Monthly Archives: October 2014

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Literal and literary street harassment

Lately the news (aka my Facebook feed) has been broadcasting this video, which draws attention to the problem of street harassment and catcalling. Frankly it’s never bothered me much when a strange man says, “Hello beautiful!” or “Have a nice day!” as I pass him on the sidewalk looking beautiful on a nice day. This seems like pure friendliness on his part, and the comments help challenge my working theory that I’m a ghost. It’s annoying when a strange man tells me to smile, but at the same time the directive makes me question why I’m not walking around smiling all the time because it’s such a nice day and I look so beautiful. Maybe I should be smiling. Maybe this guy trying to contort my face into a different position using only the power of his voice has been to hell and back and is now wise to the ways in which a smile turns a frown upside down and he wants to share this happiness with me and the rest of the babes.

It’s hard for me to distinguish between my sensitivity to street comments and my sensitivity to people in general. I don’t know whether to look someone in the eye when I pass him, to give a little wave, to steal his iPhone, etc. It’s just like how I get nervous standing in line at the post office or visiting the bodega downstairs where I might run into one of my amiable neighbors. Other people are scary. They throw off my equilibrium. Sometimes they even say things out of their mouths, which can be horrific.

When a stranger speaks to me on the street, I don’t know when a response could be construed as flirting and when a lack of response could be construed as rude. It sucks to be put in that position every time you leave the house, but a lot of people for whatever lunatic reason like to stay socially engaged. They like to interact with the transients who enter their communities, especially if those transients seem carved out of marble. I condemn sexual harassment and catcalling, but most of the time people are just saying hi or telling me how wonderful I am. We exchange niceties and continue on our business, no harm done, sometimes with a little glow about us because that social interface went so well. I’d honestly rather live in a world where people notice each other than in a world where we pretend strangers don’t exist and where my beauty isn’t recognized for its cataclysmic power.

My other objection to shutting up everyone on the street is that I, too, am a street harasser. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared out a coffee shop window and have proceeded to write down graphic details about a stranger’s dress or stride or baleful countenance. I put words into their mouths. I ascribe feelings to them.┬áSometimes I write explicitly about their butts. I violate the personal privacy of innocent passersby again and again by way of my notebook. You’re going to wear those hot pants outside my coffee shop window? You deserve to be written up. I might even put a baby in you. (But in 25 years that baby will discover that his absentee father is in fact the President of the United States, which is ironic because the baby has been trained as a political assassin.)

No one has the right to take physical or vocal possession of anyone else’s body. But humans are naturally interested in each other. So I think someone should make a video that doesn’t shame men for their interest, but instead tells them what kind of speech is invasive or prurient, and what may genuinely put a smile on two faces. (Kinda like this?) And also teach them that NO ONE IN THE HISTORY OF URBAN LIVING HAS EVER GOTTEN A GIRL’S NUMBER BY HOLLERING AT HER WHEN SHE ALREADY HAS SOMEPLACE SHE NEEDS TO BE. For god’s sake. But, to paraphrase Rabbi Hillel, if we can’t build elaborate fantasy worlds wherein every passing woman is a potential future wife or perhaps a serial arsonist on the run from Johnny Law (according to my notebook), then who will build them for us? Not the Republican Party, that’s for sure.

And now I must adjourn to pace the block where the half-blind men in their 80s hang out on their stoops just waiting for an angel to walk by and make their day.