Sunday, January 20, 2013

Some Words for a Stranger.

I highly doubt that the (male presenting) person who I had a run-in with last night will be reading this, but if you are: I have some choice words for you and anyone like you.

Let me recount what happened.

Around 10 PM I had just gotten out of work, gone to see friends who work at my company's other store and then been on my merry way home. I was tired after 7 hours of helping customers, setting up our Valentine's Day window display, and stocking our shelves- but I was in a relatively good mood. I was looking forward to going home to my new, larger room (our landlord moved out and we moved into their room) and putting groceries away.

I was wearing black jeans, hiking boots, a flannel under a black leather jacket, a silk scarf, and a huge hiker's backpack which I use to tote things (like groceries) around.

As I got to the first intersection, just off the busy street where I work, and waited to cross- there was a person on the phone, presumably a little tipsy based on his slurring of words, who was trying to explain to his friend (who I observed was across the street and looking in the completely wrong direction) where he was.

"Yeah, I'm standing at this intersection and there's this unattractive girl with a big bag standing in front of me."

There were no other women. There was no one else at all. It was just me, three feet away from him, laden with 30 lbs of groceries and art supplies. I froze.

I turned slightly and croaked out a few words (when I get upset or feel like someone's confronting me or anything like that, my adrenaline pumps and my anxiety goes right up with it. I shake, I have difficulty thinking and speaking), something like: "That was completely unnecessary"

To which he said "yeah, whatever" or something like that and I started walking. I told him he could kindly fuck off, and flipped him my middle finger over my shoulder for emphasis. I noted how dark it was and how he likely hadn't even seen my face.

As I reached his friend, still looking in the wrong direction, I informed him that his "asshole friend who called me unattractive is over there." and he was just like "OH. That's Todd?" not even registering that I was pissed off and upset.

On the rest of my cold walk home, all 45 minutes of it, I brooded. I bought beer. I brooded some more. I got angry that I was so upset, that a few words said carelessly by a stranger had so much impact on me. I thought of things I should have and could have said to him. I wanted him to apologize to me, I wanted to break things, I wanted to yell.

You may be able to tell that this sort of thing doesn't normally happen to me. I'm unobtrusive enough most of the time not to draw anyone's attention, or at least not to draw anyone's harassment. I get the odd "Beautiful eyes" (mine are blue) or "You should be careful out here" or "Hey, Pretty Girl" or something like that, but my anxiety generally decrees that I smile awkwardly (uncomfortably), shrug, divert my eyes, and walk on. People sometimes call after me, but generally leave me alone. I'm lucky in this, I know many female-presenting persons get a lot more harassment than that. I don't know what I'd do if someone grabbed me, or if someone followed me.

Most negative interactions I've had with men in my life have been with people who I know at least as an acquaintance. The time I was coerced into sex? That was a guy I had hooked up with previously who I had told I wasn't interested in. Someone I was dating at the time tried to force me into sex on another occasion, even pulling down my pants and his while I helplessly repeated that I wasn't ready. Terrified because we were in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night and there was no one around to help me if he became violent.

I feel much more prepared at this point in my life to deal with people I'm acquainted with who are being inappropriate or harassing me and customers who are being inappropriate towards me, a coworker, or another customer than I am with strangers on the street.

I don't know what I could have or should have done. My thoughts on the walk home tell me I should have turned, stared straight at him, head held high, and demanded an apology repeatedly until I got one. I was close enough to a busy street and there were people nearby- the other store of my company was a block away, I could have easily called my friend for backup- so I should have been safe from any physical harm. I know, however, that I couldn't have done this; I wouldn't have been able to stand bravely. I would have been meek, because my anxiety was soaring.

What I do want him and anyone else like him to know is that it just isn't ok to objectify people. It isn't ok to use someone as a landmark and be so carelessly offensive- it's ok if you don't think I'm attractive. I think I'm attractive, my partner thinks I'm attractive, and I know of other people who do as well. I don't need your validation on that front, but it is still hurtful, it still caused me to feel really self conscious and for a little bit, unattractive, that you said what you did about me. You pointed me out like an object that couldn't hear you, like a car or a sign.

I am not an inanimate object. I am not a landmark. I'd be less upset if you had said "a girl with a big bag," but you took things too far with the addition of that one little word.

I do not like you. I do not find your attitude attractive. I know you didn't think you were doing anything wrong but you were, and I hope that realization comes along to you or that another, braver woman than myself gives you the tongue-lashing that will eventually come to you if you keep saying things like that. I hope you realize someday, somehow, that it isn't alright to act like that, and that you grow as a person from that realization.

My outrage is blotting out most of the insecurity I feel about myself and this situation. I don't ever want anyone to make me feel like that again, but I know it will happen. There will always be some person to throw words around carelessly in such a way that is very hurtful to me. It's a sad state of affairs.

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