Home > sexism, sexual assault > A Hero For Our Time (Out)?

A Hero For Our Time (Out)?

Those of you who read Time Out may be aware of its columnist, Michael Hodges. I’m not a fan, finding about one in ten of his columns worth reading although he did inspire one of my rare incursions into satire when I wrote pastiche of his writing ‘style’.

Hodges’ columns are currently themed under the banner of ‘1001 things not to do in London’ and this week he tackles the issue of ‘touching too much’ on crowded tube carriages. His is a two pronged attack, firstly on the general unpleasantness of being jammed up next to strangers, and then more specifically on an assault he recently witnessed in a crowded tube carriage.

A woman near to Hodges exclaims “Your hand is on my bottom. Whoever you are, please take it off my bottom now.”. Despite the sweaty press of humanity around him, our hero knows who the culprit is. “Below my face another is uplifted to mine, I am looking directly into a pair of eyeballs that stare boldly straight back at me… these are not the eyeballs of someone who is innocently engaged in travelling from Leicester Square to Tufnell Park. Small, furtive and clearly enjoying himself, the man’s gaze may be on me but his hands are on someone else.”. Hodges then goes on to bemoan the fact that the assailant is not a lone aberration but part of “… a large population of men who see their Oyster cards as a licence for travelling hands…” before the incident concludes with the guilty party skulking off the train at the next stop.

So this column is a good thing, right? It calls out the scum who use the relative anonymity of a crowded train carriage in order to assault women and will maybe, perhaps make some of them think twice about what they’re doing, right?

Well, yes, it’s a good thing that this all too common violation is being highlighted in a high profile magazine, and that the author is so clearly against it. Beyond that, however, I find the piece problematic.

Hodges clearly states that he knows exactly who the assailant is but at no point makes any attempt to challenge the behaviour he finds so repellent. Instead of just looking into the eyes of the groper why not say “I think it’s you she’s talking to mate, do you want to stop doing that?”. Ok, it might be easy for me, a big ugly lump, to assume that someone else would have the courage to step up, but in this case Hodges has pointed out the relative disparity in size and how it is in his favour.

There are problems with the way Hodges describes the groper who is ‘small’ and ‘furtive’, and a ‘small man’. Why not add a dirty mac and crooked leer to the picture? If Hodges had looked into a pair of non-furtive eyes level with his and belonging to a handsome young man in a Hugo Boss suit would he have been able to recognise the assailant so readily? Sexual predators are all of a kind: shifty, furtive, abnormal. Extrapolate this to a scene in a courtroom where a defence counsel asks the court if his handsome client with a respectable, well paying job is the type of person to commit rape? Of course there is no type, but rather than simply describing the assailant as a man, Hodges gives comfort to the rest of us. Yeah, we’re normal, we’re not like that and any woman who thinks we are must be deluded.

Then there’s this doozy: “This is an upsetting and dispiriting state of affairs but happily, female Londoners are increasingly refusing to put up with it anymore”. Oh, right, just the female Londoners then? Is that why you failed to challenge the groper, because you didn’t want to deprive a woman of her moment of liberation? I wonder if she sees it that way, if women across the capital are reading your column thinking that you’re describing what happened to them – because this will have been a far from isolated incident – and instead of being grateful for the empowerment you bestowed are shouting “Why the fuck didn’t you help me?”. But no, the implicit message here is that women should be responsible for stopping themselves being assaulted, just like women need to make sure they don’t get raped; we men are just slaves to our impulses and can’t be expected do anything about it.

Perhaps I’m being harsh here, I’m sure Hodges’ intent was honourable. Oh, wait, here’s the pay off to the column: as the assailant and others leave the carriage some space is cleared and the woman can turn to see who her attacker was whereupon she stares angrily at poor old Michael. How awkward for him, poor lamb.

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