When a guy walks you home

Last year when I lived in China, I met a lot of African friends, the university I attended gave a lot of scholarships to students from Cameroon, Tanzania, Ghana, South Sudan amongst other developing countries, like Ukraine, Albania and Egypt.

I spent half the year in dormitories on campus, and there were two sets of dorms for international students, most of the Africans were in Qiming, and the rest of us were in the slightly better Liuxueshenggongyu.

As most of my classmates were African, they quickly became my friends and we would often/always go to Beimen, the school’s bustling north gate to eat dinner. Meals were cheap and there were loads of choices, as well as a supermarket, KTV bars, snooker halls and beauticians (I miss those £2 manicures!!).

When we first started meeting for dinner, most of the group would go walk to Qiming, but there would always be a guy who would offer to go out of his way to walk me back to my dorm, even if it was raining and he was wearing flipflops, I was almost always walked home.

At the beginning, I felt very uncomfortable about this, did the guy have bad intentions? Did he want to know exactly which room I lived in? Why is it ‘not ok’ for a girl to walk home on her own…yet fine for guys? Etc etc. But after a while, I just accepted it as it offended them when I said I would walk by myself and actually, the company is nice.

What I learned was that culturally, these guys were expected to make sure women get home safely, due to the dangers there can be for women walking alone in their countries.

When I came back to the UK, I was walking home with a group of friends about a week ago, most of them lived in a student accommodation 5 mins walk from me…we said our goodbyes and a guy who lived a bit closer to me said he would walk me home. But after the group went into their halls, this guy who said he would walk me home said that actually he lives the other way…so he just walked off and left me. I was a bit annoyed, since he said he would walk me home and didn’t, it was one of the first times in a long time I hadn’t had someone walk back with me after meeting with a group.

Then last night I was at an event and a Russian guy offered to walk me home, I had just met him, but I accepted the offer as we live close by and again, for him culturally, he cannot ‘when in Rome, do as Romans do’ when it comes to things like walking a girl home. He also gave me a big hug, as he said when you shake hands or hug, it re-energises both people as they pass energy to each other through physical contact and it shows strength and power.

Last night we also talked about greetings, and how British people may shake hands when they first meet someone, but not when they meet again for the second or third time. The Russian said us Brits can be really cold, and he can’t understand why I would want to walk the last 5 mins alone… whereas the old me could not understand why a guy would want to walk an extra 5 mins, then have a 10 min walk home alone. I’m still unsure how I feel about being walked home, as if escorted because being a woman puts me in danger…but at the same time, I realised that I did get used to it in China and I kinda like it.

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Oi oi – Harrassment

I’ve been sporty for a quite a few years now and I’d never really been heckled, harrassed, taunted etc whilst playing sports until a week or so ago. Sure in China I was stared at and people took photos of me when I was running because I would run on the roads, rather than just on the track but there was never any malice from anyone.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out cycling with the Warwickshire Ladies Cycling Club and their pink cycling jerseys attracted a bit of attention when cycling on some of the roads around Binley. (I say it was the pink jerseys, but it could have been anything).

We got shouted at twice, once was “Oi oi sexy!” from some young lads in a polo and the second was a long and slow “Ohhhh myyyy Godddd”, as the car slowed down and drove past us, several men peered their heads out of the window to stare at us.

It’s just ridiculous how this happens and I asked the women if it happened regularly, one lady said not usually, but it is something that happens. Then I asked one of my male cyclist friends if he ever receives any similar treatment, he says he gets shouted and beeped at, but nobody ever calls him sexy which is something only women seem subject to.

Nobody’s ever shouted at me when I’ve been out cycling or running on my own (only when in a group), but I have heard stories from (female) friends who have either been told to ‘run faster’ or ‘get a move on’ or have been complimented on their ‘nice legs’. And this is harrassment. There’s no doubt about it.

