I feel like I am totally alone in this fear but like so many things I am afraid to talk about, many others probably share it.
As I turn 18, my mind is full of worry, hopes, dreams and fears for the future. Most are what you would expect, scared of becoming more independent from my family, worrying about school and so on but there is another fear in the back of my mind. This niggling voice saying “now you’re fair game, there’s nothing to protect you”.
You have probably seen in the media many a disgusting countdown to some child celebrity turning “legal” at 16 or 18, old enough that the old men leering over them are accepted readily by both the law and society.
You may have seen the kerfuffle around the “women who eat on tubes” facebook group a while back, a group where non-consensual pictures of women innocently sustaining life are mocked and shamed.
How are these related? you might say. Well these are both voyeuristic, misogynistic situations where women and girls are viewed as sexual objects without their consent and sometimes even knowledge. They violate a woman’s privacy, they encourage violence against women by disregarding the fact she is a human being with rights and feelings.
These are both situations where I, as a child, would have some degree of legal protection, or at least the illusion, but would not as a woman.
One day I was waiting at a bus stop in Hampstead Heath, leg hair flying in the wind and enjoying the last bit of summer warmth. A balding man of about 35-45 years old struck up a conversation with me about the weather, “thats nice” I thought “you never get strangers talking to each other in London”. Oh how innocent you were Lilipop.
Conversation quickly turned to my leg hair and got very very creepy. I felt desperately awkward as his eye contact shifted from my eyes to my boobs and he questioned me on my reason for growing leg hair (because no woman can do anything without it being to sexually please a man) and if I was hairy “all over”. He offered to buy me a drink from the Starbucks opposite and I said no. That no was totally disregarded of course and this man kept asking.
“I’m 15” I said quickly, then turned and ran away.
He didn’t follow but some have. This situation has played out in 100 different places, with different people and different outcomes. What if it happened again? Where is my “top trump”, my “get out of jail free” card? What can I say or do that will get rid of these weird men because saying no doesn’t work.
As a child, I do not legally have the capacity or say yes or no. It is Paedophilia, it is Statutory Rape. Headlines in the Daily Mail and 5 years in jail. Men can respect this but not me.
As a woman, I can legally say yes or no but it doesn’t make a difference. I said no but I smiled at him when he said hello so really I mean yes, right? He wants a yes so he will get it by any means necessary. Now I am no longer a child I don’t even feel like I have the right to say no at all. I feel unresonable for being a person.
As I turn 18, I am scared for a future where attack feels imminent.
There is nowhere to hide anymore.