From a very young age we are told to stay close to our parents, not to speak to strange men in the park, or by the toilets, not to walk down alleyways… The girls in my family were raised with the mantra, “If you’re lost, ask a lady with a baby, if you can’t find a lady ask a policeman”.
My mum remembers the other kids on the street warning each other to stay away from the priest from the church at the top of the road back in the 40s. We all had certain teachers we gave a wide berth in the 70s and 80s. We viewed the rhododendron bushes in the park with suspicion, we knew that bad men in raincoats lurked there- indeed sometimes one of our number would spring from the bushes clutching a few torn pages of a ‘men’s magazine’ and we would gawp at the tacky- sometimes literally- pictures inside.
We don’t like to say it, but all women know that men wank in public…
no, Tarquin, obviously not all men… yes, I expect there probably has been a case of a woman doing it… yes, point taken, Tarquin…
I’ll say it again. MEN WANK IN PUBLIC.
This is one of the very many good reasons that women need spaces away from bepenised persons AKA men. This is one of the very good reasons that we need to be able to name these bepenised persons AKA men. It doesn’t matter if he’s sporting fetching pink lippy, a moustache, a Man United football kit or none of the above. It doesn’t matter if he’s drawn to all things glittery and girly or he has a beer gut and drives a freight lorry for a living.
It is bepenised persons AKA men that feel the need to play with their knob in public and it’s bepenised persons AKA men that need to be kept out of women’s toilets, changing rooms, public pools, refuges, prisons.
As smallest wrote on a piece of paper a few weeks ago (while she was supposed to be doing her maths homework) “If a person has a peanus it’s a man!”
We cannot deny the reality of this, because to deny the reality of this is to make it impossible to record the data that chronicles sex crimes against women.
So far, I’ve been writing fairly lightheartedly about the subject, which may seem as if I’m overlooking one important point:
The Wanking Man is not funny.
Last week a Tweet went viral after a woman posted a video of a man filming in her local gym while an unaware woman in front of him did squats. The man was also masturbating as he filmed her. In the gym.
26k retweets later, Virgin Active had terminated his membership. At least I presume it was his membership. What they actually said was ‘Hi! He has been terminated with immediate affect and will not be able to join Virgin Active again.’
Some men… yes, I know Tarquin, not all men… seemed to find the whole thing hilarious. Comments included ‘can’t even blame him’ which got 350 likes; ‘Homie was just hittin’ arm day’ got 478. ‘Virgin active – clearly!’ got 3.8k likes.
When a few women stepped in to observe that men were gros, however, the light-hearted banter stopped and the righteous indignation began.
I am led to wonder how Matt knows that he doesn’t have a single friend who would touch themselves in public.
Because, as @Passie_Kracht observed, somebody’s doing it, that’s for sure.
“This is what men do in gyms.” tweeted Passie. “Yeah yeah, not all men. It doesn’t HAVE to be all men, dudes! Just one who goes viral is enough to remind all women mixed gyms are not safe for us.”
And in response she received over 100 responses, most of which were women telling their own stories.
This inspired me to set up a twitter poll of my own. What percentage of women had experienced ‘the Wanking Man’? I was surprised how many of the women replying to Passie’s thread had first met him as children.
When I was about nine, a man in the park had tried to persuade my little sister to go for a walk with him but I’d chased him off. So I suppose that doesn’t count. We were on the beach about a year later when a man walked past us with his penis poking out of the top of his trunks. He touched it, but he wasn’t exactly masturbating. Does that count? It wasn’t until I was fourteen that a boy in the locker room at school masturbated in front of me and asked me to ‘touch it, please’. Fast forward eighteen years (and several wanking men) and my sister and I were in the local park at sunset with my toddler when we heard and saw a man masturbating in the bushes near the swings. Determined to put him off his stroke, we started singing “Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff” at the top of our voices.
So when you look at the results of this poll, remember they don’t include the myriad of men who’ve committed minor or major assaults against women; the men who rub up against us on the tube or who follow us just to try to scare us a little.
This poll was purely concerned with the Wanking Man, and the result astonished me.
2,734 women responded to the poll.
SEVENTY PERCENT of respondents had encountered the Wanking Man.
FIFTY THREE PERCENT – over half of all the women who answered the poll – first experienced the Wanking Man as children: age fifteen or younger.
Just THIRTY PERCENT of women who replied to the poll had never experienced the Wanking Man.
Here are a selection of the 106 replies to Passie’s comment that ‘almost all women and most girls have experienced this’:
Was a nanny to two small children and man in motorcycle helmet appeared while we were alone in a park. Around 5 times since including when alone in train carriage at night and walking down a side street in Clapham on a sunny sunday afternoon..
I was eleven & he knew my early morning paper round route & would regularly be waiting for me.
At the beach with my sister. She was 9, I was 12.
