The sun is shining on London’s suburbs. A funfair is in town. People are wandering into the park to take in the atmosphere, try their luck on the coconut shy, or brave the ghost train. The cool lads are hanging about by the park gates, pretending not to care. But secretly they feel like running over to the scariest looking ride and jumping on like the kids they still are. Two girls approach from across the road, heading towards the candyfloss and sawdust, the thrill and dingy sexiness of the fair. One of the boys, he seems like a ringleader of the group, he’s taller and louder than the others. He turns and looks the girls up and down, deliberately resting his eyes on their chests, the bare skin of their bellies where their tops don’t quite reach. ‘OH yes.’ he says, for the benefit of his mates. ‘You are VERY sexy. Hot.’ He doesn’t go so far to block the girls’ way into the park, but he thinks about it. They faulter a little in their step. They know he could do whatever he wanted. But they walk on by, trying to ignore the whistles and catcalls that follow them.
I have witnessed this scene or versions of it, a thousand times before. Sometimes I am one of the girls, other times I am just present, maybe a few feet away, but within earshot and full sight of what is being said and done. I have never intervened in such casual, seemingly ‘innocent’ banter. It is just what boys do isn’t it?
But this time the story didn’t end there. One of the lads, quieter than his friend, looked at his friend and said in a clearly disapproving tone: ‘don’t be stupid. You don’t even know them’. Then he turned away from the agression he’d perceived from his mate, and walked down the street, a couple of the other boys following him.
It wasn’t much. A girl was harassed on her way to the fair. A boy challenged his friend, showing he opposed this harassment, of girls, who the boys didn’t even know to say hello to. It didn’t change the world. But it made me stop in my tracks. I had never seen a man speak out against the sexist behaviour of his friends before, let alone such a young man. It was a small, good thing, and it made me proud.
Location: London, UK