I don’t usually post one right after the other but I’ve had two experiences in the last 24 hours that are challenging my ability to be a nice person right now.
Looking people in the eyes is something that I have been taught. My parents taught me to look at others when I was talking to them. A teacher taught me about the importance of body language and meeting someone’s eye when listening. I tend to look at other people and try to make eye contact even they are just passing by me on the street. Then I smile. That’s right, I’m that person. The one who makes other people feel super awkward because, stop everything, I tried to make a human connection. You never know, that other person may need a smile that day, or someone to talk to. I try to never be too busy that I can’t stop and talk to a stranger, or (attempt to) give them directions, or just let them know they aren’t alone. I’ve had many great conversations through this eye contact making thing. Granted I have been sucked into some awkward ones, and those people selling things on the street usually try and talk to me. But hey, I figure they deal with the cold shoulder all day, I might as well smile while I say no thank you.
Today on my way to work I stopped at a coffee shop. While waiting for my drink I look up and see someone walking towards me. We meet eyes, I smile, he raises one eye brow, cocks his head, and body checks me. Not the type of body check you’d see in hockey but the kind where a man slowly lets his eyes roam down a woman’s body and then back up again (I’m sure this happens to men as well but we’re talking about me right now). Not only did I feel super violated, I felt dismissed and like I was “less than.” All I was trying to do was be nice and this man, a complete stranger, managed to make me feel super shitty about myself. Thanks a lot asshole.
Experience number 2 happened last night. I get off work at midnight on Saturdays and since I refuse to pay $20+ for parking I take the bus. At night I will still look people in the eyes but the reasoning changes a little. I am letting that person know that I am aware of my surroundings, I see them, and I will remember them. Yay for rape culture at its finest. So, I am waiting for the bus and I see someone start to walk by out of the corner of my eye. I look up, we make eye contact, he stops and proceeds to call me a mother-fucking-fat-ass-bitch. He keeps walking then changes his mind and turns back around. He got right up in my face and called me a bitch one more time before leaving. I thought he was going to spit on me for a second.
Even though the first guy was definitely a jerk it is the second one I’d like to talk about. I work with women who are often experiencing some kind of (untreated) mental illness. I am threatened on a nearly daily basis. I’ve been threatened with a gun, a knife, an axe, and a 2×4. A man broke his hand on the door next to me when I wouldn’t let him in the building. I’ve been stalked and the police had to escort me to my car once because someone was waiting around the corner with a baseball bat for me to get off work. People are up in my face, yelling at me every day I go to work, calling me names that are way worse than this guy did. And yet, this one man managed to rattle me more than almost all of these other experiences.
I think first and foremost it was because it was out of context for me. I deal with crazy all day at work I just wasn’t prepared for it outside of work. Secondly I was alone at the bus stop. There was no one else in sight and I had no idea when the bus was coming. I remember thinking if I scream would anyone hear me, if I hit this guy and run could I make it, and if I say/yell anything back would it make it better…or worse?
This is exactly what rape culture does. It makes women afraid to go out at night and to be alone. I can talk against it all I want but that doesn’t mean I am not a victim of it. I can hate the fact that women, that I, have been taught to be afraid of men. I can hate the fact that people are becoming desensitized to more and more amounts of violence, and that jokes about rape and the degradation of women are not taken seriously. I can be against all of this but it does not change the fact that I take off my jewelry and change my clothes when I leave work late at night. It does not change the fact that I check my back seat before I get into my car, or that I choose to park under lights and away from other cars. These are not things that I was explicitly told to do by someone else. These are things I learned, almost instinctively, by watching the culture around me. I do almost everything to avoid drawing attention to myself at night. Everything except look at people. There was nothing I was doing to draw this mans attention to me.
I refuse to stop looking people in the eyes when I walk around and though I don’t really feel like being a nice person right now I refuse stop doing that as well. So take that random rude men on the street! I refuse to let you change me, though I may call you out a couple times before the day is done…
I’d like to end with this video. Think about it.
Update: I’ve been trying to remember where I first saw this video so that I could give the person credit. It was on One Woman, “I am tired of the silence.” Thanks Aimee!