I have always hated being hassled by strangers. It is my kryptonite. Time was, like lots of women I was only hassled for the following: having large breasts, being ugly, being attractive, being fat, being thin, wearing a short skirt, wearing trousers, wearing shorts, wearing pink, wearing black, wearing a red cardy, wearing a red coat, not smiling, smiling, wearing makeup, not wearing makeup, being pale, having a nice arse, having a fat arse, having no arse(?), for listening to music (my headphones were yanked out of my ears by a man who was angry I had chosen to listen to my music, meaning I couldn’t hear the stuff he was shouting at me as I passed. How rude of me), and for generally being female in public without due care andis my experience and nothing compared to the crap you get if you are not white and heterosexual. Also, the fellas don’t completely get away unscathed. I know plenty of men who have been abused for having long hair (of course, a strangers hair length can be a very provocative issue), and I also saw a guy who was wearing a yellow t-shirt and black jeans being yelled at by some builders for being a “Bumblebee motherf**ker”. Well, we all get what we deserve don’t we? I thought this was about as bad as it can get going out into public. This was until I got pregnant and had children. Then I was welcomed to a whole new strain of people who can’t seem to keep their thoughts trapped inside their heads or on occasion their hands to themselves. The middle class busy body.
My first encounters started in my first pregnancy when I was large enough to show. Naturally you do get some people who are just being friendly, along the standard when are you due type questions. Even if I was not in the mood, I could accept there was no malice intended. But when, without permission or warning my bump was just groped by random women on more than one occasion, I realised my condition meant I wasn’t considered an authority over my own body anymore. The worst encounter I had was in the M&S food hall. Not usually a place that would fill you with fear, unless it was during the Valentine’s day Two Dine for £10 offer and there is only one Beef Wellington left. In that case you best be wearing full body armour and packing heat, because it’s gonna get ugly. I was waiting at the checkout when three elderly ladies temporarily ceased shopping for apricot Swiss roll to feel my stomach and assess by the shape and feel of it if I was carrying a boy or girl. I tried to interject a couple of times but they didn’t acknowledge me once. One of them mid squish even announced “Oh, I can feel it’s bum here. It’s certainly ready to come out!” I was ready to come out by that point. Out of my skin and into a space rocket waiting to be fired directly into the sun. It was beyond creepy. I didn’t feel I could have a go at them. Shouting at three dears with their baskets full of Percy Pig treats for the grandkids. I would have looked like the bad guy. How is what they did any different to having your arse grabbed by a man on the dance floor of a night club? It is still a violation of my personal space and they felt my son’s bottom! Felt up before he was even born. Not to mention the endless body policing you have to put up with. If you happen to be eating a sandwich that contains mayonnaise, you can get “You can’t eat mayonnaise when you are pregnant!” To this you pointlessly explain that only applies to home made mayonnaise, if it’s something like Helmans it is pasteurised and completely safe. The response in return is usually “Well if you harm your baby you only have yourself to blame”. At that point the only person you want to harm is them, preferably by shoving an industrial size jar of mayonnaise up their arse. Don’t even try to go there when it comes to explaining you can in fact eat goats cheese if it has been cooked in something. They will be on the phone to social services before you have even stabbed it with your fork. People with very loud opinions and very little knowledge of infection control and food hygiene. It has never happened to me but I have heard of some women being refused a glass of wine in a bar or restaurant when pregnant. How humiliating. They have tried to defend their choice by explaining the NHS guidelines state it is safe to consume no more than 1-2 units of alcohol a week when pregnant (the same as a small glass of wine), but what is the point in taking this advice from your midwife, when you can get told what you can and can’t have by an ignorant interfering bastard? Us women can’t be trusted so strangers are forced to intervene.
When complaining about these incidents I was warned that if I think that’s bad, wait until the baby arrives. Wise words. The interfering from total strangers is enough to make me struggle to leave my house some days. You can get scolded for having your child in a buggy, for not having them in a buggy, for stopping to look at your phone, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, letting them eat an unhealthy snack, taking them to the library which irritates the very same people who assume kids don’t read anymore, and random checks that your baby is wearing sun block and even if you confirm they are you still get a lecture. This is to name but a few. It’s mostly from women in their late 50’s onwards, but sometimes it’s men too. Men usually make remarks about my son’s hair not being short enough (again with the hair!). People can have their opinion, but unless you actually see a child in danger, why do they think they have the right to interfere? They assume they were/are better parents than you. They pay their taxes. They have a right to express an opinion. “It’s these mothers that…..” insert one of the mentioned grievances from above. “They didn’t have these mobile phones when we raised our kids.” No, but I distinctly remember my mum going on the phone to her friends when I was a small child. Does it make it less evil if it’s attached to a wall? No. You just couldn’t see mothers doing it then. They think they are saving the day. I imagine they fantasise a headline on the front page “Woman in her 60’s defeats paedophile ring after scolding texting mother in the park who’s toddler was not wearing mittens in December.” Underneath is a photo of them with the mayor, receiving the key to the city. In the background Batman, Spiderman, Superman and all The Avengers cry tears of pride. They make this assumption in passing judgement, based on nothing more than a brief snapshot of your life. Plus lots of people don’t like us mortals having children full stop. “It’s selfish!” They cry. “The world is already over populated! They shouldn’t be allowed anymore children!” In other words, you were born so we can all stop breeding now. Ignore the fact that this country actually has a reasonably low birth rate, and it’s actually down to our aging population (yes, not immigrants either). Gosh darn our fabulous health care and welfare system! Giving people a fuller life! It is conservative and self righteous. They see themselves as a modem day White Feather Movement. But how do I see them? As no better than men leaning out of a car window, yelling at me about the size of my tits.