“Upskirting” is the latest addition to the English language, proving its ability to condense a complicated process into one snappy word. It means nothing less than “taking a photo of underneath a person’s skirt without their consent, often in public places”. The official definition gains extra gravitas from the added warning, “This can cause emotional distress for a long time after it has happened”. Well, there is an alternative to distress. Surely if an ill-advised male came sufficiently close to me to commit this idiotic act, he would also be close enough for me to kick him into flight. No, I’m not a brutal amazon, just an ordinary female getting tired of women complaining when they could take positive action.
I know what I am talking about. Many years ago one fine summer evening around 8 p.m. I was walking home in a respectable part of West London when a man leapt out from behind a tall garden wall and dragged me into the garden. He was Scottish, he was very drunk, and he kept muttering about the so-and-so who’d done him wrong, all of which made my prospects dim. So I talked to him and maintained eye contact, as instructed by self-help manuals, until he began to cry and asked me to take him to the police station. This, I felt, was not my job and ran home fast.
The next day I enrolled at a self-defence class for women. There were ten of us of all ages and sizes and the instructor was a very capable girl. I was paired with a six-foot-tall Frenchwoman who lifted and swung me over her shoulder as if I had been a shawl. We went on for a few weeks, but then the group shrank until it was no longer viable and the few remaining members were offered to train with a men’s group. Three of us volunteered. The men treated us with the utmost tenderness; for the only time in my life I felt like a piece of priceless china; this also meant that we didn’t learn any self-defence skills, and that was the end of that. Nowadays I carry a little alarm gadget that utters a sound as shrill as a police siren. I fear its effects on my hearing, never mind that of my attacker.
Upskirting is an illegal offence in Scotland, not in England or Wales, but likely to become so under the heading of voyeurism or indecency. And so it should be. There are enough camera phones around to justify a little censorship. Anyway, this seems to be a camera-mad time, with selfies spreading like an epidemic and highly resistible family photos trailing every other e-mail. However, I’ve just come across a story from the 10th century BCE which cheered me up enormously, because it shows that a version of upskirting was practised already then, moreover by the wisest and most powerful of men, namely King Solomon himself.
When a visit from the Queen of Sheba was due, Solomon had a glass floor laid from the entrance to his throne. The Queen mistook the glass for water and lifted the hem of her dress, uncovering her legs which, to Solomon’s consternation, were as hairy as that of a goat; worse still, the Queen had one normal foot and one goat’s hoof. Solomon actually reprimanded his visitor for this anomaly; this, to my mind, was not only unwise but very rude and unfeeling as well. All right, Solomon had up to 20 main wives and 80 to 100 secondary wives, numbers which obviously lowered the value of women, but surely a visiting Queen should have received special treatment.
However, I shouldn’t have worried, because despite all the above in due course the Queen of Sheba gave birth to Solomon’s son, called Menelik, which means “son of the Wise”. So this 3000-year-old ancient scandal of the upskirting glass floor ultimately led to a happy outcome.
Of course these days women have to worry about the glass ceiling, not the glass floor. But that’s another story.