No wonder there’s so few women out on the roads. No wonder it’s so hard for me to buy a women’s cycling jersey in sports shops. No wonder there’s just a ‘Women’s bikes’ section with 8 bikes for sale, compared to ‘Mens Hybrid bikes’, ‘Mens Road bikes’, ‘Mens Mountain bikes’ sections which have 8 bikes each.

Sure there are plenty of groups, clubs and rides specifically for women, but at the same time, I’m sure with a quick search on google, I could find sites and forums that either troll female cyclists for their cycling abilities and/or fetishize female cyclists for their bodies. Let’s just look at this.

Pretty different, don’t you think? Male cyclists are associated with Olympics, winning and medals, whereas the female cyclists and associated with death, disqualification, mistakes and their bodies. (I wonder why ‘presents for female cyclists’ came up and what presents are suggested)

Cyclists in general do get a lot of abuse from motorists on the road, regardless of gender, that is definitely true and should not be ignored, but I feel it is women who are more vulnerable to gender-based abuse and harrassment. It’s the same for female motorists, who have a lot of stick for ‘bad driving’, right? Road users should respect each other, no matter which vehicle they’re using and no matter what their gender is. Let’s stop harrassing each other.

The Power of Pockets

A lot of people don’t recognise the value and importance of pockets in clothes. In fact, around half of the population just expect their jackets, whether casual or formal, to have deep inside pockets perfect for slipping your phone, keys and wallet inside. Yes guys, I’m talking about you.

Women’s jackets, jeans, dresses and skirts rarely have good functional pockets. We often even have to endure sewn on flaps of fabric so from a distance it looks like we’ve got pockets…but actually we don’t.

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Fake pockets

So why do women need pockets when they’re always carrying handbags? Did it ever occur to anyone that the reason we always carry handbags is because the pockets in our clothes aren’t good enough?

For me, it’s not that I have loads of things to carry around with me. My phone, a small purse, my keys and a pack of tissues are the absolute essentials I take out with me but my pockets are never big enough, deep enough or there’s simply not enough of them to allow me to go out without a bag.

Then because you’re already carrying a bag, you find yourself adding other things that you don’t necessarily need (but might do): a power pack, kindle or book, makeup, a scarf, pen and paper, hair clips, snacks, bottle of water, 3 different types of lipstick etc. This just becomes a habit from when we’re younger and before we know it, our handbags weigh 2kg, the same weight as a small dog.

In China, many men carry their girlfriend’s handbags for them, and at first I thought this was strange and OTT, even 娘, but now I think why shouldn’t men carry women’s handbags from time to time? Handbags are useful and beautiful and all the rest, but constantly carrying one is bad for posture, can affect your balance and you then have to carry other people’s things inside (can I put this bottle of water in your bag please?) making them even heavier.

So is there a solution? I personally don’t see the trend changing any time soon, the fashion industry is doing just fine, with or without giving women good pockets. If you’re a woman and really desire a big, deep pocketed coat, you could always buy a small men’s jacket (which would probably work out cheaper and last longer too), but besides that, I see no other way to fulfil my pocket wishes.

 

Gender Inequality, the shoe’s on the other foot

If you’ve been reading the newspaper columns this year, you’ve bound to have heard how women pay 37% more than men on the high street or are even overcharged everyday on products that are packaged differently but are actually no different from mens – pink razors, pens and deodorant are the most cited examples.

So when I went to treat myself for Chinese New Year, I went straight to the men’s section of my semi-local Decathlon store. I wanted to buy some new running trainers as my current ones are tattered, torn and a bit of old after years of running across, up and down four countries.

I looked at some reviews online and decided to try a pair of Kalenji’s, specially designed for long distances. The colour was a nice dark blue, the 40 fitted fine and I was happy to pay the 399块 (about £40). Until I walked past the ladies section, just to see if they had any purple ones. I found the same shoe, in a bright pink, ‘ladies’ version (I measured, the shoes were exactly the same). Besides the colours and the fact that the men’s laces were longer, something else was different…the price.

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Pink or blue?

