I watched the video of the woman walking through NYC like most everyone else did. As I watched my anxiety level rose and rose and rose. I was that woman. In that moment I was her, but also I am her tomorrow and I was her yesterday and I am her right now.
I am not an “afraid” person. I am the person who walks up to a man harassing a woman with a small child outside of the grocery store for money and tell him to get away. I see that she is afraid and doesn’t know what to do and doesn’t want to scare her children while she waits for someone to pull the car around so I tell the guy, “Enough, get out of here.” Even though Kamel tells me I’m going to get stabbed one day. As I’m leaving a movie theater I notice a woman being intimidated by a man next to her car. I ask her if she is ok. I am not afraid. I will be bigger and louder. I will not let someone who feels alone be alone.
But I always feel threatened.
Walking home from work one day a group of drunk men were walking towards me. One was carrying a 12 pack of beer in one hand. I tried to silently move around them, but he moved to block me. I moved to the other side of the sidewalk, but he shadowed me. He did this again until he was right in front of me. I pushed the shoulder that was holding the beer so he was off balance and called him a jerk and danced around him and kept walking as they all laughed.
At work in the elevator I notice when I am the only woman.
Having a kid has not made it better. Getting commented on, asked to smile, or when threatening men try to engage with my baby – those things make me feel like a wolf surrounded.
There is a lunch place I go to near my office. I often get a sandwich “with no cheese please.” It shouldn’t matter why. But every single time I order it, if there is this one guy working that station, he says, “With extra cheese?” and he smiles at me because he knows it is a joke. I say, “No thank you,” cheerily. Sometimes I notice he puts cheese on my sandwich anyway. One time after maybe I’ve requested no cheese 7 times, he tells me I should get it with a different kind of cheese than is listed. He says I’ll love it. I say, “no, just no cheese please.” He says, “oh are you allergic?” and because I am bad at lying on the spot I say, “No… I just… don’t want the extra calories.” And then he makes a comment about that but I am no longer hearing him because I am just feeling strangely violated. I am feeling ashamed. Why do you think it is your job to tell me what I will like? Why do I have to explain my food choices? Why is this a constant issue when it is just lunch, I think I know what I want for lunch.
And maybe it is just someone in food service trying to be chatty. But it doesn’t FEEL that way to me. It feels exhausting. It makes me not want to go there anymore, to have this song and dance about my simple lunch choices. And I wonder if a dude came in every day and said “no cheese,” would that guy tease him and poke at him about cheese? I can’t imagine it. I have never seen it in the many lines I have stood in. Would he question another man’s choices?
At a different lunch place I am eating alone in a big booth. I like the space. There are plenty of seats so I don’t feel guilty. A group of men sit at a large booth across the room. They are laughing and looking at me. One or two of them make direct eye contact as I flick my eyes over the room. I immediately worry one of them will try to come over. I immediately worry that they are talking about me, looking at me, that they will call out to me. I feel very small, I feel embarrassed. I try to remember that I am a grownup and that I’m fine. I go back to reading my book and waiting for my food. But it is too late. I’ll keep my eye on them the rest of the time.
I’m not an “afraid” person. Being threatened has just become the normal current running just under my skin. Deflecting, avoiding, and having to always be willing to be the loudest one in the room so that someone else will see if it comes down to it. I am so tired.
**Edit: I re-read this and I remembered what I wanted to say. So, don’t tell me they are just trying to be nice and don’t tell me it’s a compliment and don’t tell that I’m being sensitive and relax. If you can’t handle keeping your mouth shut there is something wrong with YOU, not me, not every other woman who just wants to walk to the store, to go about her day, without fielding comments and side stepping potential threats. Don’t tell me feminism isn’t important. Don’t tell me men are harassed just as much, that we should feel bad for showcasing their behavior, don’t tell me this is racism, don’t disregard this voice. I’ve seen and felt enough for a lifetime of proof this happens in every situation, with every age,with every body type, race and religion.