Male Harassment as a Woman with Social Anxiety

Sarah11th April 202110 min

Women’s safety is a topic being widely spoken about recently, following the death of Sarah Everard and new statistics showing 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. I wanted to write about this as a woman who is part of that 97% and from a viewpoint of someone who has suffered from social anxiety.

As a female, we are taught to be extra careful around men and especially when we’re on our own. There are a number of precautions we’re taught to take to give us the best chance of protecting ourselves against strangers, including:

  • Not to walk alone at night
  • Walk in well lit areas, around CCTV
  • Wear/change into flat shoes
  • Cover your drink/never leave it unattended 
  • Not to wear anything low cut or short
  • Always tell someone where you’re going/ when you get home

Not to wear both earphones/headphones so you can hear someone coming

Naturally I think this makes us hyper-aware of our actions, surroundings and suspicious of strangers.

Add this feeling on top of social anxiety and it gets interesting. With social anxiety you’re already nervous of other people. You’re now nervous of other people and having it constantly reinforced that you should be nervous of other people - specifically all males, because unfortunately you don’t know who the good ones are and who to be wary of. People are no longer an irrational fear, but a very real threat.

I remember one day I was travelling back to uni from home on the train. The journey always made me nervous as it was 3 hours, by myself, on public transport. On top of these nerves, I was harassed 3 times within the last hour of my journey, by 3 different men. N.B. I was 19 at the time and looked even younger.

At the train station waiting for my connecting train there was a man acting suspiciously on the platform. He tried to strike up a conversation by asking me some questions about the train arriving at the platform (he looked at least 10 years older than me). I gave him the shortest, bluntest answers I could and looked away. It was very clear I didn’t want to engage in conversation but I was too polite to say this outright or to ignore him, for fear of him reacting badly (I also like to give people the benefit of the doubt). He started to ask me where I was going and if I was getting on the train (questions I avoided answering). I called my mother to further avoid conversation with him. He blatantly didn’t care that I was on the phone to someone and kept trying to talk to me - I was completely ignoring him at this point (I remember my heart was racing and my mind overflowing with worries he’d follow me onto the train, sit next to me or follow me home). There were other people on the platform so if he genuinely needed a question answering, he could have asked them, yet he’d deliberately targeted me. I waited for him to get onto another carriage before standing up and boarding the train myself. I didn’t relax until I’d got to my destination and even then I had to check I wasn’t being followed.

I got off the train at my destination and onto the tram to my uni house and another man sat opposite me, staring at me (again he looked at least 10 years older than me). You know when you can feel someone’s eyes burning into you? As I was about to get off the tram he almost stood in my way to block me from leaving, then said goodbye to me (weird??). I don’t remember too much about that interaction other than feeling very uncomfortable. Within a couple of minutes getting off the tram I was back in my street and nearly home (where I could finally relax). A man walked towards me and cat called me (again he looked at least 10 years older than me). “You alright beautiful?” .. I ignored him. “FINE THEN, ARE YOU ALRIGHT UGLY?” he shouted back at me, annoyed that I’d ignored him. He walked off mumbling something in an angry manner. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to be back in the comfort of my own home than I was after that journey. 

Another time I was walking along a street and a group of guys in hoodies walked past me. They pushed their friend into me and he put his arms around me, like a hug. I froze in shock and he let go and walked off laughing. The first thing I did was check my pockets in case I’d been mugged. I’ve since been told guys do this to feel the size of your boobs.

I haven’t even mentioned that every time I went on a night out at uni I would be groped by male students. It became normal and was almost strange if it didn’t happen. I could honestly go on all day about the harassment I’ve experienced at the hands of men. That’s problematic. 

Whether you can relate to this as a female who’s suffered from similar behaviour, or are shocked at hearing what females go through just for being a female, I hope you’re inspired to be the change. Having spoken to older generations who experienced similar things, I hate to think that generation alpha and beyond will be telling the exact same stories in 60 years time.

  • Talk to your male friends, sons, brothers about how they can make women feel safe when they’re walking alone (eg crossing the road instead of walking directly behind us or talking/laughing on a phone so we hear your presence). 
  • Call out inappropriate behaviour instead of laughing it off as ‘banter’ or not speaking up for fear of how you’ll be viewed. 

Stay safe, speak up.

Sarah from Anxious Extrovert x

Call 999 if you are in immediate danger.

Rape & sexual abuse support (female and male victims): 

Read about my social anxiety diagnosis here.

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