When I read posts about street harassment and cat-calling like this and this, I sympathized, but I never felt I could really know what they were talking about. I hadn’t experienced anything like what these women were talking about. I just didn’t elicit that kind of response in men.
And then I remember hoots of “Chaude, chaude, chaude” in high school shop class while walking to the bandsaw. And while I know that they were mocking me and making sure I knew that I was most definitely not “hot, hot, hot,” still I remember what it is to have their words hurled in my direction.
And then my insides curl and my skin crawls as I walk to my car after a day at the office and I pass that man. The one who rides his bicycle past me every evening, like clockwork, and stares as I walk past. Who turns his head to watch me as I cage his movements out of my peripheral vision. Whose face lit up sinisterly when one day I accidentally met his gaze. Who seems to enjoy my beetled brows and downcast eyes. The one who makes me wonder if today is the day that I get jumped. Who makes me fully aware that he likely has almost a hundred pounds on me, and that no matter how fast I run I am no match for a bike.
And does it even have to be sexual? What about that coworker at the office who looks at me like I’m a smear on the wall? The one who has almost two feet on me, the one who knows exactly how good-looking he is and exactly how undesirable he finds me. The one whose slight sneer when addressing me is not obvious enough for others who aren’t paying attention to notice, but which I cannot miss. The one who gave me nightmares about losing my job because he decided to use his influence (as a tall, good-looking man, he most definitely has influence) against me.
All these things combine, swirling in my head as I swirl cream into my coffee. Desirable women are harassed and threatened on the street.
No, that sentence is wrong.
Desirable women are harassed and threatened.
That one’s wrong, too.
Women are harassed and threatened.
How is it allowed that that sentence is correct?
How is it, that in our modern, civilized society, women are still treated in ways that warrant nightmares? Why is that in our homes and on our streets and in our workplaces, no one sees this behaviour as wrong except the ones targeted?
Why is it that I have no defence against such treatment? Were I to have gone to see the teacher in shop class, he would have told me to “Just ignore them. Boys will be boys.” My mother would have told me that they probably had a crush on me.
Were I to tell anyone about the man who rides his bicycle past me, I would be told that he has every right to ride there. There is nothing wrong with looking. Has he said or done anything threatening to me? No, of course not. So he gets away with making me distinctly uncomfortable almost everyday. And I do everything I can to leave later and later from the office in order to avoid him.
Were I to speak to my boss or to HR about the man who doesn’t like me, I would get the same reaction. He hasn’t done anything. And so nothing can be done. And would I please stop making things up, blowing things out of proportion?
Why is it that we must wait for a woman to be attacked physically before we judge it appropriate to intervene? Does not the emotional and mental scarring count just as much as the physical?
How is it all right that I have trained myself to never look at people, particularly of the male variety, because some part of me knows that there is a chance of them looking back? And so I only look through people. And somehow I don’t think I am the only one who has taught herself to do so.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think any woman has managed to come out unscathed from our society, even if she thinks she has. Because I am certain that if she thinks back far enough, digs deep enough, she will find that one scar. That scar that will lead to the others, all connected in a macabre web of shame and mistreatment and men-wielding-power-as-a-weapon.