I’ve started following the inimitable Soraya Chemaly on Twitter; she’s always writing or posting links to articles that intrigue and inspire me. Today she linked to a piece on Rookie magazine called “It Happens All the Time”.
In a nutshell, the article consists of the women of Rookie discussing the harassment they’ve faced in public, just trying to get stuff done or get from point A to point B. Towards the end it goes into how frustrating it is that men don’t seem to understand that this is not flattering–it is completely unwelcome, gross, disturbing, and frightening.
Some of their examples are pretty extreme. I can’t recall a time where I’ve ever seen a stranger touching himself while looking at me. However, things have happened. I tend not to think about them much.
There was the time in Walmart (back when it was called Wal-Mart) when I was an adolescent, and I was several steps behind my mom in the lingerie department. A man I didn’t know came up to me, began stroking a bra, and said with a smile, “Shall I buy you something?”
There was the time on the school bus when I was wearing a long t-shirt and tight leggings, a style I’d copied from my trendy cousin, and a high school boy came up to me with a leer and put his hand on my thigh. (I never wore that outfit again.)
There was the time as a teenager when my bottom was grabbed by someone who was not a stranger and who did not understand that I didn’t want him to do that, even when I told him. He had also told me, when I was younger, that I looked sexy, but at the time I thought that was a good thing.
I haven’t done a lot of walking around, other than on college campuses and hiking/biking trails, and my experience with public transportation is minimal, so I haven’t had many bad experiences that I can recall as an adult. I have been flirted with before, but infrequently and in ways that didn’t bother me. Rereading this one, I can see where it might be gross to some people, but I don’t know. I guess I was in a good mood? And it’s not like it happened every day. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone yell anything at me on the street, other than panhandlers looking for money.
There is one panhandling incident that freaked me out. I was in downtown Augusta. I’d just parked and was walking to a restaurant. A panhandler came up really quickly and hugged me, pinning my arms to my sides. “Don’t worry,” he said cheerfully, “I’m not gonna rape you!”
Yeah, that’s the way to get me to not worry.
I was thinking about the various ways I could get out of his iron grip (destroy his kneecap, head-butt him, knee him in the groin) when he finally let go and asked for money.
Regardless, despite a few uncomfortable incidents, I feel like I’ve been remarkably sheltered compared to other women. Part of it is self-sheltering…I don’t go out in public in a vulnerable way very much, and I listen to my gut when it says to leave an area. Part of it is probably due to the fact that I’ve never lived in a place where I didn’t need a car to get around. I also tend to pay attention more to patterns of behavior rather than individuals–I’m the one reading the signs and noting where to go, but I couldn’t tell you what anyone was wearing, for example. It’s possible I’m completely oblivious to some really disgusting behavior. If so, ignorance is definitely bliss! (Or maybe men are just classier in the South?)
But this has me a little nervous about travel in the future. I’ve really been wanting to go to France, for example…is it that bad for women there? One of the women mentioned London. I didn’t experience anything during my quick day there, but I was with Brooke and David. How would it have been if I was alone?
Honestly, I’m not sure I would be comfortable traveling alone, even without having read that article. I’m already pretty wary of situations that can turn dangerous fast. It sucks, but it’s reality. I’m a woman, so I’m not free to just do what I want when I want. I have to think about my safety at all times.