Last night I had a bizarre experience. I was on my way to meet up for a drink and gossip session with a friend. As I waited at the bus stop, I was the victim of five (yes, I counted) incidents of men slowing down their cars to take a really long, sleazy look at me. In addition to this, one motorcyclist saw fit to stare and to honk his horn at me, despite the fact that he was doing about 100mph at the time and really ought to have had his eyes on the road.
I don't think this in itself is a massive problem. Obviously it's demeaning and degrading and shouldn't happen, but it's relatively harmless. What really bemuses me is the criteria by which a woman is judged as being deserving of this sort of attention.
Last night I was wearing bootcut jeans and a vest top with a cardigan over the top, with a waterproof jacket. The only manner in which this outfit differed from my normal attire was that I was also wearing stiletto heels and sparkly make-up. I can't believe that the presence of a particular style of shoes and a bit of glitter actually affects one's attractiveness. This isn't about being pretty. It's about what those shoes signify, the message that that bright green eyeshadow radiates. Last night I had obviously made an effort with my appearance and it is that that's rewarded, rather than genuine attractiveness. Perhaps it's because a woman who makes an effort is considered more easy. Perhaps it's because there is an assumption that she wants the attention. I don't know.
Something else I noticed was that as soon as I met up with my male friend, the attention abruptly disappeared. No man even looked at me. Obviously there's a code of honour - a woman on her own is fair game for harassment, but you don't even look at someone else's bird. I wouldn't be surprised if most men were utterly oblivious to the casual harassment experienced by women for this very reason. Firstly, most men are not rude or sleazy enough to harass women in this way themselves, and secondly, they are never going to witness it happening to their friends, because it's just not going to happen if they're there. A woman on her own will be harassed. Women in pairs will be harassed. Women in groups will be harassed. But enter a man into the equation - even if it's a group of twenty eighteen-year-old girls in mini skirts and only one man - and they will all be left alone.
Another thing that I realised when I got thinking about it was that this particular friend that I met up with last night was the only straight male in my life for whom I would make this sort of effort with my appearance if we were just meeting up for a drink. He said he felt rather smug about that, but the reason for it is not because I particularly want to impress him. It's just because I'm a girly girl at heart and really love dressing up, and because this is my oldest, dearest friend who knows me well enough to know that there's nothing more to it than that. I don't have to worry that he thinks I'm trying to seduce him, which I realise is something I might worry slightly about were it another man. Even on a date, I'd be inclined to swap the stilettos for trainers lest the object of my affections get the wrong idea.
Obviously stiletto heels do signify something. I'm aware of it myself, which is why I don't generally wear them despite my love of beautiful shoes. But where does it come from? Why is a pair of vertiginous heels so strongly associated with sexual attractiveness and availability? And why, for the love of God, why are these cretinous excuses for men too bloody cowardly to honk their horns at me when another man is around?