The girl on the t-bane was pretty. Sweetly dressed, petite and dark haired. She had textbooks, a pen and a notepad. She also had an audience.
The young man was physically large, much larger than she was. His hair was short cropped and his face almost hairless, with zero or very blond eyebrows. He was speaking voluble, broken English with an eastern European accent. She was replying politely, telling him she really needed to read, whilst her body language was that of a small creature trying to make itself even smaller. He was a blur of powerful but uncontrolled movement; flailing arms, leaning over her, getting his face as close to hers as possible, pale blue eyes trying to express…whatever it was he needed from her.
They weren’t alone in the carriage. There was another young man sitting close by. He said nothing but he was watching, his arms crossed firmly, expressing his disapproval.
And then David and I came in and plonked ourselves down in the seats opposite. We saw that stuff was going off, but didn’t see the need to intervene at this point (I think we both felt our presence might help defuse the situation). The girl reiterated that she needed to study, and moved to the next set of seats, directly opposite David and me. The young man was ready to persist, but then their observer made his move. He stood up, pushed the man away and shouted, ‘She’s told you to leave her alone now go! Get out!’
The t-bane was pulling into National Theatre station and the man did indeed get off. He seemed to be either drunk or high, and although fixated on the poor lass, he was not in the correct mental state to fight or argue. He was shouting and gesticulating on the platform, but he went peacefully, really. The girl turned to the man and thanked him sincerely, as did David and I. David shook his hand. And then we all sat back in our seats, the adventure over, the connection broken. And the journey continued.
It’s quite unusual to see incidents like this in Norway, and for me it was interesting to witness. I read a lot of blogs and articles and my back had recently been put up by this one: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/08/10/breaking-weird-area-woman-wasnt-harassed-today/. And I was also intrigued by the concept of ‘Schrodinger’s Rapist’ as discussed here http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger’s-rapist-or-a-guy’s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/.
I’ve never been pretty, or desirable. And, at the age of 43 it’s reasonable to assume I never will be. Unless I get kidnapped by the ‘10 years younger’ people. And even then I’d probably just end up looking like me with a fake tan, fake hair and new teeth. In clothes that make my butt look huge and shoes that bring my knee replacement surgery forward a couple of decades.
Normal or average-plus ladies of the world please take note: the hassle you have to cope with will end one day, unless you take extreme measures with your personal appearance to keep it happening. And what does it probably mean, when these men interrupt your train of thought to try to talk to you? Horrendous and inconvenient it may be, but it means that they find your appearance attractive. There is something about you that they find pleasing. And we all do our best to look nice, don’t we. Even if we’re doing it for ourselves, isn’t it – at some level – OK if someone else, be it a stranger, a partner, a colleague or even trampy claus on the corner, appreciates our efforts?
Imagine the alternative: would your life really be better if no-one ever noticed you on the street, if no-one gave you an admiring glance or an unsolicited smile? Honestly, wouldn’t you miss it, just a bit? The harmless smiles?
Is your beauty a curse, is my awkward dumpy plainness a blessing?
Yes, when I was a skinny blond teenager, drivers of cars would toot their horns. Strange men would stop me in the street. But that ended when I was in my early 20s. I would notice the difference when I was out with a pretty friend – the way men reacted to her, and by extension to me. It was like a temporary promotion to a higher plane of being. It certainly didn’t suck.
I don’t know how other sub-par ladies cope with this. I lived in the Brighton area during my 20s, and I remember thinking ‘isn’t it nice to be living in a town where people don’t make assumptions about your sexual preferences?’ Yes, I told myself that the reason why no-one ever gave me a second glance was because all the lads who weren’t actually gay were taking account of the possibility that I might be in the comfy shoes on the different bus. The truth couldn’t possibly be that I was an ugly chuff, could it?
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than being stared at by strange men on the street is being not only not stared at, but ignored so comprehensibly that one begins to wonder if one is actually invisible.
I should probably explain at this point that my appearance isn’t so repulsive that I’m destined to a life of loneliness and derision. I’ve been lucky enough to have had several long-term relationships with wonderful men. So I must have enough about me, I suppose. But when I read accounts of, or witness, harassment on the street it does make me feel that I am not as other women. And, in fact, that I am of less worth than other women.
If you’ve made it this far into my first ever blog, you might be wondering something along the lines of ‘oi, ugly bird, if you’re such a minger why on earth did you move to Norway where all the women are tall, blond, slim and gorgeous. Isn’t that going to make things even worse for you, you daft bint?’
That’s a good question! I met my David on the internet, and he didn’t want to move to England so I took the plunge and moved to Oslo. And of course it is a bit of a myth that all Scandinavian women are goddesses. Like the rest of western civilization, Norwegian ladies are spending more time in MacDonalds, or the local gourmet bakery, than on the ski slopes, and so you do see chubby Norwegians around. And not all of them are tall, and not all are blond either. But yes, some days I do feel like a troll in comparison to my beautiful friends and colleagues.
OK, going to try and wrap it up now:
Most, if not all, women spend a lot of time and money trying to look as good as they can.
Some men do not respect the boundaries of attractive women they encounter and try to talk to them when they definitely do not want to be talked to.
Sometimes women face abuse or physical attack because of the way they look, which is NEVER acceptable, and never desired by ANY woman.
Sometimes women DO want to catch someone’s eye or make someone smile; it would make their day to be noticed by a fellow human being.
The problem is that the intersection of the Venn diagram between women apparently worthy of male attention and women who would be rendered just that little bit happier if someone did give them some positive feedback seems to be very tiny indeed.