Yesterday I was sexually harassed.
I booked an Uber home from town and got in as normal. As soon as we started moving, the driver began asking questions about my personal life. ‘Are you on your own today?’ Are you single?’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘Do you live alone?’ ‘Do you only date British guys?’. I gave non-engaging one word answers and was visibly uncomfortable. I decided to tell him that I only date women (not strictly true, as a pansexual I am attracted to people of all genders, and none), in the hope that he wold get the message. This made things worse, as he proceeded to tell me that it was too difficult for two women to ‘be together’ and that I should find a man instead. By ‘be together’ he clearly meant sexually, but I tried to downplay this by saying that it was easier to date women because they clean up after themselves etc. Again, not a real reflection of how I feel but a desperate attempt to diffuse the situation.
I should have told him that I was uncomfortable and asked him to stop the car so that I could get out but I was frightened. I’ve only been living in York for a month and he was not taking me the most direct route home. It was dark and I had no idea where I was. Thankfully I managed to send an SOS text to a friend who called me and began to chat to me as if she was at home waiting for me so I managed to ignore the driver for the rest of the journey and got out at the top of my street. I think he knows from the booking which house I live at but I waited for him to drive off before approaching my own front door.
I left a 1* rating and feedback detailing what happened via the Uber app and they responded within an hour acknowledging the seriousness, saying that they would be dealing with it internally, and refunding the cost of the trip.
I wish that had been the end of it, but I was so shaken up when I got in. I locked the door, sat down and cried, my heart racing. I feel naive for saying this, but I realised for the first time, first hand, how vulnerable one can feel as a single woman living alone. Having been in my previous relationship since I was 17, I have always had someone waiting at home for me. Someone who would notice if I didn’t turn up and I couldn’t stop dwelling on what would have happened if it had been worse. My mum and dad happen to be on holiday and I don’t know anyone in York very well yet so I just sat and cried. I messaged my Leeds babes who were amazing and said all of the right things but I just couldn’t settle. I kept checking and rechecking that the door was locked. Terrified that he was going to know who had complained and come back.
Lola must have been able to tell that I was on edge too as she kept howling and barking and kept us up until gone two this morning. Although knowing that she was there made me feel a bit safer, this didn’t help. I had some last minute prep to do for the discussion group I was supposed to be hosting today but just couldn’t concentrate. I was tired and drained and frightened. The house felt especially quiet (bar Lola) and every creek or wayward sound coming from one of the neighbours had me sitting bolt upright or rushing to the window so I hardly slept at all.
I cancelled the discussion group and have re-arranged it for 2 weeks time. Apart from the lack of sleep, and general feeling crap I didn’t feel like I could sit down and discuss sexualisation in the abstract. I didn’t feel that I could be as thoughtful and reflexive as I would want to be or that I could conduct the research in the way that I feel is right. I didn’t even feel that I could get out bed and make the brownies I had planned for the session. I just couldn’t.
Now, I am calmer but just so angry. I am angry that it happened. Angry that this man felt it was ok to speak to a complete stranger as he did. A stranger who was in his care and placed trust in him to take her home safely. I am angry that he made me feel unsafe in my own home. That he has made me question whether I’d get in a taxi again, whether I should be going out on my own of an evening. Angry that it has impacted my ability to conduct my PhD research. He didn’t even touch me (not that that matters) but I feel so violated and sat in the bath for over an hour last night trying to make myself feel clean.
I’m sat reflecting on what he thought would happen. I presume the he didn’t just think that I’d be so persuaded by his comments that I would go and have sex with him so did he do this just to frighten me? Did he enjoy the power that he had over me and my visible discomfort? Did he know at all how he was making me feel, or did he just feel so entitled that it didn’t even cross his mind that I was scared? I wonder too how this intersects with my body image. As a fat woman, did he think that my self esteem would be so low that I’d actually be flattered by his invasive questioning? How dare he. How dare he?