Manifesto To That Guy On the Street
To that guy who I pass on the street every day I leave my house,
The first time you called out a “hey hottie!” to me, I was a tiny bit flattered. The attention felt nice, and I was glad I had worn lipstick today. The second time you catcalled me, I was a bit confused, looking down at my very sweaty gym clothing. The third time I didn’t even consider my clothing, anticipating your wolf whistle, and walking by with my eyes fixed resolutely to the ground, so as to not encourage you. The fifth and sixth and seventh and 4,789th time I was annoyed, and depending on my mood before passing you I was at times really angry.
Ever since that first time, your “hey baby”s are not compliments to me. They leave me feeling threatened, aggressed and most importantly inconvenienced. Because I didn’t ask to interact with you today. Because for once, I want to walk home without having to think about myself as a sexual being, without thinking of myself as a combination of boobs, ass, and legs. On the days when you don’t call out, those stares you and your friends give me make me feel like a car being sized up, as your eyes start from my breasts, moving across to my ass as I pass you by. I wonder if it ever occurs to you that there is also a face, eyes, a brain and a heart in this body. Most of all, each time that I pass you, I wonder why the fuck I am the one with my eyes cast to the ground, when it’s you who should be ashamed of yourself.
Sometimes I wonder why you do it. I wonder if you understand the degree to which your harassment and that of your fellow men reminds women every day that public spaces do not fully belong to them and that their mobility and freedom in such places is dependent on the men present in those spaces at any given time. Reminds them that they are sexual beings created for men. I believe that “women deserve the same right to privacy in public that most men enjoy” (citation) and walking home each day, I hate that you break into my thoughts with your obnoxious and worthless comments.
I know that my way of dressing often attracts attention. Yes, I love to wear red lipstick and bright colors, low-cut dresses and big earrings. Some people have called it exotic, flamboyant, eclectic. But here’s the thing: I don’t wear it for you. And it enrages me to no end the amount of times I have gotten dressed and then reconsidered, thinking about how close you will approach me today on the street, how many men will be sitting at your side, ready to join in the “fun.” The amount of time I spend each day calculating whether I need to cross the street, or step off the sidewalk to avoid you today, as if I didn’t have a right to the sidewalk, or “your” side of the street.
Activist Chris Crass once noted that our patriarchal society had taught him as a man that he was “entitled to women’s bodies, entitled to take up space and put my ideas and thoughts out there whenever I wanted to, without consideration for others.” I wonder if that’s the reason that men feel the need to express their opinions about my body so much. Like the time my white professor felt that it was appropriate for him to refer to me as an exotic woman, or why you think it’s important that I know how you feel about my legs. I wonder if it justifies the old man who blatantly slowed to check out my 13 year-old student’s ass while I was having a conversation with her. Or the fact that the doormen to my apartment building like to murmur opinions on my appearance as I leave the house. Has it ever occurred to them that every time they do this, I become less and less comfortable going to them for help, or even greeting them? They are the very men who let me in and out of my home, the only place I am safe from being sexualized, and I can’t make eye contact with them.
I think about my experience in Argentina of having my taxi driver show me his penis, playing back the scene over and over, trying to understand what kind of world I live in where someone would think that was OK. The man seemed to think it was the funniest thing, referring to it with some sick pet name as I gasped in horror. Afterwards, as I sat shaking in disgust, the only thing I could think about–no matter how traumatized I was that this man may have been masturbating while conversing with me–was that I got off easy. That I have friends who have had their faces smashed against car windows, been raped in the dark. All I saw was a sick man’s penis.
People like to argue that it’s cultural. “Latin men just like to flirt, don’t let it get to you.” Trust me, I love flirting, and this is not it. Flirting requires two sides to be actively participating, and with my eyes glued to the cobble stones in front of me, this is not the case. For it to be cultural, a general majority of the society needs to engage in its practice, and with half the population missing, I think we can rule that out.
So, to the man I pass on the street every time I leave my house:
If you feel so entitled to put out your opinions onto my body, I am equally entitled to give you a dose of mine. If it takes me stopping and reading this letter to you every time you call out to me, then I will do it, over and over again until the day that I can walk home without being threatened, sexualized or bothered, and left alone to my own thoughts. I believe that is my right, as a human being making her way home.