My friend was sitting in New Orleans traffic the other day when a man with a towel and bucket of water came over to her window and mouthed through the glass, “Can I wash your windshield?” She smiled, shook her head, mouthed “No thank you” and tried to casually look away, but the man was 3 feet from her car on the curb, always in her peripherals. Eventually, her eyes made their way back to him, and there he was making silly faces, sticking his tongue out at her, dancing back and forth by her window. She wanted to lock her doors, but thought that this might offend the man, that this might make him uncomfortable.
So instead, she sat uncomfortable and nervous, waiting for the light to turn green.
Another friend of mine used to frequent a bagel shop in downtown Dallas. She loved the food, the atmosphere, the location of the store. That is, until an employee there began that not-so-clever type of unwanted banter that makes a girl uncomfortable, but also makes her rude if she ignores him or shoos him away because he’s “just being nice.”
So she stopped going to her favorite bagel shop in order to avoid an unsolicited and unwanted approach by a guy in a place where the only thing she wanted was a bagel and some peace. Not a boyfriend.
I was walking up the street on an errand for work the other day and got cat-called 2 times in a matter of 4 blocks. “Ay baby!” “Hey beautiful wassyo name?” I was wearing black jeans and a long, baggy sweater, if that matters at all. It was nearly 1 pm in the afternoon, and I was disgusted, uncomfortable to say the least, and quite honestly, a bit scared.
So I did what uncomfortable, scared women do when being cat-called and kept my eyes straight forward and pretended not to hear them as I continued down the sidewalk with my purse under one arm and my bag of paintbrushes in the other.
So many men hear stories like these and roll their eyes, think we’re being over-sensitive, and hardly bat an eye. I don’t blame them. They do not understand. They cannot understand, because they are men.
They say, “No one can make you feel a certain way.”
They say, “Who cares if he hears you lock your doors? Just do it.”
They say, “Tell that guy to leave you alone.”
Oh yes, me, little, lonely, tiny, girl. Vulnerable and conquerable in less than half a second. I will tell that man twice the size of me to “leave me alone!”
And I’ll tell you who cares if he hears me lock my doors—me. I care. And that’s the problem. In a moment where I am panicked and uncomfortable, I, as a woman, still care about making another man feel weird. I don’t want to look like I’m stereotyping him as some thug out to get me. He could be totally harmless, friendly, and just be being funny, right?
But you don’t get to have these thoughts as a woman. Not alone in your car, you don’t. Not alone on the streets, you don’t.
And this is what a man will never be able to empathize with.
But we don’t want your empathy.
We don’t want your pity.
We want you to get angry with us. Not because you know how it feels, but because someone you know and love very much knows how it feels.
You, as a man, will never understand checking your surroundings, calling a friend to virtually “walk you” to your car late at night, or getting asked what your name is by faces that frighten you. You will never understand the gut-wrenching feeling of getting honked at by trucks passing by, waved at or blown kisses to by cars passing you as you jog.
It’s not always about safety or fear. We are not always in fear of being raped or taken or touched. It’s just about being made to feel uncomfortable in our own skin because we are women. It’s about the struggle between being polite and feeling comfortable, a struggle you, as a man, will never know anything about, because you don’t have to.
You can laugh at us for locking our doors or not wanting to take the trash out late at night alone. You can roll your eyes when we tell you how another man scared us in our own car by approaching our window. You can keep walking by the cat-callers, un-phased and unaffected.
But you should feel empowered to do something because you can do all of these things. Because you can laugh and roll your eyes and turn the other way and because scenarios like this are happening daily to women you know and love, you should know the truth, and you should stand up.
If that makes you uncomfortable, well, welcome aboard.