Adventures in microaggressions: misogyny and ablism in public spaces

I’m tired of this.

I’m tired of men in public spaces who think that my sole purpose is to provide them with entertainment on their way home. I am tired of complete strangers who think it’s appropriate to follow me round a shop and relentlessly question me about my purchases and my visible disability. I’m tired of having “babe”, “darling”, “love”, “sweetheart”, and “honey” thrown at me by random adult men in the shops and on the streets and all over public transport. I’m tired of being grabbed, being thumped hard (but “jokingly”) on the back when it’s clear that I’m relying on a walking-stick for support, having my thigh squeezed by someone who started out polite and got creepy. I’m tired of offering help or directions to male strangers who then spend the next half hour slowly escalating their invasion of my personal space and making increasingly sexually inappropriate comments. I’m tired of doing everything I can to subtly tell them that I’m not interested – reading, having headphones in, not looking at them, responding in monosyllables. I’m tired of the terrifying angry about-face when I finally stop playing their game and following the social script, when I tell them straight-out that I’m not interested, and so “babe” and “darling” turn to “bitch” and “cunt”. I am tired of being told that they’re just being friendly, that I just can’t take a joke, that I should just give them a chance and they’ll turn out to be nice.

I am tired of the way that being visibly disabled makes me feel like an easy target, because I know that disabled women are disproportionately at risk of being abused, and I know women to whom this has happened. I am tired of having to ask people to give up priority seats for me when I’m using my walking-stick, and believe me, I am sure as hell tired of strangers asking me questions like “so what’s wrong with your legs?” or “what have you done to yourself?” or even “so is it degenerative?” I am tired of being in pain so frequently. I am tired of how slight changes of plan can make things awful – I am tired of going out with a heavy backpack or without my walking-stick, because I am sure that I will not have to do much walking, and then ending up in pain because things changed. I am very tired of having to turn down some amazing opportunities because I can’t guarantee that I’ll have enough energy enough on the day to (for example) travel to the other end of the country, give a workshop, and spend the night on an unfamiliar sofa. I am tired, tired to the point of tears, of how slow and laborious recovery is, of feeling like I’m just about treading water.

I know things could be much worse. I know that I have privileges that shield me from other forms of microaggression; that being white and middle-class and financially stable and a UK citizen are all things which, while they may not erase the things that happen to me, can mitigate their effects (for example – after a horrible train journey, in which a man begun by asking me about train times and ended up being invasive and terrifying, I could spare the money to jump into a taxi rather than risk being followed home by him). And I am angry that this is the case, angry at the forms of structural power that run through the world and leave so many people worn down and hurt and disenfranchised, angry at the systems which coerce people into wielding their privileges as leverage against their oppressions, angry angry angry.

I am angry, I am tired, and I am not going away.

(NB: I don’t usually write and upload posts this quickly. I have some part-written posts which deal with some of these issues in a more nuanced way – but I’m currently battling a moth infestation in my flat and just needed to vent. As such, this point may well contain things that are ill-considered, faily, or oppressive: as ever, please do call me out if I’ve fucked something up.)

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