6 years old.. in a tiny village school that took kids up to aged 15 if they didn’t make the grade for High School. He was 15.
I was three with my very heavily pregnant mum. There have been a few other subsequent times.
First time, I was 10……he was all red-faced and slightly drunk, just wandering up the road about 2 minutes walk from our house Couple of years later, my sister & I were confronted by a young-ish bloke while walking through an area awaiting demolition (so lots empty houses)
Age 9 a man parked in the car next to us looking at women and girls. Age 11 on a school trip man in opposite hotel window looking at us young girls. Age 19 man in street.
It was gross, this guy used to wank himself waiting for the Wellington train. Wore a boiler suit for easy access. Probably 16 back then.
I would have been 11, with some school friends. He was watching us while he did it.
When I was 11, playing in the woods with a friend. He’d taken his trousers and underpants off and was sitting on a big rock. Asked us if we’d like to touch his penis.
I was a little kid just sitting at the back of the bus when I saw a bloke wanking for the first time. I have seen it many times since. On the subway in NYC, in a unisex loo in Paris, on a coastal walkway in Sydney, on and on and on.
18. Was trying to take a nap and heard this incessant shuffling outside. Kept thinking it would pass. Finally got up and looked out of my apartment window to an older man carrying his groceries in one hand and wanking with the other.
was about 18 or so, walking back to college at dusk in Oxford. It was in a quiet street, he came out of nowhere.
18 walking to the supermarket. He made some disturbing comments about my genitalia as I walked past
9. I was cornered in the showers at the swimming baths. My older cousin pulled me away and reported him,I remember having to talk to the police about it and getting asked lots of embarrassing questions. I didn’t know what he was doing at the time.
Right out in the open, sitting spread eagle on a blanket at Jones Beach in NY. Children everywhere as it was summer. I could barely find the words to tell the lifeguards what was going on behind him.
I was 12. He was standing on the other side of the fence round the netball court
11 on my way home from school, he was hiding in bushes by the bus stop. Someone told one of the nuns (Catholic school) and she chased him off repeatedly hitting him with a hockey stick!
On a late night train. Only me and him in the carriage. Him staring at me. Gross and a bit frightening because I had no idea what he would do next.
When I was young there were small, Victorian parks between our houses & where the beach started. This kind of behavior from men in the parks was so common none of (us) even used to mention (it) at home.
Around my 14th birthday on the beach in HI. Mom did not believe until we saw the man another night on a crowded street when he yelled out, ‘hey (my name) did you like what you saw?’
Another masturbated against my shoulder when I was sitting on a train in Paris. I was in my early twenties, and terrified. And others have exposed themselves to me. I’ve lost count of those.
19. In local park. Man sitting on bench. Watching me.
It’s happened so many times… first time I was about 8, in the cinema. Then again on a beach at 9. Then several times once I hit puberty at 12/13/14. Then ‘the wanker’ that used to come and stand outside my window, wanking, whilst I was studying for A levels. Every day.
And here are some of the 89 comments women left below my poll:
Gave evidence in trial (via video link) when I was about 12. Had a chap wanking next to me and a bunch of other school kids on the tube. I remember it was very weird and confusing for us. We didn’t know whether to find it funny or not.
16 in left luggage dept at the station; sisters 9 & 11 playing at the park.
The first time I was flashed I was about 12. The worst incident was when I was in my 20s, on a train going into Charing Cross. He was a few seats back, muttering, at first I thought he was having a conversation with someone but then I realised we were alone & what he was doing.
In a hedge aged 11, on the tube in late teens, once in a New York church..and at least twice more I can recall
The woods at the back of my school playground, at 8 in the morning. He was wearing nothing but a plastic monster mask. I was 13 or 14.
The man who was supposed to be painting our windows lay across the window sill and wanked I was sitting indoors doing homework when I looked up and saw what he was doing.
16 walking home from college. He was in the front seat of a car in Broad daylight with a tabloid newspaper. Next time age 21, on a tube at night, staring right at me with one hand through his coat pocket. I got off early as I felt really upset and scared, he continued to stare.
At first I thought never, then I remembered the guy who sat next to me on a bus as I was going to work who started to masturbate while touching my leg. I was in my 30’s. I wonder how many other incidents I’ve deliberately forgotten, how many we all have.
First time I was 14. the number is now 4. Next time I’m going to knock him out hard!
10ish down at the Glen with my pals (happened several times over the years). 16 in Princes Square Gardens on a school trip. The boys chased him. Uncountable times over the decades.
7, in the park with my pal, he actually came out from behind a bush wearing a flasher-mac, like the creepy stereotype he was. We ran all the way home, too young to understand, but we knew we had to get away from him.
When I was about 20 I went to an empty cinema on my own in New York City in the afternoon. A big man sat directly next to me, and began wanking. I tried to stick it out, as it were, intending to start screaming if he touched me, but I ran away instead and missed seeing the film. Too cowardly to go to management.
