This series of tweets constituted one of two of my contributions to the #YesAllWomen Twitter campaign. (The other I previously wrote about here and tweeted here.) I considered writing about the experience soon after it occurred, but the motivation never hit me. Now seems like a good time so here it is.
In mid-April, I was walking through my neighborhood on the way to see a friend’s band play. Rather than sticking with the main streets, I cut behind the grocery store near my house. It is a residential street, not a legit “alley,” but it was definitely darker and more isolated than other streets in the neighborhood.
On the way, I encountered an older (fifty-something?) man. His salutation? “Hey, you’re pretty.” My response? An awkward and uncomfortable, “Uh, thanks?” Had it ended there, I’d have walked away thinking that a neighbor was maybe a bit out of touch but harmless. Of course, it didn’t stop there or you wouldn’t be reading this post. The rest is a little fuzzy because it happened two months ago, but it went something like this:
Creep: “Hey, you want to make some money?”
Me: [Picked up the pace, “Shit, he’s really going there.”]
Creep: “My wife just left me and I’m lonely.”
M: “No.” [Walking faster towards the next cross street.]
Creep: “You don’t have to run, I’m not going to follow you, baby.” [Said as he was following me.]
In retrospect, I don’t think he was actually following me. Rather, he was likely heading to a bar in the same direction as my destination. And as I read the transcript above, it doesn’t seem nearly as frightening as it was in the moment. So much is lost when recounting a memory in writing two months after an event. Words can’t easily convey tone or feeling.
I repeated this scenario over and over in my head for weeks. At first, I was so pissed that I didn’t say something. Something loud. Something hostile. And I recall thinking about how I wasn’t wearing anything particularly provocative. A corduroy jacket, skinny jeans, a pair of Toms. And then I got furious that my wardrobe should even be a consideration. Wearing a skirt should be no more likely to result in solicitation than overalls and a flannel.
Since then, I’ve made peace with the fact that it was a fight or flight response and my instinct was the safest option. GET. THE. FUCK. OUT.
Think what you will about #YesAllWomen. Many of its critics wouldn’t admit it, but I suspect much of the negativity surrounding the movement is a defense mechanism. Trivializing it is easier and requires much less self-reflection than contemplating the reality of life as a woman. “If I accept that this is an issue, then I also accept that I likely have been complicit or flat out guilty of this behavior myself.”
But that thinking is faulty. We are ALL complicit. We are ALL guilty of sexism from time to time. Even feminists fall into the trap of slut shaming, critiquing a woman’s choice to stay at home or to work, for being too skinny or too fat, for wearing too much or not enough makeup. If we can’t have an open dialogue, if we can’t call each other out on this type of thinking, we can’t progress.
There will always be misogynists. But it isn’t the pickup artists or the PUAHaters holding women back. It is the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) yet oh-so-pervasive sexism of everyday life. And if there is something that #YesAllWomen has done, it has been to bring the most common forms of sexism and harassment into plain sight. The stuff we turn a blind eye to, or worse, don’t even notice when we see it in public.
Your mother, your wife, your sister, your cousin, your friend, your daughter, your granddaughter, your boss, your dentist, your psychiatrist. You. Me. #YesAllWomen
Do you have a #YesAllWomen story you couldn’t fit into 140 characters? Find your local Hollaback! site on http://www.ihollaback.org and share your experience. Pittsburgh readers, yours can be found here.