Yesterday at work something weird happened.
I was out for a 10 minute break. It had been raining all day and it had finally stopped and the sun was coming out and the rivers that had just recently been flowing down the sidewalk had begun to dry. The water on the ground was making the sunshine extra delicious and everything smelled really nice. I decided to walk for just a few blocks and then come go back to the office. Afternoon sanity check.
And then standing at the corner, waiting for the hand to become a little walking man, I felt someone brush up against me, brush across my butt and a little up my side. I really didn’t think of it, the corner was normally crowded. People in crowded places don’t generally mean to bump into you, usually it’s a bag or a bulky coat, they don’t even know they are doing it. I’m a benefit of the doubt kind of person, no need to shove back. I’ve witnessed the people who have had their fair share of strangers bumping up in their space bubble. Nobody wins in those confrontations. So, the body space intrusion registered, and then I cataloged it accordingly and kept waiting for the walk sign, thinking my thoughts.
And then the person who had brushed up against me came to a halt directly next to me. Maybe inches from my shoulder. And I glanced at him, as one does. Usually it is a glance (reflex) and then a look away, the face of the person not even registering in my memory bank. Forgotten even before I look away. This time though, he was staring back at me. Staring. And then he looked me up and down with this little hint of a grin. And then he kept staring. And staring.
Now, the majority of this time I was just trying to figure out what had happened and what was happening right in that moment. I was trying to connect the dots and get a handle on the man who was not acting the way the rest of pedestrians in most areas of the world silently agree to act. He looked at me long enough for it to register, for me to figure it out, for me to glare back at him. But he kept staring, kept suggestively glancing me over.
And then I felt it, like a jolt behind my eyes. I felt unsafe. The places where he had brushed up against me suddenly screamed on my skin as unwanted touch. The way he was looking at me made me want to cover myself with my hands, though I was in jeans, tennis shoes, and a raincoat – but that doesn’t matter, does it?
He was part of a local convention. His badge hung big and blue around his neck. He carried a laptop in a squishy sleeve with a handle, he had a semi-military style haircut, he was older. When the light finally turned he looked away from me and strolled across the street in front of me and walked away. He just walked away. I resisted the urge to brush myself off. I looked for someone I knew on the street to tell them what had happened, what that guy had done, but no one I knew was around. I went back up to my office.
I told some male work friends about the incident. They laughed it off, made excuses for the man.
“He was at a convention! He was probably away from his wife, his kids, he was throwing his dice into the ring!”
“He was making a play! You can’t fault him for trying!”
“Wooow that was a club move right there!”
“That guy could try that at 50 street corners, and if just 1 woman eventually responds, then that’s a success!”
This is rape culture. I argued back, said touching is never ok, said how inappropriate it was, but I was too self-conscious to say how scary it was. How threatening it was. How unsafe I felt in broad daylight on a city street. And it’s just funny… it’s just how men are… you can’t blame a guy for trying. And for the hundreds of random people I may glance at a day, a week, a month, I won’t forget his face for a long while. I live in a culture that excuses violence against women, that shrugs it off, and makes it an endearment. I must really have it goin’ on, right? No. I was minding my business, walking along the street, being a human. You don’t get to treat me like I’m yours to do with as you please. Not ever. When this stops being funny and excusable it will be a good day.