These men know what they are doing, please dont blame yourself for not doing the “right thing”.
I grew up in London in the 70s, making frequent use of parks, pools, buses and trains, and walked a lot. First saw a man doing it when I was 9, at Goose Green, after that I encountered at least 10 more before I was 16. My best friend had the same experiences, and we used to tell each other about them. I think it happened to us a lot more than girls from wealthier families because neither sets of parents had a car, and both sets were out at work, so we were in public places on our own a lot, esp during the summer hols.
Wanking man sounds funny, but these are flashers. Wanking sounds like it is just something they’re doing, when the aim is to intimidate and distress women and girls. Men don’t just wank in public, they expose themselves to women and girls.
Thank you for doing the survey. Women are rarely asked about these things. I was first flashed at at 14 when a huge man chased me down the street masturbating. It was terrifying because the steet was completely empty.
Flashing is connected to rape too. Many rapists start out as flashers then progress to even worse crimes.
The worst encounter was at a children’s Christmas bbq in a public park. Old man standing near the kids obviously wanking through shorts pocket. So blatant. Slithered away before the cops arrived.
I remember a regular flasher-wanker in the road where I lived when I was 21. He used to half-hide himself, so I might not have noticed him if it were not for the fact he always parked a Mini nearby with all its doors open. Of course that attracted my attention the first time: had it been dumped? Broken into? Then I’d see him. He was an exhibitionist, playing this game of,”Will you look? Will you see me? Where am I this time?” I would instinctively look, wanting to know how close to me he was, in which case he could kid himself I was interested in him. I’d be wary of a man in a women-only space for the same reason. He actively wants to be noticed; spectators increase his pleasure.
I’ve been fortunate not to meet or see a wanking man. I was warned they were about and to keep myself as safe as I could….
However, age 8, I had a man stop me in the street and start to whisper sweet nothings in my ear as I froze whilst his disgusting dirty hands were stroking my neck and then circling it and slowly, squeezing tighter and tighter.
I could see ADULTS (women and men) watching frozen….doing nothing.
A 9 yr old male school friend was the only one to have the presence of mind to call out that my mum was coming. The man by this time had lifted me up off the ground….with hands around my neck. I remember the visceral fear as my vision was punctuated by black dots….and then I was suddenly dropped. My friend grabbed me and ran to my home (which was yards away but not in sight) and was able to tell my parents what had happened. The police were called and knew who the man was – but never found him.
As an adult:
Shepherd’s Bush, grabbed again around my neck in public and dragged to the island in the middle of a busy road, opposite to where I was going. I managed to twist out of his grip and run back the way I was going as fast as possible. It was due to too much traffic that he was forced to stop with me in his hold.
Near my home in middle of winter, early evening, a man stops me under pretext of needing money for bus home. To shut him up gave him a pound. He then demands my phone number. I pretend I have no way to give it to him. I daren’t run – he could catch me easily. He then goes into a restaurant behind us which has a huge plate glass window so he can see me. He is looking for pen and paper….I sidle slowly out of sight and then take to my heels. Half way home, I have to literally hide inside a bush to catch my breath as my bursting lungs are too painful for me to keep running. I am on high alert watching for anyone coming down the lonely path in the pitch darkness….once I am sure I am alone and have my breath back, I run home. I nearly have a fit when my husband arrives home earlier than expected.
On a crowded underground train, a man takes full advantage by rubbing up against me and grabbing me from behind in an intimate area he had no right to even think about. He got a sharp stiletto heel pushed down into his foot. The strangled yelp of pain was music to my ears.
You asked specifically about wankers. How about another survey re having your breast groped by boys walking past as you go home in school uniform/having your Crotch grabbed by a French train attendant/having erect penises thrust at you on crowded tube trains/ having senior men in your workplace stand in front of your chair,penis inches from your face, as they peer down your blouse/etc? Yes,it really makes me keen to share spaces where I might be semi or fully naked with a penis. Yea,yea,not ALL men
Part of the point of this article was that it dealt specifically and solely with instances of men who masturbated in public. If other incidents were added to the list I’m sure the numbers would be far more damning. There’s definitely a need for more research in this area. Agreed, women’s single-sex spaces should remain exactly that- single sex.
Women and children and the elderly are now prey for men.
Age 19, at university, mid-afternoon, on a weekday. In a wooded area of campus, a man (in a raincoat) asked me the time, so I checked my watch, and just as I looked up, I saw he had his penis out, in his hand. Just in that split second.
Turned around fast and ran away in the direction I came from. I didn’t have the presence of mind to do anything else.
When I got older, I discovered an easy way to embarrass the offender. No need to keep it quiet. Say something loud to them, especially in a crowded bus or on the sidewalk. “Why do you have your PENIS out?? Are you MASTURBATING first thing in the morning, before going to work?”