“Hey, gorgeous,” he says. I speed up my pace; he follows me. “I just want to talk to you.”
The next one stands right in front of me. “Just give me two minutes,” he says. “I only want to talk to you.”
“You’ve got a pretty smile,” another says with a creeping grin. “Come and talk to me.” He tries to grab my arm. I walk away, as fast as I can.
These interactions happen on a regular basis. Often it’s the usual, the leery-beery tiresome street harassment of daily life, the drunks, the creeps, the men who want to make women feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes, they are not. The men in the incidents outlined above are wearing bibs and told to harass women in the street by major charities. The techniques employed are identical. The objectifying icebreaker. The assertion that they “only want to talk”. The unwanted contact, the grabbing, the following.
The only differences between “chugging” and bog-standard street harassment is the bib, and the fact that you know exactly what it is that the chugger wants.
Having lived and worked in central London for several years now, I have had plenty of contact with chuggers, and witnessed many other incidents. I’ve noticed that the men always go for women, and the women for men. I’ve noticed they pick off people walking alone rather than groups. I’ve noticed they don’t really like to take “no” for an answer.
And I wonder, do such tactics actually work?
It costs the charities a lot of money, outsourcing their fundraising to other companies. It costs the charities money dealing with cancelled direct debits. Is there really much net gain from employing tactics which are at best incredibly annoying?
On a personal level, I disinclined to engage with a man who follows me and shouts at me. I get it enough on a daily basis that I really couldn’t give two shits if that man is doing it to get a bit of money for a spa for blind donkeys rather than to try to have sex with me or frighten me or tell me he likes the bounce of my walk. It’s all the same to me. It’s unwanted contact with a man who will not let me be.
When I have a man standing in front of me, blocking my movement, breathing rum-fumes in my face as he asks for my number, I find the smell of rum turns my stomach and renders me unable to enjoy mojitos for a while. It is exactly the same when a man stands in front of me, blocking my movement, wearing an Action Aid bib and asking for my number. It kind of makes me hostile towards Action Aid, as I associate the charity with ugly patriarchal harassment.
I wonder, are chuggers trained to do this? Are they told, perhaps, to flirt a bit, to break the ice? If so, they are going about it in completely the wrong way, rendering themselves indistinguishable from the oppression of day-to-day walking while female. It is a grotesque parody of social interaction, nothing more than low-level stalking with all of the emotional intelligence of a particularly obnoxious wasp. The only way I could remotely imagine such tactics could possibly be effective is that some people will acquiesce to the chugger’s demand and give up money to make them go away.
If that is the case, charities really need to ask themselves whether doing this is worth it. I simply cannot get on board with any charity that pays men money to harass me in the street. For one, it’s fucking unpleasant. On top of that, there are plenty of men who will do that for free.
Charity is supposed to be nice and good. So why are they paying to upset women?