One of the great things about this summer is that I’ve discovered the whole ‘walking to work’ thing. I woke up one morning a month or so ago, suddenly full of the joys of the season, determined to walk the path from Kensal Rise to Fitzrovia, which takes me along the Grand Union Canal, through Paddington Basin, down Edgware Road and along Seymour/Wigmore Street.
I love it. Every day there are Canadian geese, herons, coots and dogs doing Instagrammable things, and a variety of people going about their business on barges. There are runners, cyclists, speed-walkers, drunk people (at 9am), builders, commuters, men smoking shisha outside the Lebanese Edgware Road restaurants. It’s brilliant.
The one thing I really didn’t expect to encounter on my walks were The Women Who Bump Into You. This is a thing and I’m starting to think it’s deliberate.
It happened only this morning.
I was gaily walking along the canal through Little Venice, smiling at an approaching little dog and its lady owner, when WHAM she rammed straight into my shoulder rather than move out of the way. It was like one of those moments where one minute Pharrell Williams’ Happy is playing in your head, but it’s followed by a sudden screech of a needle on vinyl.
This has happened to me before. On buses, in shops, in bars and clubs – a sudden elbow in the side or a shove to push you out of the way. From a woman. Not to mention when I’m running. I’ve rammed into someone who seemed to think that she could beat me through a gateway when she was walking and I was running.
What’s with that?
And why don’t men do it? (They actually do step out of the way – most of the time…)
I’ve always been very spatially aware – and aware of how other people aren’t. I find it amusing, when out running, to see people flailing about in front of me, unable to decide which way to go or what to do. Inside my head, I scream, ‘MAKE A DECISION ON WHICH WAY TO GO AND COMMIT TO IT!!’
I’ve also reviewed that Tumblr feed: Men Who Take Up Too Much Room on the Tube, with a very big sense of how men do carve out space in the world for themselves, without even thinking about how it impacts on others. Totally unaware of us ladies squished up in the corner, next to their widely spaced knees. And of course their widely spaced elbows, that often find themselves stabbing our breasts unexpectedly. (If I could teach a man one thing it would be ‘just keep your elbows under control’.)
One of the best bits of my walk to work is down Edgware Road, knowing that this pavement space is largely inhabited by men, but for that moment each morning I own it. I stride forward, hair flowing and head held high past all the cafes, knowing that I’m taking up a place in a very male-oriented environment, wearing whatever I want. “Ha!” I think. “Gotcha.”
But when I turn onto the busier Seymour St and head into central London proper, I get whacked by handbags, forced into the road and nudged out of the way. By women. All manner of unsisterly behaviour goes on. I may well be imagining it, but I don’t think I am. It’s barely there, just a subtle thwack here and there, with nary a ‘sorry’ in sight. (Nobody says sorry – or nary for that matter – in London. You’ll get a slight hiss as a presage of the full word if you’re lucky).
I’ve given lots of thought to why this happens and I think it’s this:
Women are so used to having to carve out a space for ourselves in this world, that we carve other women out of the way too.
And in many ways we’re easier prey than men. Nudge a guy out of the way and you might be in trouble (although if they’re really slow-moving, a quick prod with a bag is a good way to get them moving faster. I’ve tried it). We know that women won’t fight back, in general, so it’s an easy win.
I just think about all the ways that women are nudged out of the way in life and think it might be a little easier if we were nudging each other the right way.