Monday, 16 December 2013


On the Brass Goggles forum for Steampunks, there is a long discussion going on about what a person should do if they are heckled when wearing Steampunk attire. One of the contributors to the thread had this to say:

"I'm 6'4" - 240. People don't say anything to least not to my face, anyhow.

If they are insistent on making fun of me, I am able to make fun of myself. Anything they say just rolls off me like water off a ducks back. I am Practically incapable of being embarrassed and was born without a shred of modesty.

If you are unable to take a little good natured ribbing, you should probably avoid being amongst the general population in SP attire. Bring your outfit and change when you get to your venue."

Now, he's a well built, white male, so it's easy for him to say that he can cope with a little good natured ribbing. I bet his attitude would be rather different if he were female, or disabled, or a different colour (or any combination of those things). Especially as someone further up the thread brought up the case of Sophie Lancaster, who was walking along minding her own business when she was set upon and killed simply because she was wearing Goth clothing.
I'm a middle aged white woman, who can put on a cut glass accent when I have to, and have long practice in "looking Vulcan" in order to intimidate and impress. Even so, I've had experiences when I've been walking around minding my own business that I bet any money that 6'4" white male has never had to deal with.
A kid has thrown stones at me while I was out walking the dog along the riverbank (I told him he was a rotten shot - and added that I, on the other hand, was a good shot - he ran away before I was able to demonstrate!)
A group of teenaged boys, after dark in a residential area, followed me and tried to look intimidating (I called them cowards - not one of them would look me in the eye - and they shuffled away).
Another kid, with his gang of mates behind him, threatened to rape me (I suggested he came a bit closer - it's not something you can do at a distance - he ran away , too).
I would add that almost all of the people who have heckled or tried to intimidate me have been male, and white - and usually young enough to be my son. And none of them have known a damn thing about me except that I was female and on my own.
I don't live in a dangerous part of the world - this is a very safe place compared to many others - but it is something that happens occasionally. It's something you learn to deal with - and that's the point. Women have to learn to deal with this sort of thing as a matter of course - all these things happened to me when I was wearing ordinary clothing, and just walking along minding my own business.
White men don't generally have to deal with that sort of heckling. They don't have to deal with a stranger in a lift trying to invite himself to their hotel room (there was a highly publicised case recently - Richard Dawkins was involved, and not to his credit - where a woman who was a speaker at a conference found herself in that situation, and when she wrote on her blog "Guys - don't do that" she found herself getting rape and death threats.)
I follow a blog called Rolling Around In My Head, which is written by a man who uses a wheelchair - he writes a lot about the difficulties wheelchair users have from day to day, and one post was about the time that a complete stranger threw a garbage can (he's in Canada) at him, simply because he is a fat man in a wheelchair (it missed, fortunately). This is something able-bodied people don't have to put up with, and therefore don't think about when they go out. It's something that nobody should have to think about when they go out.
Also recently, I read a piece by a large, well-built black man, who was talking about the way nobody would ever sit next to him on buses, and how people reacted to him with fear, just about every time he went out, simply because he was a large, black man. And there was nothing he could do about his appearance - people felt threatened just because he existed, and nothing he could do seemed to be able to minimise that.

So, "good-natured ribbing" is one thing, but there are a lot of people in the world who have to deal with far worse than that. And they shouldn't have to. They should be just as free to go about their business without being heckled, or stared at, or attacked as the man I quoted at the top of this post.

(There - that's enough ranting from me!)

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