[tw: street/sexual harassment]
The other weekend I was at the beach with friends which was super fun and general debauchery took place. But because we are retired college kids, the night ended curled up on couches talking while eating kettle corn and drinking whiskey ginger-ales. So maybe it wasn't debauchery and it was mine and Liz Lemon's dream weekend. Anyways, by the end of the evening it was all the girls sitting around chatting which turned into a much needed bitch session, reminiscent of high school sleepovers, about some of the wonderful and some of the tougher parts of being a woman. Oh there was one dude there too who kind of got trapped into this conversation but obviously and not-so-secretly loved it.
We all got to talking about being called out on the street, being approached on the train, being spied on by boyfriends in the NSA, and generally being reminded you are a sexual being first and foremost before any other part of your humanity is allowed to establish itself. One of the girls recalled a time she was on the train with her headphones in and a hood pulled over her head and a man found it totally reasonable to sit down next to her, yank at her hood, ask her to remove her headphones just so he could flirt with her and say, verbatim, "Whatsup?"
Like...what part of body language 101 did you not attend? Like that is a few bad manners away from waking a sleeping person to ask what their opinion on The White Album is*?
At one point dudemanguyfriend asked if there was any way someone could approach us on the street and it wouldn't be taken as street harassment or an unwelcomed advance. My initial reaction was, no, just don't approach me on the street, don't talk to me, I'm probably going to Duane Reade to buy nasal spray. But there was something about that reaction that made me feel curmudgeonly. And as much as I hate street harassment and the idea that women** are objectified in public spheres, I am also hesitant to be like these are the rules of feminism so sign the dotted line and don't ever make eye contact with someone on the street ever again. And that's when a really clear answer came to me, reminding me of another shitty situation I had been in a few months ago.
I was on a super crowded train, the type of crowded where you are getting to know every person's lunch preferences via their breath, when a man pushed up behind me. Now I've been on trains this crowded dozens (if not more) of times. I've had people graze my boob, hit me between the legs***, and generally be much much closer than I would ever like them to be. But that's what happens when you're on public transportation and all of those incidents were quickly followed by a "oh gosh, so sorry", "excuse me", or wide eyed terror stares of embarrassment. And I forgave. But this dude this one time just kept pressing his crotch up against me. And I would shift, and move, and wiggle to stand a little bit closer to the doors and away from him, each time moving further from his crotch. And each time his crotch found it's way against my leg, my back, generally way too close. The whole time I'm trying to convince myself it wasn't intentional but in retrospect there was no way around what was happening: he was taking advantage of my space, my vulnerability in a closed location, perhaps my nervousness, sensing I wasn't going to kirk out on him in front of so many people.
Anyways, where I was going with this was that when my friend asked me if there were ways to approach us on the street, the answer is yes. When you are genuine and you mean it and you find something intriguing about us that isn't an attempt for us to hop in your car (does that work? ever? anyone? Bueller?) We are people who understand other people's behaviors and I'm not so out of touch that I think everyone on the street is a harasser. Just the same way I know everyone who grazes my boob on the subway isn't a creep. The snack vendor in my office building calls me baby every day and there is a sincerity to it that I know he isn't trying to sell himself along with the 8 bags of Cheez-Its I just bought. I don't have a ban on the word "baby", it's about tone and intention and respect. And if I were to be uncomfortable about it, he is a nice enough man that I could hopefully ask him not to.
So yes and no. No, there is no "okay" way to street harass someone. And yes, there is an "okay" way to engage and interact with someone on the street or in public, and it's as if they were a human whose primary objective is not to go home with you.
Now exsqueeze me, I'm going to celebrate using "graze my boob" twice in a post with a glass of white wine.
*The Beatles album? The Joan Didion book? Guys, You should know by now that I'm a woman of sophisticated mystery....
**womyn, females, transwomen, effeminate people, etc
***that's where my vagina is