• Harriot Grinnell-Moore

It's a Dress Not a Yes

So, it looks like I jinxed myself after writing that article about how nice people are in Paris, don't get me wrong, most people are but it seems I have an unsavoury encounter on the metro everyday now.

It started with a man trying to chat me up on the platform as I waited for the metro to work. A metro had just left so swathes of people were making their way to the exit as one man walked over to me, leaning with one hand on the wall next to me. Sigh I thought. I was really not in the mood. I went to walk away but he quickly but an arm on the other side of me, which is when I started to get scared. I tried ducking under his arms repeatedly telling him "arrêt", "je ne suis pas interessé", "laissez-moi" but he kept moving his arms so I couldn't get out, continuing to sleaze away. Do men think this is actually going to work? Did he think I'd give him my number? I was scared that I couldn't get away but at this point he was still just chatting me up, something girls have to deal with on a regular basis, so my overriding emotion was frustration. Nothing else having worked I put my headphones in hoping point blank ignoring him would do the trick.

Of course I didn't think to scream, I mean this is something girls deal with day to day. That is until he started pushing himself, his whole body against me pinning me to the wall, pushing himself on me again and again, touching me. Luckily at this point an older woman, who's french was also far better than mine, walked over and managed to get him to go away. I was in such shock, this is something I expected to happen in the dingy tunnels in châtelet at 11pm on a Saturday night not at 11am on a Thursday morning, in an overground metro station.

A few days later, I was walking through Gare du Nord, at around 3pm, so again not late at night, when you usually hear about stories like this. I was changing onto another line to get home, as I sped walked my way through the crowds I noticed a man had siddled up to me and was walking alongside me, he started asking me my name and where I was from and how old was I and so I whacked out the usual phrases "je ne suis pas interessé", "au revoir". Nothing seemed to deter him. I didn't want to head home with this man still following me and show him where I lived so I thought if I went into a shop (there are so many in Gare du Nord) and browsed around for a bit he'd leave me alone. No chance. He followed me around store to store giving me a running commentary of things in the shop and how sexy they would look on me, had I ever slept with an older man he asked.

By this point I was getting very creeped out, I'd been trying to ditch him for 10 minutes but every time I sped up he did, every time I turned he turned. So I did the thing every girl must've done walking down dark streets at night and rang my mum. I stopped right by a store and started to tell her what had happened, hoping he understood English and would leave, but he walked over to me stroking my hair "JE NE SUIS PAS INTERESSE" I practically screamed, which didn't help my mum's nerves. I thought he'd finally gotten the message as he backed away but then I noticed he had stopped across from me and was just smiling at me throughout the whole phone call.

I was practically crying by now, I was so scared. Mum told me to go into a shop again and tell the sales assistant what was happening, I went to do this but realised he'd disappeared. I told this to mum and she said to just run. And so I did, I couldn't see him anymore and I think he got bored. Even so I stood by a group of policeman that were standing by the metro as I got off for a good ten minutes checking he wasn't around anywhere. I know nothing awful happened but it's the fear of what could've happened and how vulnerable it makes you feel.

Things always come in threes, or so I'm told, and so this morning on the metro yet another incident occurred. It's been hugely stuffy in Paris and the metro was packed this morning, we were all stuffed in like sardines and so you can't help but knock into people and brush against them. My metro journey takes about 10 minutes, for the first few minutes it was all going swimmingly but then I kept felt something brushing against my bum. I thought it must just be someone's arm jerking as the metro jolted along. Still it made me awfully uncomfortable but I was too embarrassed to look around and I'm not sure that my French was up to scratch for telling someone to stop feeling my bum, and what if it was unintentional? That is until they got off at their stop, and I got a glimpse of him just before he pinched my bum. I felt so naive and stupid that I'd let this man grope me for five minutes because I was too embarrassed to do anything.

But he is the one that should be embarrassed not me. Unfortunately, so many young girls feel the same way and feel they are to blame for unwanted attention, something reinforced when I was telling my flatmate how two men started to follow me round a shop catcalling me and he said "bet you loved it though." I just laughed it off. But no I did not.

Every situation that has happened over the past few days I have definitely chosen flight mode every time but there are some situations where you have to chose fight and I am going to chose fight from now on. Girls need to know it is not their fault things like this happen, it's not because of what they were wearing or how they looked.

Sexual harassment is not your fault. You are not over reacting or being a "bitch" if you respond accordingly. However "small" it seems it is not right and it is not ok. I thought I was over reacting on the phone to my mum but then I realised, this is how sexual harassment is silenced because people are afraid to speak out, for whatever reason. For being judged, for being called a liar or a drama queen but that's not right. That's not fair. I should've screamed, I should've done more. And I will. I will fight back.

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Contact me: helgm1@gmail.com | The Netherlands

© 2017 by Harriot E.L. Grinnell-Moore

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