This has happened too many times.
I woke up early this morning and decided to take my cup of tea and my book outside to enjoy the grey, foggy weather. Perfect. Still in my pajamas with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, my biggest concern was the spider sitting on the chair next to me. Until you drove by.
For some reason, safely enclosed in your too-big white pickup, you felt the need to disturb my Saturday morning mystery novel. Honking your horn at least seven or eight times, to make sure I noticed you, you slowed down and shouted “HEY GIRL” with that edge to your voice. At first I started to wave, because you must be a neighbor saying hello. As I realized I had no idea who you were, my wave faded and my next response was a little less gracious. You got to drive on and leave the situation behind, but my peaceful morning was ruined.
You’re hardly the first to do this, you know. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had strangers leer out from the safety of their car windows to honk, shout, and whistle. You might say something rude, comment on my appearance, or just intrude, but it is not welcomed. Let’s get this straight. This is not a greeting, a friendly wave from across the pond. This is a conscious intrusion on my person.
These actions don’t come from one screwed up person. They stem from a society that values male privilege over almost everything else. They come from a culture that tells you that you are owed my attention, simply because you are male and I am female. These things never happen to me when I’m walking down the street with a man. They don’t happen when John is standing next to me. They don’t happen when I have a [male] friend by my side. Because they happen when you see me as vulnerable. When you assume I am alone and weak and have no source of protection, no one else who is in control of my body, my space, and my thoughts. When there is no other man there, you feel like it is your right to intrude.
It might seem innocuous. You might think I’m making mountains out of molehills here. But if you think that, its only because you’ve never felt threatened this way. I was in my home, in my space, I was physically on my own property, and someone still felt the right to disrupt me. Someone who had no connection to me, no history with me that could justify their interruption. I did not know that man in the overcompensating pick-up. He had no reason to honk and yell other than because he wanted my attention. Because he saw I was a female body and nothing more to him. It left me feeling disrespected and vulnerable. He wanted to take advantage of my presence there and there was nothing I could do about it. Even in my own home, someone could take advantage of me, simply because of my gender.
Every time someone makes a joke about vulnerable women. Every time someone says they “raped that test” or “the other team was raped” or any use of that offensive verb other than to indicate a traumatic experience where one person was forced into sexual contact without enthusiastic consent, every time a women is paid less than a man for the same work, every time our legislation seems to value controlling the choices of women more than any other type of governance, every time a man is pushed towards STEM while women are encouraged into the liberal arts, every time an upset woman is told her emotions are the result of PMS or jokes are made about those irrational ladiez…All these things, and a million more, contribute to a society where I can walk down the street safely with a male escort but I can’t sit in my backyard without being accosted.
Don’t enter my space without permission. Don’t assume I’m flattered by your attention. A stranger commenting on my appearance leads me to believe I’m only the sum of my physical parts. A stranger yelling and honking suggests I exist on a very singular plane. I am more than a single story. I am strong, I am smart, I am resourceful, I am funny. I do not exist for the sake of anyone else, unless I so choose. I am not your personal plaything simply because history validates YOUR kind.
I am not “girl”. Do not harass me on the street. I shouldn’t have to say this but treat me and other women like what we are: people. Because when you don’t, not only do you hurt me, but you turn yourself into a monster, into a single story of misogyny. Women shouldn’t have to fight for the basics of human decency. But we still do. And we do it for you as much as for ourselves.
It’s time to stop.