I’ve heard an ugly rumour lately. And it goes something like this:
“Feminism. It was a bit of a fad really, wasn’t it? Everyone hopped on the bandwagon but is bored of it now.”
“We don’t NEED feminism anymore. Everything’s better now.”
“International Women’s Day. Huh, we don’t get an International MAN’S Day, now, do we?”
“There is no pay gap. It’s a myth.”
Sigh. I so wish we didn’t need it anymore. I wish more than anything else in this world that we could down tools and just kick back and enjoy our hard-earned equality. I want off this merry-go-round of bullshit as much as the next girl. But sadly, amigos, the war is far from over. Trust me on this one.
Case in point: last night I met a friend, Helen, in Soho to celebrate her birthday with six other women. We went to the rather fancy Dean St Townhouse, part of Soho House & Co (an exclusive members’ club designed to bring fine dining and good times to London’s young, trendy, wealthy set). It wouldn’t have been a regular haunt for me, but our Helen is a classy bird and loves the finer things in life. With its plush velvet banquettes, vintage low lighting and crystal Champagne dishes, the Townhouse is a bit of her.
We sat down, chatted nonsense for a bit, ordered our food and drank some wine. The restaurant was lovely and the atmosphere warm yet demure. So far, so middle class. Suddenly we were joined by a new friend. An unwelcome new friend. A man in his early 60s, dressed in what I imagine might be described as a “designer tracksuit” (a rather jazzy monochrome number) with a shock of spiky grey hair and, inexplicably, sunglasses perched on his head had stood himself in front of our table. We stopped talking and looked at him. He placed his hands on the table and leaned forward so that his face was inches from the unfortunate Sarah, who was sat on the outer edge of the table.
“GIRLS!” He bellowed at us.”GIIIIIRRRRLS! I can’t believe my EYES.”
Oh good. Just what the evening needed: a drug-addled gargoyle.
This charm school dropout continued to stare at us one by one, before straightening up and, turning himself sideways so that we were treated to his profile, bid farewell to us with an enthusiastic thrust of his crotch. He pottered off back to his table (which was, bizarrely, occupied by a woman of similar age toting a diamante-encrusted walking stick with what looked like a flower pot on her head. They made quite the pair).
We laughed. It was funny. Invasive, yes. Unwelcome, yes. But he’d gone now and we could laugh it off. There was much eye-rolling and mutterings of “This is supposed to be a nice place.” but generally, we were over it. Let’s not allow him to spoil our evening.
Our food came and the conversation had turned over several times. I was just performing an anecdote (as usual) when we heard a commotion from a few tables over.
“COCKSUCKERS!” Tracksuit was stood over a table of diners, his arms spread wide. “COCKSUCKEEEEEERS!” Really, the guy was surpassing himself.
“Jesus.” muttered Helen. “He’s HORRIBLE.” We all agreed.
“Don’t look now,” Sarah said, worry tinging her voice. “But he’s coming back.”
Tracksuit had wheeled round and was striding towards our table again, presumably on his way to the loo to stuff more gak up his nose. He stood in his now-regular spot in front of our table and put one hand over his eyes. With the other arm, he pointed at each one of us in turn, chanting: “Eenie, meanie, miney, mo…”
“Please go away.” I said. “You’re not welcome here.”
“We don’t want you here. Go on, get out of it.” Someone else added.
He buggered off. Does the story end there? OF COURSE NOT.
Tracksuit returned (that would make for the worst Star Wars film ever: Tracksuit Returns) for a third and final stab at charming us. On his way back from the Gents, he changed tack slightly, sunglasses now over his eyes for added mystique:
“LESBIANS.” He declared. “You’re all fucking lesbians. I’m DISGUSTED with you. I’m going to report you*.” And with that, he staggered off.
“That’s IT.” Helen had had enough. We all had. The manager was summoned. It is worth noting that during this half hour of on-and-off verbal abuse at one of the more expensive restaurants in Soho (although in fairness, I wouldn’t have put up with this kind of shit in McDonald’s either), not a single member of the waiting staff did a thing. Not a single thing. I’m not sure how far this coke-fuelled harassment had to go before one of them was going to step in and lend a hand. Perhaps if he’d taken his cock out and waved it in our faces a bit that might have stirred some sort of cavalry, but I doubt it. They didn’t want to know.
The manager arrived and was, as expected, contrite in his apologies.
Now, while it’s certainly not the manager’s fault that some eccentric, drugged-up, arsehole of a man wondered into his restaurant and decided to ruin someone’s night for his own amusement, it is his problem. It becomes his problem the second that guy sets foot in that restaurant. The manager is employed to make sure everything runs like clockwork. Or at the very least, to ensure that diners may enjoy their meals unharassed. This manager, sadly, made a few vital mistakes. First, he offered: “I’m so sorry, we thought you knew him! We thought he was your friend!”
Pull the other one mate, it’s got bells on it. That guy wasn’t ANYBODY’S friend.
Secondly, after a LOT of enraged protestation from us, he pulled up a chair to our table in an effort to placate us. “Ladies,” he said, “Ladies, I’m so sorry. It’s not my intention to make beautiful girls like you unhappy.”
Aw no mate. No. No, no, no, no, no.
The very last thing in the world you want to do in this situation is start throwing half-arsed compliments around in an effort to calm down the silly hysterical womenfolk. That’s how you lose an eye, mate.
What, in the name of all that is good, have OUR LOOKS got to do with anything?
We came away from our evening seething. The manager had done his level best to compensate us with the wine and the tip (that WOULD have been brave) knocked off the bill. But we still felt defeated. I’m not sure who enraged me more: the raving, homophobic, Trump-esque junkie who picked on our table or the wet blanket manager whose staff just sat by and watched this bullshit happen.
It felt like a shit night to be a woman. We’d been harassed, humiliated and completely unheard. We left feeling like WE were the difficult customers. Us, the ones who were called “disgusting” by a drug-addled old fool in public. Happy fucking birthday, bird.
So yes, frankly, we DO still have a problem.
As long as my friends and I can’t have a bloody meal in peace without being harassed simply for being female, as long as I cannot walk home from work at night without fearfully clutching my handbag just a little bit tighter to my body, as long as I am being paid less than my male counterpart, as long as it is actually legal for a company to force you to wear high heels, as long as we are STILL having to explain what “consent” means, as long as the top jobs are still going to boys instead of girls for insufficient reasons, as long as women are being beaten up and killed in their own homes by their own boyfriends, then yes. We do still have a fucking problem.
*Side note: who was he going to report us to for the crime of being lesbians? I suspect the local police force patrolling this particular corner of London have their work cut out for them if they’ve begun to arrest people based on that criteria.