TL;DR: Creepers be creepin’/If you’re a girl you should only be in a place if you look nice. And if you look nice, you can’t be left alone. P.S. Goin on vaycayyy wuttt!
I’ve been sitting on parts of this post for a week. I’ve been sitting on other parts of it for the better part of a couple years, in the hopes that my anger around them would dissipate, lest I run the risk of being more feminist killjoy than funny feminist killjoy. Nevertheless, I think I’ve reached a point in my life where I must come to terms with this rage that lives within me, much to the chagrin of friends and writing instructors who have advised I “tone it down” or people will tune me out. Because what I have to say is important. In the words of someone wise (Ron Swanson, prolly ): The louder you shout, the less people listen.
However, I feel that I (and you) must now accept this truth: my fury is part of my charm.
And I’m pissed. I’m pissed that I can’t sit on a bench alone in this (or maybe any) city.
Last Saturday: I was meeting a friend to go to a comedy show. She’s Canadian but has been here long enough to catch the fever of casualness that plagues this great nation. In other words: girl was late. I was hungry, so while I waited for her I grabbed a ham & cheese croissant and a can of Aquarius (the superior European version of Gatorade) and found a bench.
After putting away that sandwich in what must have been the most erotic fashion, covering myself in flakes of carbohydrate, a man saw me from across the sidewalk. He stopped, and looked at me as I flicked crumbs off of my tits. As I was at the height of sexiness, he sat next to me, smiling. I had my phone out and headphones in, but even through my billionth replay of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” I could hear him insisting I tell him my name, his body twisted and angled toward mine.
Finally, after his seventh or eighth ¿como te llamas?, without looking up from my phone, I said, “I don’t speak Spanish.”
Now, this is a method that has about a seventy five percent success rate. It nearly always works to stave off folks with clipboards who try to grab me by the bank account on my way to work. But creepiness knows no language barriers. This man, impervious to my lies, said, “Oh, that’s ok! I speak English. And French. And German.”
Next time I’ll try Portuguese. Actually, I don’t know why that hasn’t occurred to me before. It would work back home in the States, too. But in any event, when my defenses are up, it’s difficult to speak even my native tongue let alone languages wherein I’m merely a visitor.
This man, in spite of my best efforts to wield some telekinetic powers and oust his ass Carrie-style, stayed there, growing exasperated at my refusal to acknowledge him. The longer he stayed, the further my heart crept up my chest, nearly reaching my mouth. When my Aquarius and patience ran out, I stood up to get rid of my can and vacate his field of vision, saying, “I’m just not really interested…”
I don’t remember whether I softened it with an apology. But I hope to fuck I didn’t. At this point, he got up, tossed his hands in the air and said, “It’s fine, no problem!” He repeated this to himself as he walked up the street and into a corner store.
Relieved I didn’t have to abandon my bench after all, (yes, it was mine. I was there first. Finders keepers. Manifest Destiny. America. Shut up) I sat back down. It was as if a cop car with flashing lights and blaring sirens had just passed me after lurking in my rearview mirror. Tension cascaded down my body and out through my toes.
Like the good little millennial that I am, I opened up Facebook chat to air my grievances to a fellow feminist, seven time zones away.
“My name is none of your business,” I vented, “and I don’t like being made to feel like a bitch for keeping that information to myself.”
“You have a right to your solitude,” she said.
Then this dude came back, his arms full of cheap beer. He asked if I wanted to watch the football match with him. I stuck with my previous method: ignore your problems and they will go away. This fine gentleman whistled at me as if I were a disobedient dog. When he finally realized his charms were no match for my ice queen demeanor, he grunted and went inside.
I was shaken, but not unaccustomed to this. My friend showed up eventually and I relayed the fiasco to her. She responded with a knowing, “ugh. Ew.”
We went to the comedy show, which was MC’d by personal friend. And it was ace. There were two female comics. (!) One of them made her debut. (!!) The lady who was popping her comedy cherry did this bit about being a black woman dating in Spain. And she killed it. Like, slit its throat, slaughtered, no-mercy, effin’ murdered it. I went home all inspired on this feminist high like, woo, yeah, funny women talking about real shit!
Then the next day I sat on another bench. And I got a lot of writing done and it was lovely and no one bothered me at all.
This one was significantly older than the first. The age of the fellow from the day before was difficult to gauge; he looked about forty but he could have been one of those people to whom time hadn’t been kind. But this new guy had deep ripples etched into his leather skin, splaying outward from his nose like a black firework. An erratic beard of varying shades of gray. (Coulda been 50, but who’s counting?)
I’d all but forgotten about the event from the day before. I was writing in my notebook working on an assignment for this workshop I’m taking. Again, I had my headphones in. This time I was wearing a NASA T-shirt and no makeup. He sat next to me, but on the other side of an armrest that separated parts of the bench. He was far enough for it to seem initially innocuous. But then he had both gargoyle hands wrapped around the metal between us, again his body angled toward me, just like the last one.
