I was waiting for a tube train and, not being plugged into my iPod, I was vaguely listening to the conversations around me. One in particular started sticking its head above the parapet and becoming increasingly hard to miss… There was a guy talking amongst a group of friends, men and women, in their 20s probably. He was talking loudly and enthusiastically about a woman who wanted sex with his friend so desperately, apparently, that she would take it any which way. I think he was encouraging his mate to go for it - because she was a dead cert. So you could say he was just being supportive.
The images got more and more colourful. And nasty. I'm pretty robust when it comes to conversations about sex and I've heard plenty of people going for the shock factor without it being too much of an issue, but there was something about this little monologue that was becoming increasingly disturbing, in a way that, say, jokes about rape are disturbing…
A woman standing near me caught my eye and rolled hers. I listened for a little longer and then went over and told him to shut up, that he was being offensive. I was angry, on behalf of this anonymous woman who may or may not love sex and fancy his friend.
He apologised, several times. With the immediacy of someone who'd been expecting the demand to climb down at any moment. I guess I thought there'd be a few sniggers from his friends. That didn't really happen. I stepped away from the group and exhaled loudly.
After that, the young man kept glancing at me with wide-eyed curiosity, peering over his friend's shoulder with eyes like a chipmunk. Of course I couldn't tell what he was thinking, but it didn't strike me as critical, ridiculing or dismissive. Which took me by surprise.
What were also unexpected were the looks of some of the lone females standing nearby. A smile of support or appreciation wouldn't have seemed out of place, but there was smirking and I realised that in one fell swoop I'd become the 'angry one'… There are plenty of those in London. But it was that element of the whole incident that I found the strangest.
And I asked myself if these women around me really felt nothing much about the conversation, that they saw no connection between themselves and that other flesh and blood, sensual, sexual female or had she become just another character from a disturbing movie that they'd caught on late night TV? Or was I just being the crazy one? Overreacting? Thinking too much? After all, he was just having a laugh...
Of course, you can write off the incident as a young man showing off, taking things a bit too far, boys being boys and all that, and give it all the rose glow of something akin to maternal fondness. Or you can say that the casual abuse and misuse of the female body and her sexuality, even in this context, is never acceptable. Because somewhere in there is the message that it's OK to say those things. To think these things. To have these images in the collective consciousness. And it isn't.
We're also used to a stereotype of women that says she is the one who waits to be pursued - men do the hunting. For a woman to step beyond this, wanting sex and being an active initiator in her own sexual experiences creates some rocky ground, even just in theory. She's judged and criticised for it, called easy or immoral or 'loose'… But most devastating of all, it's as if all her boundaries disappear rather than those she chooses to let go of. She stops being a human being with the right to say no, even within the context of saying yes. And that's what seemed to be happening on the platform that evening.
Or do you disagree? I'd love to know what you think.