Friends, it’s been a rough couple days.
Sometimes, you know, life (especially in this city) is a contact sport, complete with tears and bruises and existential crises that cause you to questions your life path and purpose.
For me, the final blow came last night in the form of some minor tax drama. It’s all going to be ok, the IRS isn’t upset with me and life will go on. But walking home, I was very frustrated and upset. In fact, if we’re being honest (and I’d like to think that we are) I was holding back tears.
As I turned onto my quiet street, I was fuming and just counting the seconds until I could get into my building and cry it out in private. And I was walking in the street because sometimes that feels better than the sidewalk (anyone?) and a guy on a bike rode past. And he said ‘Hey girl, what’s good? I can turn that frown upside down.’
I mumbled ‘fuck off’ under my breath and kept walking. But now I wasn’t exactly able to keep from crying because on top of my own grown up issues, I had just been objectified and harassed on my own fucking street.
Let me be clear about something: I like compliments. It isn’t always easy to accept them gracefully, but sincere compliments (especially from people whose opinion I value) are totally lovely. And you know what, when I put in the extra effort to get my lip stick just right and brush my hair and put together a super cute outfit, I appreciate a little reinforcement. But when a stranger on the street makes a comment like this, it is not a compliment.
Men make these kinds of remarks to women on the street because our culture teaches us that women’s bodies are not their own. It teaches us that we have the authority to make judgments about their appearance, that we have the right to vocalize those judgments, and that we can use their appearance to make reasonable deductions about their personalities (note*: this is connected to rape culture and the idea that rape victims who dress sexy were asking for it.) All people have thoughts in their heads about other people, but it is women who have thoughts vocalized at them the most. Because the culture allows for that. And from there, it’s a hop skip and a jump to folks thinking that, since our bodies aren’t our own, they have a right to touch us and/or react aggressively when we don’t respond with gratitude. Because in a culture that teaches women that their intrinsic value is directly and inextricably linked to their appearance, we all must just be salivating for proof that we are beautiful, and grateful when we receive that validation.
But feeling like my body is not my own is not a compliment. Especially when I know how often ‘Girl you’re fine’ quickly takes a turn towards ‘You’re a bitch/slut/whore!’ when I do not react or do not react positively (or when your body isn’t what your harassers assumed.) People who think you are an object they can comment on freely can’t possibly treat your with the full amount of respect that a human deserves. And in my case, last night, that guy was not interested in any of the possible reasons why I was upset. He saw me as a thing. Because without some extended experience with tax laws and financial experience, it is not at all true that he’d be able to ‘turn my frown upside down.’ But no matter, a sexual object doesn’t have a real life or other needs, so in his mind all I needed was some dick.
Sorry to take it there. But if that offended you, then you should ask some ladies in your life the kind of filth that’s gotten hurled at them in public. My incident last night was relatively tame, and since I kept quiet and kept walking it did not escalate. And it can escalate, drastically. We live in a world where women walk fast with their eyes down and sometimes cross the street to avoid large groups of men-folk because public space isn’t as safe for us. And this is not the same situation as a legit flirtation, with eye contact and a sly smile and reciprocated interest, so please don’t complain about never being able to express your attraction in public. Be a grown up, it’s not that hard to figure out when someone is also into you and open to a conversation.
If you want to read more about how this makes women feel, Google it. There are lots of brilliantly written pieces and organizations like Hollaback! attempting to tackle this very real safety concern. If you are a male-bodied person and still confused, ask a sister or a mom or a girl friend how she feels walking home alone at night. I’ll bet she thinks about turning her music down and glancing behind her and making sure her keys are ready. If that sounds weird, it’s because it is. Women walk around with a heightened sense of caution, a knowledge that some people see us without respecting or empathizing with our humanity. It sucks to think that a whole portion of the population sees me, and women in general, as nothing more than a vessel for their fantasies and an object to satisfy their desires. Last night was already going to be a drag, but that small reminder that I must always remain vigilant was the last straw. I was tired, I was frustrated, and I was unable to keep it together.* I cried, I poured myself a strong drink, and for the rest of the night I distracted myself with my contempt for the show Glee (this whole Funny Girl storyline is the WORST!) If you are a male bodied person and you’ve never felt this kind of tiredness, if you’ve never felt this kind of vigilance necessary, ponder on your privilege. And if you’ve ever been street harassed and would like to share your experience, please comment. Sharing is caring. Let’s take care of each other.
*Shout out to Pepper, who let me cry about my taxes etc and then watched me yell at the TV without complaint. ❤