Awhile back, maybe a month or so ago, I stopped to get myself a sandwich for dinner. It had been a long day and I didn’t feel like cooking. I placed my order, and as I stood waiting for my food, a man leaned in next to me and murmured in my ear, “Has anyone told you today how beautiful you are?”
I knew the script. I knew what I was “supposed” to do in this situation: smile, act flattered, thank the stranger for his attention. This isn’t my first time around, and I know what the expectation is of women when we receive catcalls or random attention in public. I was “supposed” to thank this stranger for invading my personal space, even though I didn’t like it or want it. I refused to do it, though. Instead I stepped away and told the guy that he was being creepy, to which he responded, “Oh, I just meant your hair clip is cute, that’s all.”
Yeah, sure you did.
Within a couple of days of my experience, a friend of mine was at a bar when a man persisted in buying her a drink and trying to chat her up. His opening line was along the lines of, “I just wanted to tell you that you have a great rack.” Classy.
I thought about those two instances today when I saw a video about a woman being harassed one hundred times on the street….in one day. It blows me away that anyone would consider this behavior okay. These unwanted interactions can go from the mildly annoying, like my experience while I waited for my sandwich, to the truly scary, like one sunny evening when I walked over to the 7-11 across the street from my apartment complex, only to be approached by a guy who said he’d come into the store because he noticed me walking across the street, thought I was pretty, and wanted to invite me to a party with him. When I said no, he asked to drive me home.
Because yeah, I’m going to get in a car with you.
To the men that do this, I don’t know exactly what you’re hoping to gain. It’s not like you’re going to yell, “Hey girl!” or say “nice rack” or even “you’re so beautiful” and our response is going to be to grab your hand and dash off into the sunset (or into your bed) with you. And I don’t really believe that men who act this way are expecting that, anyway. I think it’s exertion of power, a way to feel strong by treating someone else as if she is weak.
There’s no winning in these situations, either. I haven’t walked across the street to the 7-11 again, and it makes me angry that I don’t feel comfortable doing that anymore. I should be able to go across the street to get an ice cream cone without being afraid. But I can’t. That’s not the world we live in.
From the video: “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say thank you more.”
Men like that don’t like it when the women they’re talking to won’t stick to the script. Too often, we do stick to the script, just because it’s easier to mumble a quick thank-you for a compliment we never wanted than it is to ignore the asshole or tell him to fuck off. It’s a no-win situation: either play the role that this strange jerk is forcing on you, or risk his verbal abuse and subsequently feeling unsafe if you brush him off or tell him off. After I told the man in the sandwich shop that his remark was creepy, I also made sure to linger after getting my food in the brightly lit, public place with people around, making as certain as I could that he was gone before I left myself.
Women are not human beings, and certainly not equals, to the men that act this way towards us. We are objects, toys, things, expected to tell them what they want to hear and act the way they want us to act, simply because they talk to us. I feel like I should say at this point that I don’t believe that all men are like that. Not at all. I have a father and brother, a boyfriend, and several close male friends that would never dream of treating a woman this way. I genuinely believe that most men are good and would feel horribly if they ever made a woman feel unsafe, even accidentally. And this just furthers my disgust at the men that don’t.
I don’t know what to even suggest doing to stop unwanted attention in public. It doesn’t seem to matter how we look, what we wear, what we’re doing or where we’re going:there’s no solid formula for avoiding the comments. But I think a good start would be to toss out the script, and stop complying with what we are “supposed” to do if we find ourselves in these situations. If we receive unwanted compliments, we don’t owe these men thank-you’s, smiles, or even the time of day.