On Getting Felt Up

I totally wasn’t gonna make myself write today, given that writing everyday here when I need to write a thesis seems a little lofty. But then something happened that I knew I had to share, and it occurred to me that most likely something will happen everyday that I want to share, cause gender issues being everywhere all the time is PRECISELY THE FUCKING POINT!

Ok, sorry for that angry outburst, but it will seem more acceptable once you hear this story.

Tompkins Square Park (hereafter TSP) was a winter wonderland today. Snow lined branches, trecherous walkways, puppies frolicking, that really bright sunlight that bounces off of an undisturbed white surface. Gorgeous. I was cutting through the park thinking it’d be faster, but since the walkways weren’t shoveled I was taking heavy, laborious steps and so I decided to cut over the 7th street out of a side gate. As I was approaching said gate, I noticed that the man in front of me had stopped walking and was turned towards me. I had my eyes down, trying to step in other people’s boot prints, so I only kind of noticed him.

However, as I got closer, I started to get that feeling that you must know if you’ve ever walked home late at night and heard footsteps behind you, or if you are on an empty subway car and a guys sits right next to you. This fear antenna is programmed into all of us, because from a young age we grow up inundated with the narrative of violence against women. We all know how dangerous men are, and how easily we can get hurt in a world that often condones such acts. Sometimes this is outright, sometimes subversive,  but the sad fact is that even though we all should be able to run ass naked through the park at all hours of the night on any day of the week month or year, we don’t. We know better.

So in any case, as I stepped off the TSP walkway onto the sidewalk, this gross man reached out and squeezed my ass. I was stunned, and turned to give him a disapproving look. I opened my mouth to yell, but something stopped me. I realized I was alone on the street, unable to run, and also that he looked vaguely drunk and not a little dangerous. So I turned back around and continued towards Ave A.

His actions were not flattering. They were a declaration that my body belonged to him, and that it was his obvious right to judge it, comment on it, and touch it in any way he wanted. Even in the middle of a brightly lit day, he reached out and took without asking. This exact thing happens on larger and smaller scales all day every day. As if it’s completely obvious that all women not only want to be beautiful, but expect you to pass judgement and verbalize said judgement. I was wearing two pairs of pants, a hoodie-vest combo (which is neither appropriate in a snow storm nor cute,) nerdy glasses and a silly winter hat. I know how to be alluring (I am a Scorpio, but more on that later) and trust me, this was not an alluring moment. And even if it was, you still don’t get to comment or touch. I don’t constantly seek male attention every time I leave my apartment and walk down a street. Mostly, I have somewhere to go and something to do. I’m not sure that I should have stayed silent, but I was stunned and afraid and I think it would have taken much more than angry words from one little blond girl to make this asshole see the light. So I urge you, if you are in a situation where you can speak out, do so. Don’t disassociate from your body and allow your personal space, your personal self, to be violated. Any small breach is absolutely violence against you, and violence against all of us.

“However, for women and for children, especially girls, relations of power are often enacted in moments of intimacy, when we are the most vulnerable, in our families, with our parents or lovers, when we should experience the greatest sense of safety. Relations of power between women and men are likewise enacted in public places, when we are at work, or walking the streets, or riding public transportation. These instances also can take on an intimate quality because we experience them as a violation of personal space, or violence against our own person. What I am describing are widely shared experiences affecting the lives of millions of women virtually everywhere in the world… Taken together, in a feminist contest, these experiences can be recognized and named as the politics of trauma. Healing is both individual and collective.” ~ Bettina Aptheker, Intimate Politics

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