I felt his gaze trying to penetrate me. He was silently pleading for my attention. He stared at me as if I was a monument or fountain, waiting for me to pour acknowledgement from my mouth. He knew if he breathed in my direction for long enough I’d look at him. And in an attempt to prove my sanity to myself (no, Train Slut, I’d insisted, you’re being paranoid, this is a fine older gentleman and you are imagining things. He is looking into the distance and you are in the way) I did exactly that.
He seemed to soften and asked if I spoke Spanish. Discomfort wrapped its hands around my throat again and I shook my head no.
“No?” he said. And laughed. He then said something to the effect of well isn’t that convenient and kept his gaze on me for a few more minutes before leaving.
As innocuous as that seems, he did not respect my right to be left the eff alone, when I was clearly not poised to be making conversation. Then got shirty about it.
More than anything, I was angry with myself for not holla-ing back. For letting them intimidate me into silence. For considering leaving those benches to get away. For putting up with shit that I don’t tolerate when it’s done to people around me. (I have a good track record for telling dudes to fuck off when they creep on surrounding lady-folk. I once grabbed a creeper by the ear and threw him off a bus for touching up my friend.)
Then I got angry with myself for getting angry with myself, because who knows what the first guy would have done had I called him out. And it shouldn’t be my responsibility to defeat street harassment when all I want to do is eat a sandwich or write in my notebook. Alone. I shouldn’t have to go around educating/slaying/entertaining motherfuckers just because I have the audacity to be a woman in public.
I feel like I shouldn’t have to point out why all of this is problematic, but I can hear someone out there saying, “those dudes were just trying to be nice,” “they didn’t do anything that bad,” “you should be flattered,” and my personal favorite, “you just can’t take a compliment.”
No. Sexualizing me against my will is not a compliment. Violating right to peace and safety in the spaces I occupy is not flattery. Telling me I look so much better when I smile is not some sort of accolade. Demanding my attention when I just want to hang out by myself just ain’t cool, man. This might come as a shock, but I do not exist for your pleasure.
And anyway, I’ve had an equal number of experiences that taught me I shouldn’t be in public at all unless it was for the benefit of men. But the most jarring and explicit happened a few years ago at a bar designed to resemble a pirate ship. (The amount of available booty never disappoints. I’ve had me shivers timbered there on several occasions.)
I was with a few friends, gin & tonic in hand, when this fellow I simply was not interested in gave his best efforts to chat me up. I, not in the mood, did nothing more than be slightly aloof toward him until it got to the point where he said, “así que ¿no queires nada conmigo?” Essentially meaning, you’re just not interested, are you? Unwilling to compromise my night to ward off man tears, I was basically like, yeah, nah bro. (Like, seriously, what was I supposed to do, pretend to like you so I didn’t hurt your feelings? Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to, sir.)
His (much better looking tbh) friend saw this exchange then approached me all smiles. Some small talk ensued. Then he said, “I’m going to say something that might be a little bit violent.” (He literally used the word violent.) I, in my drunken curiosity, said, “go on.”
“You are very pretty,” he said, “but if you lost a little weight you would be perfect.”
I said nothing.
“I’m not talking like an insane amount,” he continued, “just a little bit, because seriously you are really pretty.”
I looked down at my glass and strongly considered tossing its contents into his face. But I had the composure to realize that to waste perfectly good alcohol on a dickhead would have been a sin.
The next day I was flooded with what would have been perfect responses: “And you wouldn’t be such an asshole if you kept your mouth shut,” and “Meh, I don’t really care if you want to fuck me. I’d rather have a cheeseburger, anyway.” * takes casual sip of G&T *
But I was there then, not the next day. So what I did was the following: walked away, cried for a bit, texted my fuck buddy. Got laid. I wish I hadn’t used sex to dilute the bitter taste of someone else’s cruelty, but I am not perfect.
This is what happened: I refused the blessing of a man’s attention. As retaliation, his friend reminded me why I should have been grateful for the advances: I don’t conform to some arbitrary (and highly subjective) standard, as such, any amount of interest from a man should be appreciated. (Because my ability to please men is directly correlated to my worth as a human being.) As it is, I take up too much space.
BTW, the very next weekend a dapper young man told me I had great boobs and bought me a shot. So… that’s all I have to say about that.
A few months ago at Trivia Night there was a question regarding a recent study about how much men and women talk. Turns out, women say nearly 20,000 words per day, whereas men spout a mere 7,000. (No word on how much trans* and non-gender conforming folks talk. Hm.)
Indeed, we talk three times as much. You know why? Because we have to say shit at least three times before anyone fucking listens to us.
The horse isn’t dead yet. We need to keep beating it. I offer this flog as my contribution.
In happier news, I am going south tomorrow with a few spectacular humans. BY TRAIN! Booze! Beach! NERD STUFF! There are alcohol-laced stories and self-deprecation on the horizon. Get ready.