****Warning: lots of foul language below.****
Yesterday I had an experience on the main street that runs through my neighborhood. I had been sitting in a cafe for a few hours, doing work, and afterwards I was walking home. A straight shot down Fruitvale Avenue. As I was walking, I heard a man speak up from what sounded like roughly ten feet behind me. Here’s how it went:
Dude behind me: Hey lady… hey mama…
Me: *Keeps walking*
Dude: That wasn’t very respectful of me…hey sexy beautiful woman, whatchyu up to?
Me: *Shakes head, keeps walking*
Dude: Fucking bitch, can’t even talk to me? Fuck you, you fucking cunt! Can’t even take a second to talk to me? Who fucking wants to talk to you anyway, you fucking bitch.…
He screamed more, and it sounded like he had gotten closer, so at this point I duck into a store and pretend to look at T-shirts for 20 minutes. I was shaking. I was scared. My mind was racing. How the hell does this still happen in this day in age? In a town I generally consider so “woke”?
His behavior was upsetting. For obvious reasons. He insisted on me talking to him because he “complimented” me, and when I didn’t give him the attention he wanted, he seared me. Swore at me. Called me the worst names imaginable. That’s obviously all deplorable behavior. I think we can all agree to that.
But what has stuck with me the last 24 hours, what feels even worse, is what went through my own head as he yelled at me:
- “God, I wish I hadn’t worn these cute-ass leggings.”
I had felt pretty that day. I wore some boots, a little black sweater, and some fierce leggings. I felt great until this person was giving me horribly unwanted attention. When I was getting yelled at, I felt so painfully aware of my legging-covered butt wiggling around. I felt like I was some succubus who let all her voluptuous, sinful, woman-bits jiggle about simply to taunt these poor, innocent men around me. I had internalized Rape Culture bullshit into my own mind. Like, what do I expect for wearing something so sexy outdoors?
This is so not ok with me. I shouldn’t have to wear baggy or conservative clothing just to make sure that fuckheads like this don’t yell profanities at me. I shouldn’t have to tame myself in order to make sure I’m not threatened. His behavior is on him. Not me. You absolutely cannot blame my attire for what he choses to do.
I recently saw The Vagina Monologues with a male person I
know knew. There was a monologue by a lady who had been sexually assaulted while wearing a short, black skirt. She wore this black skirt in the monologue and reclaimed her body as her own. Saying things like,“these legs are mine. Not yours, mine.” After the show this male person I went with *sincerely* said to me, regarding this particular monologue, “I don’t understand how she can wear a short skirt and then not want the attention that comes along with it.”
I *sincerely* said to him… “that’s a mighty fine beard you’ve got there. It’s just begging to be kissed. I mean, why else would you have it? We all know that’s what you want, so we all should be entitled to sucking on your face….right?” No. That’s bullshit entitlement. Yes you’ve got a nice beard, yes she’s got a great short skirt on, but y’all have to be *invited* in.
2. I want to yell back at him but I’m scared of looking crazy.
This is another thing that went through my mind in the moment. What if I just turned around and faced this dude, while he’s yelling at me, and scream at him to FUCK OFF….? What if I went storming up to him, called him a crazy ass mother fucker, like he was doing to me – what then? I was scared of doing that because I didn’t want to look “crazy.” If I did do that, I’m sure he’d be all like, “whoa look at this bitch, you’re fuckin crazy, I was just trying to talk to you….” In a perfect world, what I would have said to him was: “you are not entitled to my attention, dude,” but that would have been giving him attention, something I didn’t want to do. So I just shrunk up into a little, tiny, ball of invisible instead. But that makes me angry too. Why can’t *I* yell back?
3. I want to yell at him but I’m scared of getting actually physically hurt by him.
This is why I couldn’t yell back. As my friend Elly put it, if he can go from admiring me to cussing at me in five seconds, what else is he capable of? I’m legitimately scared of men on the street who call me a fucking cunt. Obviously. That shit is scary. I could have been physically hurt in a myriad of ways and I didn’t want that to happen to me. Just a perspective check-in: I’m scared for my life simply because I didn’t give a man on the street the attention he wanted. That’s some straight up bullshit and it’s not ok.
So there’s my experience. I know millions of other women can relate to this all too well. I’ve received this kind of unwanted attention all over the world, in every country I’ve been to, in every kind of neighborhood. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, there is a power imbalance that plagues us and victimizes women and it’s despicable. I know a lot of men in my life that are equally horrified by this and I am grateful for them.
I suppose I would love to know, dear readers, what you do in these situations?