there are women out there who reject the term feminist, and i just cannot understand why.
there was a time when i was semi flattered by passing compliments on the street. i don’t mean classy compliments – which i’ve only ever received once, a few years back, and it is a golden little memory that i treasure. but i mean the trashy, low class, sleazy comments. there was a time when i thought, “well, at least i’m pretty enough to comment on. i guess.” i was always, however, irritated by random strangers, usually men, insisting that i smile. “smile, it can’t be that bad.” dude, you know precisely jack shit about me and my life. you don’t know if i have cancer. you don’t know if i’m on my way to my mother’s funeral. you don’t know if i have a blister that really hurts and i need to get home and take my shoes off. you do not know anything, and perhaps you should keep your opinion of what i should be doing with my face to yourself. perhaps you should just leave me alone and let me be. i wondered if this attitude made me unfriendly, and if the smile army had some kind of point.
i didn’t understand until recently that the term for this behavior is street harrassment. i didn’t understand that it is not at all a comment on how attractive you are – it’s a comment on the fact that you, as a woman, are obviously there on the street for a man’s appraisal and approval at all moments. it’s a threat. it’s to make sure you know your place, you know that even running an errand or getting home from work, you are not safe from an unwanted advance. i didn’t understand that commands to smile are commentary on how women, to some, should always be pleasant and pleasing, and how dare i be anything but. i didn’t understand that this phenomenon is a direct result of institutionalized patriarchy and repression. now, i do.
most of the time, i know the wisest response, the thing that will not cause any ruckus, is to walk right on by and not engage. and you know, deep down, i’m just really not ok with that, not even the tiniest bit. that is a tacit agreement that this behavior is ok. that you’re somehow allowed to assert yourself in my sphere of existence in an offensive way and that i am somehow ok with it. i am not fucking ok with it. and so, i’ve taken to shouting back at street harrassers. it really depends on how frustrated or stressed i am with other things going on, how i’ll react.
today there was a group of 3 guys standing around on a stoop as i walked home from the train. i honestly can’t remember everything they said as i walked by, but the smile commanding was part of it. it’s rainy and the first day back after a long weekend and hot and humid and disgusting and yes, i shouted back. i asked them why they thought anyone cared what the fuck they had to say. i shouted at them to shut up. i kept walking, turning around to yell my replies through more and more raucous laughter and more and more comments. there was a woman walking next to me – i looked her in the face, but she kept her eyes dead ahead and wouldn’t meet my gaze. i accept that i possibly seemed like an insane person, but that too was a sad reminder of how alone i was in the moment.
i barely turned my corner before i was letting out small gasps to keep from crying. in my anger, i thought some nasty racist, classist things – that’s shameful and not ok, but it’s the truth. i thought about carrying an umbrella, or better, a bat with me every day, so i could stop ineffectively shouting and instead start ACTUALLY responding when these things happen. less shameful, but still a little shameful and also true. i thought that i would really like to get out of this neighborhood, and why don’t i have the money to do that? i felt disgusting, ugly, worthless, and stupid. i considered walking back to where they were, tears in my eyes and trying to explain why this is fucked up, why it’s not ok to do this to women, to anyone. and i realized i would look even crazier, and they wouldn’t care.
i walked in and tweeted a few things about it and several of my friends were kind and supportive in return. the bouncer came home, was surprised to find me so upset, and also seemed surprised when i told him this is not the first time something like this has happened, though it doesn’t normally escalate. he wondered why i hadn’t told him about any other time. and i answered, “because it’s just a thing that happens.”
he told me right away that if i feel unsafe we should not be here. and i don’t. i don’t feel like anything bad will happen to me and i don’t feel in danger. i am sad that i can’t just make my way home from work peacefully. i’m sad that the world we live in allows and and supports this bullshit behavior. i’m sad at how remarkably shitty it feels to be on the receiving end of it, when i’d love to just brush it off. i’m sad that my response, my anger, my disallowance of it is a joke to them. i am just something to be laughed at.
i’m tempted to, but i won’t apologize for how issue ridden and feminist ranty this is of me. maybe similar things have affected you and maybe they haven’t, but tonight, this tore at my soul a little.