Walking to work, walking to work. It’s cold outside. I keep wrapping my scarf around the lower half of my face, but the loops somehow keep slipping down and exposing me to the wind. I start over again. Step, step, step, wrap. Step, step, step, wrap. Freeze (arms only; feet keep stepping) for half a second, return arms swiftly while casually to my sides. Tilt chin forward, fix eyes ahead on nothing, step, step, step, step, step.
There’s a man on the sidewalk, with a dog. The dog isn’t scary; he’s just part of the scenery. It’s the man. He isn’t necessarily scary, either. I just don’t know if he’s the type to try to call out and bother me or ignore me. I hope it’s the latter, make sure my hips aren’t swaying and my body isn’t suggestive, and walk past.
“Good morning” he says, when I’m behind him.
It isn’t a nice “good morning”, or a friendly “good morning”. It’s a “good morning” that makes a point, and the point is: You Probably Thought I Was Gonna Try to Holler or Bother You or Some Disrespectful Shit Like That, But INSTEAD I’m Just Out Here Trying to Greet People like the Good Fucking Person I Am and Look At You, Rude As Hell Just Walking By Any Old Stranger Without Having The Decency to Acknowledge Them Because of Some Preconceived Notion You Had About Men But You Should Feel Bad Because I Sure Proved You Wrong, Didn’t I?
No, you didn’t.
Honestly, I might have felt bad if he’d said, “Good morning” in a completely friendly, genuine manner. I probably would have turned around to say, “Good morning” right back. That’s happened a few times. This time, though, was just gross. It oddly reminded me of a similar scenario:
Walking home, walking home. It’s dark, and late. Two men are strolling in front of me, taking up most of the sidewalk. I’m a fast walker, to the point where the gait of these two men has my femurs and fibulas trying to jump out of their skin to get around them. I really want to pass the men, but to do so I’d now have to walk between them at an awkward pace. I don’t want to do that. Don’t want to draw attention to myself. So I wait until we’re all at a corner, and then use the widest part to quickly, yet casually, walk around them at as much of a distance as possible.
They notice me.
I can tell, because they’ve been talking the whole time, but are now both suddenly silent. Are they looking at me? It doesn’t matter, I tell myself, It’s probably nothing anyway.
“Don’t worry, miss,” one of the men says. “We’re nice. We won’t bother you. You don’t need to be afraid.”
Except now I’m not afraid, I’m angry. Angry at myself for being read so easily, and angry at the man for talking to me. If you recognized that I could be scared of you, and understood why, then why wouldn’t you change anything about the situation to to put me more at ease? Why not move to one side of the sidewalk so as to stop dominating it? Why not continue to talk with your friend, and not make salient my passing in front of you? Why not –
At the gym, at the gym. Cycling through the elliptical. Cycling, cycling, cycling. I’ve started using mantras to motivate me. I remember when my research adviser told me not to eat for thirteen hours before dancing, because it would make the body get stressed and go into a trance, so I could dance better. I’ve started to go into trances on the machines, feeling my body occupied by something that wants to make it powerful, rather than overpower it. I come up with curses for the men who have wronged me, and chant them to myself in time with the motion of my feet. To the second rapist, I wish “impotence…impotence…impotence”. To the liar I wish “isolation…reflection…penance…healing…”. To the first, I have yet to come up with a vengeance that is good enough. But everything helps, and when I get off I’ll feel accomplished and calm.
“How you doing?” asks the man who has walked past me four times now, whom I have ignored four times now. He hops onto the machine next to mine and starts chatting, interrupting my mantra flow. I don’t even completely know what he’s saying. Something about ‘Have I read his book yet?’ That’s right, he sent me a link to a book he’s written on finance. When he introduced himself, he immediately told me how lucrative his business is.
“No,” I tell him. I could add that I haven’t had time, but I don’t feel like conversing. I want to get back to cursing. I turn my head away to focus, but he keeps trying to pull me back to talk about nothing (and not the good kind of nothing), and I keep turning back away. Finally, he says,
“You seem like you’re nervous, or scared, or something.”
I want to scream at him. I’m not nervous, or scared. We’re in the gym. I could get off my machine, kick him in the crotch, and leave. He’s at the disadvantage right now. I’m just annoyed, and bothered, and unable to focus on my work. But I look directly into his eyes and understand that he thinks I’m flustered because of the attention of a rich businessman. This whole situation is a power trip. I’m at the gym, so I’m probably insecure, and don’t know my own worth. He’s sees it in me, sees me as young and inexperienced, and is swooping down to show me as much of the world as will get him into my workout leggings.
“You don’t have to be,” he’s still talking. “I’m not here to bother you. I’m nice.” Flashes his teeth.
I don’t even know what I say back, but he finally leaves. I think about coming up with a mantra that curses men who understand what their presence could negatively do to women, but allow it anyway. If you think that your unwanted presence scares me, take it away. Don’t force your unnecessary company on me, simply because you want my attention, and want me to see what a nice guy you can be in the uncomfortable situation of your design. If I’m on the street and I clearly don’t want to be bothered, you telling me that you aren’t bothering me is still bothering me. If If you rudely tell me good Morning, to show how polite you can actually be, you were still rude. The fact of the matter is that I don’t want anyone speaking to me, that I need space to be in my head by myself, and your talking to me to disprove my thoughts is an intrusion that immediately strips the validity from whatever you might be saying.
“Well how am I ever supposed to talk to girls then?” a friend asks me as I complain to him.
“I don’t know,” I tell him. “Don’t? Not if you can tell they don’t want you to. Nothing positive can come from forced interactions. Is that really hard to understand?”