Recently, Paris Lees, a transgender feminist I really really REALLY like, wrote an article for Vice magazine about enjoying mild street harassment, like wolf whistles and catcalls, that I kind of agreed with. I only kind of agreed with it, mind. I kind of agreed with it, and I really wished I didn’t.
Are you a bad feminist if you enjoy street harassment? Probably. But if so, I am a TERRIBLE feminist. I’d only just joined Twitter when the Aufschrei happened last year. For those of you newer to Berlin than me, well, what happened was: a female journalist Laura Himmelreich, published an article in Stern about how this high-up politician dude had hit on her in a hotel bar. He’s a really grotesquely ugly guy, I’d rather sleep with a Kraken or something. He told her she’d fill out a dirndl, which is one on the one hand a magnificent chat-up line, on the other hand fairly inappropriate. After the article was published, female Twitter users started reporting stories of everyday sexism and sexual harassment and assault under the hashtag #Aufschrei. The sexism in the stories ranged from things which aren’t totally clearly sexism – being called a süße Maus – to things which should never happen in a humane world, like rape and sexual assault.
I really consider and considered myself a feminist. I even have a thoroughly neglected feminist blog to my name and everything. But I didn’t feel solidarisch. I felt neidisch. This makes me not only a bad feminist, but also, and I say this in as feministically a way as possible, a bit of a cunt.
I thought I was ugly as a teenager. Who doesn’t? I wasn’t exactly that pleasant to look at either. Also my parents – the parents I lived with, my mum and stepdad – were always telling me how fat I was. They did lots of things right, my mum and stepdad, but the way they focused on and humiliated me for my body wasn’t one of them. I really hated myself. I thought I was grossly overweight. When I was home for Christmas I found an old diary of mine in which I had written, “I am now below the disgusting seven stone mark on the scales.” SEVEN STONES IS 44 KILOS! I would cut off my arms and legs to weigh 44 kilos now – and in fact, slicing off limbs is probably the most realistic way of me to hope to achieve this.
I thought I was ugly, so I welcomed male attention. I was also often petrified. You can’t, in East London, or in the 1990s you couldn’t, walk alone after dark as a teenage girl without feeling scared of rape. That’s how it was. Men would slow down their cars and tell you to get in. But I felt flattered as well as petrified, and during the day, I welcomed flirtation that was so aggressive it was basically harassment. I still welcome male attention now, to be honest, although I am more German than I’ve ever been – a British tourist said “Hello, gorgeous!” to me at Warschauer Brücke and I kissed my teeth at him.
But what I wonder is this: it is hard to differentiate between flirting and street harassment. It is. People who say there is a clear distinction are lying to themselves. There is GRAUZONE, a lot of fucking Grauzone. Now, just because some girls don’t mind being catcalled, that doesn’t mean it’s okay. That’s clear, huh. Everyone thinks that’s clear. Just because some people like cannibalism, doesn’t mean we all have to go out and let ourselves be eaten alive. It’s totally clear to me that just because some women – myself included, to a certain extent – like catcalling that it still shouldn’t be socially accepted behaviour. BUT. But what about someone in a bar asking if they can buy you a drink? Is that okay? I find it totally fucking okay, it saves you LOADS OF MONEY when men buy you drinks. I can’t think of many things which are okayer than that in my book – I’m so stingy, I love to go home with my wallet full of cash. But what about German girls? A lot of German girls really fucking hate that. A lot of my friends. I know, I can’t fathom it either, but they really think it’s insulting if a stranger wants to buy you a drink in a bar. So that makes it not okay, OBVIOUSLY. Oder? Doesn’t it? It must do.
But what, then, is the solution? Maybe what we need to do is introduce a badge system. People with, like, purple flower badges on their jackets don’t mind having drinks bought for them. Maybe that is the best solution. I dunno. I suspect that if I had more self-esteem (and more money) I wouldn’t be needing a purple badge though. But in the meantime, get me a vodka lemon, will you? Cheers.