As a woman, I’ve become careful in choosing which pubs I go into on my own.
Unlike the other half, I’m an extrovert — I get antsy if I’m on my own and tend to seek out company when I’m away on business. A pub is the perfect place for this, right?
Unfortunately, when I was younger, I had a few too many encounters like this:
I enter a pub, realise there are no other women there, but approach the bar and order a drink anyway, all the time aware that conversation has stopped and the blokes round the bar are staring at me.
“Here on business, are you?”
[As coldly as possible] “Yes.”
I retreat to a table with my beer, get out a book or a newspaper, and read it with intense concentration. By this point, I’m already feeling uncomfortable. Not terrified or angry — uncomfortable.
Then someone calls out, or, worse, comes over: “Where’s your boyfriend?” or “Why don’t you come and sit with us?” or “What’s a girl like you doing all on your own?”
Feeling rather intimidated by the attention of the pack, I have to decide as quickly as possible how to respond:
- “I’m trying to read my book.”
- “Go away.” (Or words to that effect.)
- “He’s joining me in a minute.” (A fib.)
Some blokes will probably be thinking, so what? Big deal. After all, he hasn’t said anything obscene and he hasn’t touched me, and I’ve only had to say a few words to get rid of him.
I don’t know how to convey how it feels to be cornered by a half-drunk bloke several inches taller than you, several stone heavier, in a strange pub, in a strange town, while his mates egg him on and/or observe from the bar. In the particular instances I have in mind, it wasn’t a polite, tentative approach — it was an entitled, arrogant swagger. Suffice to say, it’s not much fun.
The problem for pubs is that, even if I was capable of shrugging it off, it’s still more trouble than I can be bothered with when all I want is somewhere to sit. I love pubs — proper pubs — but because of this kind of thing, they lose my custom to places such as Pizza Express or Costa Coffee, where I’ve never been harassed while eating or drinking on my own.
When I do go to pubs on my own, I’ve got good at selecting places which are (groan) female-friendly. I don’t especially like tea-lights, cushions and soft rock, but they seem to be off-putting to the kind of bloke I’ve been bothered by in the past. It’s also helpful to be able to see in before I walk through the door — if there are other women drinking there, I’ll probably be OK. If it’s all male, I walk on by.
But, going back to the situation described above, what would actually help is if one of his mates, the publicans or their bar staff had the sensitivity and/or nerve to say, when they see Casanova working up to make his move: “Oi, Bert — leave the lady alone!”
On Twitter, a few women told us they were comfortable in pubs on their own, while others said it depended where: London is fine, but rural areas less so. Others talked about using a book as a shield and hiding out of sight in the hope of avoiding attention. Again, I wonder if the lounge was such a bad idea after all…