The other day I was in a local downtown eatery when I overheard something that made me cringe. A woman sitting at the counter by herself was asked by a random older gentleman, “How far along are you?” He was sitting far enough away from her that he really had to project his embarrassingly out-of-bounds question, so much so that it felt like everyone around stopped what they were doing to wait with bated breath for her answer. I won’t get into how it played out, suffice to say that you should never ask a stranger any version of that question unless you happen to be a physician staring into the business end of a vagina that is in the middle of expelling a human.
Recently I’ve been feeling increasingly annoyed with this disturbing trend of men feeling entitled to make comments about or to women who are strangers to them regarding their appearance and bodies. Whether it’s the eyeroll-inducing “Hey, you dropped your smile,” or more disturbing acts like physically touching or issuing sexually explicit comments, it’s all different shades of the same bullshit behavior. Some people might not think that comments or cat calls from strangers is a big deal. These people are idiots. The fact is, when men feel they have the right to do these things, and when we allow them to, the message that we send is that women’s bodies are not their own. That by being in public, we automatically consent to being objectified. That our bodies are public domain, open receptacles for every remark and opinion that might grace the limited mental space of any mouth-breather we’re unlucky enough to encounter. According to Debani Roy, deputy director of Hollaback! (an organization dedicated to ending street harassment), street harassment “is about ownership of public spaces. It is also an opportunity to do this thing that everyone does to women—which is objectify them. It’s the idea that it’s okay to police what is acceptable in terms of what it means to be a woman, be feminine, be attractive.”
Some are of the opinion that us women should just lighten up. That the remarks are just the friendly (if a bit clumsy) outbursts of our fellow man who is simply attempting to connect with us. The problem here, however, is that within our society’s current condition, feeling safe is not a luxury we women are afforded most of the time. Furthermore, remarks which seek to criticize a woman’s appearance in some way or another still perpetuate the false pretense that we women are here for the viewing pleasure of others. Yes, I know that when I’m deep in thought or daydreaming that my face has a tendency to look annoyed. No, I don’t fucking care if that isn’t nice for you to look at.
So what can we do? In the past, I have had men forcefully touch and grab me, yell things at me, try to physically block my path, or rub their dick on me in a public space, and I’ve mostly tried to ignore this behavior. But increasingly I feel the better thing to do is speak up and let them know exactly what I think of what they’re doing. If I say nothing, keep my head down and hurry past, I feel like I’m perpetuating the cycle. Alternatively, to step up and reply back (in whatever way you see fit), I feel is a better solution. If nothing else, it may give them pause before they behave badly again. Additionally, check out sites like cardsagainstharassment.com, stoptellingwomentosmile.com and ihollaback.org for alterative ways to respond or information on how to help combat the problem.