Recently I was driving to the South West of England alone, when two men in a van began honking, waving and generally trying to distract me along the motorway. They were smiling and laughing as they mirrored my speed.

Maybe to them this was a joke or a bit of fun. Possibly a desire to compliment me, show a little interest, or a way of catcalling. I should be flattered, shouldn’t I? I’m nearly 40 years old after all, insanely aware that I have less years ahead of me than came before where I’m considered attractive enough to elicit the honk of a car horn. But their actions didn’t make me feel good.

The thoughts that go through my head aren’t, “Oh how lovely, shucks these guys have made me feel SUPER great.” My thoughts are really negative in these situations. And the reason for writing this blog is not singularly because of these men, it is because days later as I was walking my dogs near to where I live, a lorry drove past and the man driving slowed down, repeatedly honked, waved and smiled at me. And I just thought, this has happened twice in the last seven days and more times than I can count in a lifetime, but do they know I’m frightened by it, not flattered?

These are my top three thoughts that go through my mind in that moment

  • Are they going to follow me?
  • If they don’t get the response they are looking for, if I don’t appear appreciative of their attention and I’m in a situation where I cannot protect myself, what will happen next?
  • What do they want? Just to share a compliment via a honk of their horn, or do they expect something in return?

I’m not flattered when someone honks their horn at me, far from it. Actually I’m very, very triggered. I’m transported back to times where I took something flirtatious and yet uncomfortable as merely innocent or where I let my need to be seen as a ‘polite woman’ stop me from voicing out a concern. When I was too young and naïve and not wise enough to realise when something was a pre-action. Where I wasn’t able to fully protect myself.

If you’re a woman reading this, I think you’d totally get where I’m coming from. But a man might not get the whole situation here, and is probably thinking ‘This all sounds fairly innocent. These men are just beeping their horn.’ But here’s why a honk is not just a honk for me. Why I feel objectified and frightened when it happens and wonder about whether I might never make it home. 

Why a honk is not just a honk for me

I was talking to my Mum recently, and we started discussing how every woman in their lifetime must have experienced some kind of sexual abuse, violence, molestation, uncomfortable situation, or degradation at the hands of a man. And that’s a really sad thought. But it is also a fact of reality.

Just between the two of us, even though my Mum and I had very different upbringings – She grew up in central London, whereas I was raised in a rural Lincolnshire village – There were many situations we’d experienced. You’d think the city vs countryside might mean I was better protected. But location played no part in our experiences. Because we are both women, and that’s the only correlation that mattered.

I am quite sure that the majority of men who honk their horns, don’t understand the affect they are having

That doesn’t make it okay. Not thinking about how they’re making someone else feel, and not being accountable for their actions is just ignorant. Telling themselves that it’s a joke, or isn’t causing any harm, or they were just offloading a compliment and that a woman should be flattered and not triggered is not justification. It really is total misunderstanding and ignorance of the reason woman are triggered by it. And it shows the depth of the power men have; to be both the violators and reasons for my fear and also, to hold no accountability for actions that incite triggering feelings, or that cause a woman to feel that she is in a position of unsafety.

Men need to understand the affect these actions have

Because they are not letting me know I’m pretty and making me feel attractive, they are not flattering me. It doesn’t make me feel good. Whatever they might think they’re doing, is absolutely not what they are doing for me. They are not making me feel positive. They’re making me feel vulnerable, scared, anxious and fearful. And it’s sad, that that’s the reality of how these actions make me feel. Because I don’t doubt that in a lot of instances, the action comes from a place of innocence, but as I said before, innocence does not negate ignorance.

If you are a man who sees a pretty woman, you can just say nothing

You can just not honk that horn and show respect to women. Recognize that this is a form of harassment. That fear is what you are inciting, not feel good vibes. Like you don’t have to say anything. No honking, waving or catcalling. Just drive on by. Because I don’t do this to you, but then the same rules wouldn’t be applicable anyway. Men would view this as a compliment, because they don’t have the same fear that women have for them. They don’t have to think about what bad things might come next.

As a woman, it isn’t even that I should think about these things, it’s a necessity to consider them

Quite often, when I’m running down a country road I think to myself, Should I be doing this? Should I be in this situation of just running by myself? What if, x y and z happened, how would I protect myself? How would anybody know where I am? As a woman, it isn’t even that I should think about these things, it’s a necessity to consider them.

I asked my step dad whether he had the same thoughts when he ran or biked down the same roads that I do. Maybe he wonders if he’s going to get randomly get beaten up by other men? He doesn’t. There is no thinking about these things at all. He just bikes, or runs and enjoys the views. Because he is a man, he doesn’t need to think about all the ways he could protect himself should he need to.

All I should be thinking about when heading for a run is the same as my step dad; those open roads, completely clearing my mind, relieving the stress of the day and what songs I’m listening too

But street harassment is something I come across often. I want to make change. I don’t know how aside from sharing how this makes a woman feel. Do they know that every time I go somewhere on my own, I’m wondering whether it’s going to happen again and whether this time it’s just a honk or it’s going to be something more? Because that urge to honk when you see something you like, that desire to take instant action as a man is the very thing I’m fearful of as a woman.

It makes me think back to the many times a man has let that urge and his desire override a sense of what is actually right, and how that desire leads to not stopping when he should, or going past a boundary because HE wants something that I don’t. A honk elicits fear because if that man can’t control himself enough to just drive on by with no action, not say or do anything, at what point will he stop? 

These men make me angry .. that I am reduced to fear by an action that is so seemingly small to them, and so very big to me

When I walk down the street, or I’m driving on my own, or I’m going somewhere by myself, I have to be aware of the situations I am putting myself into. I have to think about whether I’m putting myself into a position where it could be dangerous. Am I prepared enough, for if someone were to attack me? Try to molest me? Or try to rape me? These are the things I have to think about as a woman.

So the men who honk their horn and feel no accountability for the affect it might have on me as a woman, even though, it is men that make me require to think about the situations I am putting myself in – because they are the danger that I have to consider – these men make me angry. Angry that I am reduced to fear by an action that is so seemingly small to them, and so very big to me.

None of this is right. All of this, I would want to change

It’s not right that nearly every single woman on this planet has likely faced some kind of abuse, molestation or some kind of negative experience at the hands of a man. None of this is right. All of this, I would want to change. So if there is one small thing I could say today in part towards that change, it’s that if you are a man, please stop honking your horn at women, because it doesn’t make us feel safe, or good. I want men to stop honking their horn at women, because it isn’t flattering, it’s triggering. 

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.