I was sexually harassed more in London than anywhere else in Europe
What happened to ‘English gentlemen’?
Italian men shout “Ciao Bella!” as they drive by on their Vespas, German men chug beers in lederhosen, Danish men are hype on hygge, French men are good lovers, and Englishmen are gentlemen with a possible drinking problem. That is, of course, if you listen to cultural stereotypes.
Although I generally avoid stereotyping, I have to say – having briefly lived in Italy and currently dating a German the stereotypes really might not be too far off. It’s true that I could hardly walk down a street in Italy without some guy catcalling me and it didn’t take long before my boyfriend brought out his lederhosen.
However, when I studied abroad in England this summer, it was a totally different story. Shocker- the Englishmen stereotype isn’t 100 percent true. Yeah, they may have a bit of a drinking problem, that part is for certain, but they sure as hell aren’t gentlemen – at least the ones I encountered during a night out in London.
What happened to “English gentlemen?” Do they still exist? Have they ever existed? Because as of late, it seems they are more lechers than gentlemen.
Don’t get defensive, hear me out. Last year 75 percent of women in London were victims of public harassment. And I, unfortunately, got to experience it firsthand when my friend and I decided to have one last hurrah in London before returning home to the States. In the course of one Saturday night, however, we were harassed by more men than we could count on two hands.
I left in a tank top and black leggings, while my friend Emmaline wore a green lace top that came up to her neck and black leggings. Before you say we “dressed like we were asking for it” (not that there is such a thing) – we had next to no flesh exposed.
After two men in an alleyway near Euston Road made a point of staring at my friend’s ass, we went into a pub and sat down at a table before ordering drinks. We had a brief discussion and then she went to the bar to order while I held the table. As soon as she left to order, two guys at the table next to me took the opportunity to pester me for being American. It became obvious they had been creepily eavesdropping on our conversation. I gave as many polite signals as possible that I was just there to enjoy a drink with my friend, but they wouldn’t stop bothering me. Emmaline, still in line to order, noticed they were closing in on me and came over, and we left. When we were a few feet outside, we saw the two men come out of the pub and begin walking in our direction. Fearing it wasn’t just a coincidence, we ran across the street before they could catch up to us.
Disappointed that the first pub didn’t work out, we decided to go check out the Covent Garden area. We walked into another pub and I was immediately told by a guy at the bar to “touch me.” His buddies were around him and started hooting and hollering at me. Uninterested, I simply walked past them. When I didn’t touch him, the guy started to boo me loudly and his friends piped in drawing a large amount of attention to the situation. Talk about a warm welcome.
We then made our way to Soho. While we were walking, we passed a guy in a shadow on the side of the road who creepily said, “I want to stand next to you.” The words felt slimy coming off his tongue and sent a shiver down my spine.
Then, when I thought the night couldn’t be any more consumed with weird men, a car FULL of guys started following us down the road screaming unintelligible obscenities at us. We had to move to another road to get away from them.
Finally, giving up on the night- not to mention being extremely tired from walking everywhere- we went into a grocery store and started browsing the snack aisle. Sure enough, a young guy who had obviously also just gone out came up to us and told us not to buy the donuts. He then said we looked “lecker” (the German word for tasty) only he used it out of context as Germans don’t typically tell people they are “lecker.” Out of spite, we bought the donuts and left.
We started eating them and an older man in his 60s with a huge beer belly yelled, “You’re gonna get fat!” Talk about double standards.
After the donuts were gone, we were heading down the street close to where we were staying and a man came out of nowhere are grabbed Emmaline’s arm. He walked close to her side as we walked and wouldn’t let go until she shouted, “Stop.”
By this point every guy we passed made me feel uneasy and we just wanted to get back. It appeared to be impossible to just enjoy a girls’ night out without being constantly harassed by men at almost every turn we took.
This may have just been one night in central London, but it was nonetheless a startling impression to get from a city people speak so highly of. We weren’t expecting the streets to be filled with Hugh Grants and Colin Firths – but we expected better than this.