awkward bit before arriving at a fancy dress party alone, where you have to travel on public transport alone dressed like a knob.
(Not literally a knob. I was dressed as a broomstick. In the non-euphemistic way.)
Anyhoo, it was in the particularly fetching get up of brown top, brown leggings, and my straw-like dry hair standing on end about 30cm above my head, that I found myself in the most bizarre attempted pick-up of my life.
This is not intended as an ‘omg I’m so fit that even when I’m trying to look inanimate people still hit on me’ anecdote.
Let’s be very clear here. Unwanted and persistent conversation with someone who clearly isn’t welcoming that conversation is never flattering.
Women have been told for aeons that what they wear invites men around them to comment. It’s not the men’s fault, see, it’s the clothing. In many cases, even in court, legal professionals have argued that women can’t possibly be victims of sexual assault because they were wearing, for instance, a thong under their clothes that day. Or they’ve advised women to avoid ‘dressing like sluts’ as a rape prevention method.
I’m not saying that what happened to me that night was anywhere near that serious. There was simply a man who was a little too persistent in trying to talk to me in the dark at a bus stop. He ignored my increasingly unsubtle hints that I wasn’t interested in conversation, asked my age (um, why?) and, when I had decided my only remaining tactic was to stop acknowledging him altogether and look at my phone, somehow managed to utter the Magic Words That Unlocked Penny’s Rage- ‘Oh, are you texting your boyfriend?’.
The articulate response that erupted out of me? ‘WHY THE FUCK DOES THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE? WHY IS HAVING A BOYFRIEND THE ONLY REASON YOU’LL LEAVE ME ALONE?!’
In this instance, and it’s worth noting that this is to date the only instance in my life where the person has been in any way apologetic, the man appeared mortified as soon as he realised how uncomfortable he’d made me.
Well, good. Perhaps it caused him to think about how he might behave differently in the future.
You might have heard comments such as ‘Men can’t talk to women at all these days because they’re too scared they’ll be accused of something’. You may even have said that yourself. This is of course utter horseshit.
Of course you can try to open up conversations with people who interest you, but you have to do it respectfully and notice when someone isn’t keen. And, if you’re a man talking to a woman alone at night, you have to have an understanding of the context surrounding that interaction.
So, no, women aren’t inviting catcalls with what they’re wearing. Because it’s happened to all of us, in every scenario you can imagine.
Sometimes they’re dressed as a Nimbus 2000. That doesn’t mean you’re entitled to their golden snitch.