After all I’ve been reading recently, I assumed there would be no difference in China, and the ladies shoe would be more expensive than the men’s. But to my surprise, the ladies shoe was 29% cheaper, at 299块  (about £30).

I was shocked, outraged and very confused. How could quite clearly the exact same shoe differ so much in price, only due to the colour and it being in the mens/womens section?

663695312069214461In my outrage, I took both sets of shoes to the till to ask if they really were different prices, maybe they’d made a mistake? Maybe my laowai charm would make them scan the pink ones but give me the blue ones? The 服务员 told me that yes, they were different prices. I asked her why, she said ‘different colour, different price’. I pleaded with her “but the blue ones are so nice, why are they 100块 more expensive?”, but she didn’t budge and told me (nicely, not aggressively) “if you want the blue ones, spend another 100”. I sighed, said no, I’m on a student budget.

She told me if I sign up to be a Decathlon member, not only will I get some points, but she would give me a free frisbee. Sold. I spent 10 mins filling in details to become a Decathlon 会员 and walked away with my pink trainers.

But I’m still considering changing them to the blue. What should I do? I really liked the blue ones, but the difference in price just made me so upset and angry, I should probably stick to the pink ones out of principal, and my Dad said they’ll lose their pink shine soon enough anyway.

Sportswoman or tomboy?

I’ve always had an interest in sports, when I was younger I played for a local badminton team and in secondary school I played in the netball, football, swimming, athletics and rounders teams. I never thought that playing sports made me ‘manly’ or ‘masculine’. Sometimes the boys at training were better than the girls and sometimes it was the other way round. Gender was never an issue.

I’m now in the university triathlon team and after many months of training, I finally completed my first triathlon last weekend. I was talking to some young Chinese women about the triathlon and they immediately called me a 女汉字, which can be translated as ‘masculine woman’ or ‘tomboy’. It’s a pretty negative term in Chinese, where people still have quite traditional views on gender roles.

I’ve read some articles about ‘masculine women’ (in Chinese) which say that these women:

  • independently strive for self-improvement
  • don’t like shopping
  • don’t like to use make-up
  • like to carry their own suitcases
  • are pretty on the outside but have careless behaviour
  • have the courage to take on (tasks)
  • are self-reliant

amongst many other things such as being naked at home if the weather is hot, hating pink clothes and not showing weakness when facing problems. Some of the websites I’ve looked at have had pictures of the Chinese Disney princess Mulan on. Instead of finding a husband and complying with the Chinese standards of how women should act, she faked being a man so her injured father wouldn’t have to go to war. She’s my favourite Disney princess, eluding strength, power, self-motivation and in sacrificing herself to help others she SAVED THE WHOLE OF CHINA.

Mulan

I recognise that there are many types of girls out there who may be like this and I know I have some of the above tendencies, but none of them come from doing sport and I don’t think they are even necessarily ‘manly behaviours’. When the Chinese people I were talking to called me a 女汉字, I immediately told them that I wasn’t, and that playing sports doesn’t make a woman ‘masculine’. I asked them if gymnasts This Girl Canwere 女汉字,and they said of course not. So practicing some sports makes you manly yet others don’t?

Sport is such a wonderful thing that has helped me develop as a person and put into practice competencies such as teamwork, communication skills, working under pressure, dedication, setting targets, making decisions to name a few – all of which employers like to hear about in job applications and interviews. If I had chosen not to play sports because of my gender, I would have missed out on so much.

That’s why I’m so pleased there are campaigns such as This Girl Can inspiring women and girls to exercise, no matter what prejudice or barrier has been stopping them previously. I don’t see any reason why gender should interfere in sports participation. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, there are always less female participants at races I have competed at. It’s good because I have more chances of success, but at the same time it’s sad that women aren’t competing in races or competitions.

Despite what those people called me upset me a little, it didn’t affect me so much as to dissuade me from triathlon or sports. I’m stronger than that, and being a woman won’t stop me from being an athlete.

Why are ‘ladies nights’ in bars not sexist?

