I was ‘tooted’ on the way to work this morning. Walking up Dalston Lane, I was staring up at a building I’d never noticed before, wondering whether it might be a church, when a small blue van slowed down a little as it passed and tooted its horn.I find the man-toots-woman such a curious communication between human beings. What on earth does it mean? I really wonder what passes through (most often) a man’s head when he beeps at a woman walking down the street. What is he trying to say? What does he want to communicate?: “Hello”? “I think you’re pretty”? “I’m in a good mood and just fancied tooting my horn?”
When it’s happened before, I have never been wearing anything outrageously provocative. I usually am wearing a dress, granted, but my dresses are all knee length and a bit odd. I’m not unpleasant to look at, but neither do I consider myself toot-worthy in the grand scheme of things. I don’t object to being tooted at on feminist grounds, or even because it completely objectifies women as sexual objects. I just don’t get it.
The woman doesn’t have a chance to react, so the driver can’t be doing it to call attention to himself. I am very unlikely to go running down the street in hot pursuit of a transit van to get a date with the guy who happens to have tooted his horn at me. Perhaps Mr Toot seeks a moment of freedom; self-expression without the risk of retaliation?
It’s all the more confusing since tooting a car horn is a universally confusable signal. It can mean “you’re an idiot” in road rage, “I fancy you” at a pedestrian or “I’m coming round the hairpin corner and I can’t see what’s coming, watch out!” The context makes the toot make sense.
My housemate in Vancouver would toot her horn enthusiastically if she thought someone didn’t know she was there. This lead to several people tooting their horns angrily back at her, as if to say “you’re an idiot.” My Spanish housemate would toot to tell pedestrians they could cross the road in front of her, but I’d most often see them leap back onto the pavement as they understood it to mean “watch out!”.
In the moments that passed after my ‘beeping’ all these thoughts zoomed through my head. I turned round to see if I could still chase the van down to get some answers – and it had already stopped a few yards down the road, pulled up onto the curb… the driver was leaning out the window, talking animatedly to a friend of his.
So much for beeping at me!