Content note: This post discusses sexual violence and apologism, quoting first-person accounts.
Last week, I went to the Pride of Spitalfields for a nice drink with some comrades. The evening ended on a rather sour note as two of my friends were groped and the landlady blamed them for what happened. Aside from my group, the whole pub felt as though it was full of people who were enabling this behaviour, if they were not themselves actively perpetrating it. I’ll let the two women tell their story in their own words, though I’ve trimmed for length. You can read Sam Ambreen’s account in full here, and MagicZebras here.
Pride of Spitalfields is the name of the pub where Meow Meet – a gathering of like-minded individuals’ crazy about communism and cats – took place. There was a planned pub crawl but as the night went on, we settled and occupied the back quarter of the pub. Being with kindred spirits aside, I felt myself on full alert having clocked the various leering geezers dotted around the bar. Very early on in the evening a large skinhead attempted to woo me with his American accent all the while slurring how much he liked the cat on my dress, his eyes fixated on my breasts. After we’d done a good job of ignoring him, he sloped off.
I felt safe. A mixed group, I was friends with many of them and since we’d been out together and tackled patriarchy effectively before, I felt reassured I could just be. With these righteous men and women I felt free. Except patriarchy was more brazen that night. I caught the bald American through the corner of my eye, as he left his table to walk past me for the loo. He stroked my shoulders and back whilst I was sat on a stool between two of my friends. Shocked and utterly grossed out, I told the group what had just happened. When he came out of the toilet, one of my beautiful sisters pointed at him and said “how dare you touch her? Don’t fucking do it again?” Far from being embarrassed he’d been caught out, he leant in to her and asked her to slap him. In an attempt to distract him, I asked if he was American. When he replied yes, I said “figures”. Well, then he called me a “fucking cunt”. When the rest of our group stood up, he crawled off, mumbling expletives.
Shaken but proud and empowered, I told one of the barmaids what had happened. I was happy when she immediately said she would not serve him anymore. She also said he had been aggressive but they couldn’t throw them out because there were only three women behind the bar. However, I was just pleased that she’d acknowledged what had happened. Shortly after, the man and his friends left. One of them even apologised to one of the men in our group. We were able to enjoy a few more drinks before the second incident of the evening.
Sat on my stool at the side of the table, somebody grabbed the back of my neck and pushed me down. Alarming and distressing, yes, but I also have a spinal injury. I’ve been told never to attempt to touch my toes. I have to think of my every movement before I make it. I am having an MRI in three days. Livid, I shot up and shouted at the man. I can’t remember what I said; I was too frightened and angry. Other people in the bar started shouting at me, how it was funny it was always the same girl complaining, how our stools were in the way of the path to the toilet and my blood ran cold. I asked the older landlady whether they were saying I was making it up and she matter of factly nodded yes. I didn’t exactly want to burst into tears and start rolling off all the other times I hadn’t been believed but that’s what happened. Like a collage of all the other times I’d been violated but made to feel like the evil scheming temptress I must be. All of it poured out as the mascara gushed down my cheeks. I’d had a drink but the pain is always the same and I react in exactly the same way. Triggers, emotions so strong and so embedded because of careless caretakers and patriarchy; that I try and keep a lid on. For years, I slapped a smile on it until the corners of my mouth hurt so much from smiling, they’d quiver. Now, I cannot.
One of the things said to me by the patrons of that pub was that we should just accept it. Accept what? Being groped? Being leered at? My body does not belong to the public. It is mine and it is fragile. If anyone touches me without my consent, I will shout and scream blue murder.
When I finally calmed down I learnt the man who’d grabbed my neck had also groped one of our teenage comrades. The guy was in his 50s. One of my friends hugged me as she said she’d challenged one of the younger barmaids as to whether she’d been harassed more than a coupla times in one evening and she said yes. The landlady responded there was little they could do with their customers of old. And there, patriarchy is atoned. Capitalism is what makes the misogo man’s world go round.
The evening started well, even though the pub was really crowded. We piled in, chatting amongst ourselves and ignoring the uninvited advances of the odd creepy drunk guy with efficiency and grace.
However, at about 11pm, a very drunk man in a stupid hat walked past us on the way to the toilets. On his way, he grabbed my arse so hard it hurt and pushed my friend Sam’s down aggressively – really fucking dangerous considering she has a spinal injury. Outraged, and surrounded by friends who we knew would support us (really vital!) we both stood up and challenged the guy, yelling at him that his actions were not fucking ok and he needed to fuck off. When he went to the toilet we comforted each other and told our friends exactly what had happened. When he returned from the toilets he had the cheek to make sarcastic comments and lots of those at MeowMeet stood up, telling him to fuck off, leave us alone and never touch a woman without her consent again. Other people in the bar got involved, it seemed quite a few men, trying to be “nice”, had a hell of a lot to say about the subject. I was told in a seemingly reasonable tone that I should pipe down because “this sort of thing happens all the time, shouting’s not going to change it.”. I walked away from that patriarchy-accepting wankstain to support one of my friends who was challenging the landlady and other female staff about what had happened. The landlady’s response to the incident was disgusting. She told us that she didn’t believe us, asked me if I was drunk (I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol all night, not that it makes any difference whatsoever!), blamed us for any incident that might have happened and refused to challenge harassment from a regular customer because he often spent money there. For me, that’s pretty much the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy in action – capital comes before the security of women. Always.
The incident and the rhetoric we got from staff and customers at the pub was highly distressing; both me and Sam cried hysterically, I threw up and even had flashbacks from other times I’ve been sexually assaulted and harassed – which from talking to my female friends seems to be really common. Mostly, I was upset by the attitude of other people who thought that something being a common occurrence meant that it was acceptable. Utter bullshit, and the same bullshit that perpetrators of any sort of sexual violence rely on to go about their behaviour unchallenged.
It’s abundantly clear that at least one member of staff in the Pride of Spitalfields had a terrible attitude to the misogyny perpetrated by the clientele: this woman was the landlady. The rest of the bar staff seemed more supportive, although there was little they could do to help. I hope that they are able to unionise and support each other in these horrible circumstances.
I’d urge you, if you’re a woman, to avoid Pride of Spitalfields for your own safety–it fucking sucks that we have to do this, but Pride of Spitalfields is not a safe space. And, actually, everyone should avoid the fucking place, because it is a seething shithive of misogyny and maybe they’ll go out of business.
In the future, we might take action against the place, but in the meantime, please share these stories to avoid this having to happen again.