“Do you ever get really angry?” he asks me, the implication being that he doubts it. “No, not really,” it’s an honest answer. I’m not an easily angered person. Annoyed, yes. Angered, no.
“Well, actually, sometimes,” I revise my answer. “I got pretty pissed off earlier today. I was walking down the block to look at that apartment and this car started pacing me with its emergency lights on. The guys rolled down the windows and started making kissing noises at me. When I ignored them they started yelling at me. Halfway down the block they sped off down the street. I was pretty fucking pissed”
“I’ve always wondered what that feels like,” I’m surprised, he doesn’t seem like the type to think about it, but then, maybe I just don’t know him well enough.
“It’s terrifying. And infuriating. I was terrified. I was honestly terrified,” I’m sitting in the chair across from him but looking to the side. We’re not there, I don’t know if we’re going there, that place where I’d let him see how utterly exposed I felt by flashing back to those feelings I had felt four hours previously.
He doesn’t respond and I change the subject back to getting angry in general. His non response was a relief. Or, at least, better than the usual response from men in my life of reminders to carry pepper spray, to take a self defense class, to remain always vigilant.
Always vigilant. That’s they key one. Always. Vigilant. That incident had happened not 10 minutes after my friend Dominique tweeted about her own street harassment. She responded and the harassers escalated. I didn’t respond and the harassers still escalated. Like a lot of things in life, it doesn’t really matter how you respond because the men you’re interacting with only respond to one thing, that you’re a woman.
A few days earlier I had an encounter on the train where I had also chosen non engagement as my strategy. I pulled out my iPad and began reading while the man walked around stating to his friends and the car in general that he must’ve made me uncomfortable but you’d think I’d be used to it and repeatedly asking me if he was making me uncomfortable.
Years ago, on MUNI, headed to culinary school, I sat on the street car while a man yelled about his hatred for women, mostly referring to them as bitches, while staring directly at me. I turned up my iPod and pretended not to hear, thankful for the number of passengers in the car and the man that moved himself between the yeller and me.
These are the major incidents. The ones that will probably continue to stick out in my mind for months or years to come. The things that disappear, the things that just are part of being a woman are smaller. The men who are suddenly standing close enough to whisper in my ear at a street corner telling me more girls with my body need to wear shorts or how nice my ass looks in a pair of jeans. The men who tell me to cheer up or that a girl as pretty as me should always be smiling. Pretty girls are never sad, you know, because we’re not actually people, just decorative objects. The men following behind making remarks about my body as if I can’t hear. The ten millionth “damn, look at the ass on that white girl”. The eyes that linger too long anywhere other than my face. Being followed around the block wearing something that makes me feel empowered and sexy. Being followed around the block wearing old jeans, a hoodie and ratty chucks when I’m feeling exhausted and decidedly unsexy. The constant feeling of being watched. Of being reduced to parts.
That’s what it feels like.
To be a woman is to know that you are always asking for it. Your facial expression doesn’t matter. Your clothing doesn’t matter. Your response doesn’t matter. Sometimes I think maybe if I could just make my tits and ass disappear… but I know better. I know then I’d just hear men talk about how flat chested I am instead.
I wish I had a way to impress this on the men I know. I wish they had answers other than that my job is to protect myself. I’m angry that more of them don’t come up with a better response. I’m angry they don’t tell me about how they’ll teach their little brothers or sons or nephews something different. I’m angry that they aren’t angry. That they aren’t filled with rage that this is what the women they love or care about live with every single day. I’m angry that 97% of the time when I see an article posted about rape or street harassment, it’s other women posting it, as if we’re posting it for each other, not for the men in our lives. I’m angry that women my age are afraid to describe themselves as feminists and I’m angry that men my age are even more afraid.
I’m angry that I spent spent today tense and jumpy because of the assholes I had encountered in the car.
And lastly, I’m angry that I’m still angry. That I still let it get to me. That I can’t just brush it off and go to sleep and wake up tomorrow and not wonder what bullshit the day will bring because of my vagina.