I’m not sure if they still happen in other parts of the world, but here in Qingdao on a Wednesday night in a small bar/coffee shop, girls can drink free unlimited cocktails before 12am. The bar is always packed on Wednesday nights with students as all students, male or female love free stuff. I am still undecided about whether I think this is sexist or not.

I’ve never really been involved with feminism as like many people in the West I automatically associate the word with hairy armpitted, men hating, bad looking ladies who parade the streets naked campaigning for rights that they sometimes already have. But recently I have discovered that this is not what feminism is all about, not at all. After reading I am Malala* (the story of the young Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban in 2012 for speaking out about girls education in her country), I realised how feminism is definitely a positive thing that we need to spread around the globe. I feel that in the UK although there are still aspects where women are treated differently from men, especially in recent years with the increase of lad culture (full NUS report on lad culture or a summary) in universities and other institutions, there are still more important issues that as a global community we need to tackle. There are countries where females are persecuted, denied rights to education, forced into FGM and even worse female infanticide.

At first I enjoyed the free drinks there. I thought after all of the things that I as a woman have suffered from throughout my life (period pain, boy problems, having long curly hair that strangers think they can freely touch etc) I should be allowed one night a week to let my hair down and be looked after like an “Angel” as the bar promotes. But as the weeks have passed I’ve come to see it in a different light.

After asking some guys why they come here on ‘ladies night’, their answers have always been

because there’s always lots of pretty girls here on a Wednesday

or something along those lines. Are us ladies being used as pawns/eye candy to attract men to the bar? Because that is how it seems to me after I was… not assaulted, that’s a strong word to use, but touched in an inappropriate way by a man I didn’t know. After I told him to go away (different words and an appropriate hand gesture were used) he continued to sit next to the dancefloor glaring at all the girls dancing together.

As the only conditions to getting the free drinks are being a girl and bringing back your empty glass before midnight, I’ve always seemed to fall into the trap of finishing one drink, looking at the clock and the queue at the bar. I estimate this will be my last Mai Tai, as there’s only twenty minutes left and I want to make the most of the offer. When I get that ‘last drink’ I drink it quickly to see if I can fit in another one before they start charging for drinks. This is a bad habit I know but every week I see girls doing the same and in doing so getting more drunk than they planned to…leading to losing inhibitions, falling over, ridiculous dancing and sending text messages that will probably be regretted in the morning. Is this the behaviour that the bar wants to encourage? When I’ve been outside talking too loud to my friends a barman will always come over to tell me to speak quieter but never once have they told me to stop drinking. As the drinks are poured by sight rather than measurement glasses if you ask for a bit more vodka they’ll normally give you more, especially if it’s at the end of a bottle.

I don’t want this to come across as me criticising the bar, I really like it and I have been on the weekend and not only when there are free drinks for me and my girlfriends. It’s the concept that I’m criticising. I understand that bars want to create a good atmosphere and having special nights to attract people but why are ladies singled out to be entitled to free alcohol? What’s wrong with a good BOGOF deal or selected shots for 10快 for everybody? There are many other strategies to attract people to bars but why does offering free alcohol to ladies seem to be the most effective in this case? Can you imagine the uproar it would cause if a bar were to offer free beer to men before midnight? So why is it not a problem at all for ladies to have free cocktails?

So you’re probably wondering why I still go if I’m so outraged by it all. Well the atmosphere is generally very good, most of my classmates are there and we have chance to dance and sing together. The music is also good (although a little repetitive now I’ve been many times), even if I had to pay for drinks I would still probably go as long as my friends were all there. The free drinks are a bonus but what attracts me most is being with my friends. I would love nothing more than to be involved in some kind of boycott and go to a different place on a Wednesday but there is no other place that people are willing to go to which is a shame. The one place that did also run a Wednesday night was also a free for ladies thing on a rooftop terrace but they could not compete so changed their free ladies night to a Friday…

* Coincidentally today is Malala Day, learn more about her story.