Child Two’s theme for her school’s muck-up day (the last day before the GCSE exams begin) was Fairy Tales. But, after a few hours of larking about in tutus draping fairy lights and loo paper all over the school, two of her friends found their own story growing decidedly darker. On the way home, they were followed by a couple of boys. At first, these boys just walked along close behind them. Then they started asking the girls why they were dressed up – fair enough, up to a point. They probably did look conspicuous walking along the busy South Circular in their wings and glitter. But the girls were not keen to chat. These boys were younger than them (probably Year 9 to the girls’ Year 11), they were being a complete pain and the girls were in a hurry and weren’t remotely interested. Then one girl made the mistake of turning round and telling the boys, politely enough, that they didn’t want to talk. The boys got more aggressive. They followed more closely. They pulled one of the girls’ hair. They tailed them all the way to the station and then took up position outside, in case the girls tried to double back past them. Thank goodness, the girls got their train, and that was that. It isn’t a route they usually take, so they don’t have to worry about running that particular gauntlet every day.
And maybe it doesn’t sound much, a bit of name-calling and hair pulling. But it was all at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, on a busy street, and no one helped the girls (who were clearly in distress by the end) or stopped the boys.
And what is going through a boy’s head, at the age of 13, thinking it is acceptable to do this to a total stranger in the street? The girls were genuinely frightened and, I think, quite shocked. Neither have brothers and they go to a single sex school. They are not used to being treated like prey. One of their first unaccompanied meetings with the opposite sex, it has shown them that boys can be aggressive, verbally and physically, towards girls with no provocation at all and that even the gentlest attempts to fend them off are likely to backfire. And, equally, it’s shown them not to expect help from passers by. Chivalry has gone, but misogyny is alive, kicking and pulling your hair.
Let’s face it, this very same thing will happen to these girls again. And again, and again. How should they deal with it? Walk fast, don’t make eye contact and never reply, was my advice. What would yours be?