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I need feminism because...

Just in time for International Women's Day, I decided to write about some of my experiences of being a woman. Don't get me wrong - being a girl is great (not that I know any different) but sometimes, the world is just that little bit more negative for us. This post is the first in a two-part series that I decided to do, ever since I was filled with rage at the injustice of the world. Dramatic, yes, but I'm prone to exaggeration (I'm still filled with rage). 

Warning: although there is nothing too graphic in this most, the content may still be triggering for some people. Please approach with caution. 

I'd like to tell a couple of stories about things that have happened to me in the past when I've dared venture out of my house as a woman. I know these occurrences are slightly more extreme, and I am in no way saying that they are the norm. However, I'd just like to express how I feel I have experienced things across the spectrum - luckily, I have never been harmed, but regardless, things like this shouldn't happen.

A few years ago, I was travelling on my own on the bus into Manchester to meet my friends. It was about midday. I can't remember what I was wearing (not that it even matters, but there's always that imbecile who will try and blame my clothing) but it was probably jeans or something. I was about 16 years old. Anyway, I had my headphones in and was minding my own business. I was on the top deck.

A man gets on at some point in the journey, with his friend, and they come and sit upstairs. They sit pretty far at the back, whereas I was sat at the front, near the stairs. I noticed that at some point they had moved seats to be one or two rows back from me. I still didn't acknowledge them. Then suddenly one of the men was sat directly behind me, leaning over to speak to me. Because I'm polite, I took out an earphone and asked what he wanted. He asked for the time, so I told him. In fact, I remember that pretty clearly, as I can remember it was about quarter past 1 in the afternoon. He said thanks so I put my earphone back in, effectively terminating the conversation.

He didn't move and I could still hear him talking to me. I let him talk and just nodded in the right places; he was talking about Manchester or his job or something, and about moving to London with his friend (who had remained further back). I honestly didn't care, but they seemed a bit drunk so I thought I'd just be polite. Sometimes, I wonder why the hell I have to sit and be polite.

Anyway, he eventually pressed the buzzer to get off at the next stop and I started to relax a bit. He put his hand out for me to shake, so I took it, just so he'd leave me alone quicker. He leaned in then, as if he was going to kiss my cheek. I didn't really move, because I was uncomfortable at this point, but I didn't really have much choice. He leaned in and at the last second, he kissed me on the lips instead, forcing his tongue inside my mouth. I pushed him back and stuck my finger in his face, like a misbehaving dog, I told him "no." He was grinning and laughing and got off the bus with his friend.

It took me a while to really process that a man who was more than twice my age and a complete stranger had basically just violated my mouth with his tongue. Where had I supposedly given consent for that to happen? When I shook his hand? When I told him the time? When I got on the bus in the first place? 

The thing that disgusted me even more was that I had been sat on a bus full of people and not a single person had thought something was wrong. They saw the whole thing happen - the guys get on, I clearly didn't know them, them worming their way forward to speak to the 16 year old girl sat on her own. I didn't feel comfortable getting on a bus on my own for a really long time after that. Even now, 5 years later, I avoid sitting on the top deck if I'm on my own.

The other most memorable occurrence happened just the other week. Me and my friends from work went out for a couple of drinks to say goodbye to one of my colleagues. It was a really good night, having only been bothered by one man but even then he was just looking to chat to someone. We left the bar when it closed and three of us walked through town to pick up a pizza on the way back to my friend's house.

We were in the pizza place waiting for our food, a man offers us a drink. We refuse but he gives us one anyway, so we just take it to be polite. Another guy then started calling my friend a 'mad cow' and saying she stole his drink. He also then started calling my other friend ugly, really being nasty about her appearance for absolutely no reason. The man that had originally given us the drinks turns to my friend and says he likes her eye makeup, being quite nice, then switches instantly, telling her how ugly and 'dog rough' she must look without it. At the end of the day, we were just there to get a bloody pizza and go home - not have abuse thrown in our faces.

We left, kind of annoyed about it, and started the short walk back to my friend's house. I suddenly became very aware of two men following close behind us; we were on a fairly quiet side-street and I just didn't feel safe. We stopped by a wall, pretending to fix a shoe or something, but the men approached us anyway. They asked for directions, which we gave to them, but they didn't move - they were just stood looking at us.

It all got a bit awkward and weird. They complimented my friend's eyes, and then turned to my other friend and were giving her compliments too. Only, I can't imagine either of them feeling flattered by it; when an old man is looking at you like you're a meal rather than a human being, compliments kind of lose their charm. To be honest, I lost it only when one of the men reached forward and grabbed my friend's chin in his hand, tilting her head towards the light to really 'admire' her face. He did it more than three times - grabbed her face every time she moved. It was the most unnerving, scary moment of my life and it wasn't even happening to me. I couldn't say anything, despite my brain screaming at me to do something. It was one of those situations where you're kind of baffled, wondering if something like that was really happening.

We slipped away eventually and hid inside the building where we work to make sure we weren't being followed. It didn't matter that no one had actually been hurt that night - we were sobered the hell up and felt dirty. Nobody should touch your body without consent, and that certainly wasn't the normal jostlings of everyday life. That was someone grabbing my friend's face without any consent whatsoever.

So, this IWD, I encourage people of all genders (or no genders) to just spare a thought for the strength it requires to be a woman sometimes. There are some nauseating facts about the bad stuff that happens to women, but sometimes it's even just a case of us having to be polite in uncomfortable situations in order to get by. Women shouldn't be thought of as inferior, and we certainly don't belong to anyone but ourselves. We are not property.

Being a woman is amazing and I'm proud to be one, as should every person who identifies as a woman. Happy International Women's Day to ladies all across the globe, and remember that although we haven't achieved equality yet, we are doing all we can to ensure our daughters and our daughter's daughters live in a brighter future.

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