Today I watched two viral videos: One of a very charming and gifted T-Pain not using auto-tune during a tiny desk concert and another about a woman who got catcalled more than one hundred times on the streets of New York over the course of ten hours. Only one of those videos surprised me.
I – like many women – get hassled endlessly. On the way to the train in the morning, on a run home after work, in line at Target – if I leave my house, the world has something to say about it. In fact, I’m really looking forward to winter because I’ll be able to use a full length down parka as a shield. It cuts the comments in half at least.
One of the most annoying things about all this harassment is that a lot of it doesn’t even make sense.
“Can I get some fries with those shorts?” one man asked me over the summer. A few weeks later, someone on the train said, “I would love to have you put your shoes in my closet.” I had to shrug because I have no idea what those comments mean.
For every confusing come-on, there are two more that are almost funny. “You look all classy and shit. Let’s get you some red wine.” Or, “I’d offer to buy you a Dunkin’ Donut but I know you aint eatin’ that, girl!” If it wasn’t so insulting, it would actually be hilarious.
But there are some really scary men too. The ones who don’t use their words. The ones who hiss through their teeth. The ones who leer. They make things so uncomfortable that sometimes I pretend to get off the train four stops early and scramble down the platform to duck into the next car. Sometimes they follow me because they might not adhere to social norms, but they’re not stupid. And something tells me they’ve had a bit of practice.
I wouldn’t recommend doing battle with this type. I mean, unless you want to have an empty whiskey bottle thrown over your shoulder or were hoping tonight would be the night that someone would threaten to beat you with a full can of Coors Light. Just speaking from experience. Luckily I never crossed paths with someone crazy enough to follow through – or, in the first case, someone with decent enough aim. But I’ve learned my lesson. Hiss all you want – I’ll be over here keeping my mouth shut.
But here’s the thing. I don’t think every man who makes an unwanted advance is malicious. Certainly the one who offered me his seat on the subway and then followed it up with “Do you not want to sit down because you’re trying to lose weight?” probably wasn’t coming from a terrible place, though his line needed some work. I might not want to talk to him, but he’s not the same as the creeps that catcall at the top of their lungs, or the guys who walk too close, or the men who think I woke up that morning and couldn’t wait to entertain people on the sidewalk with my sensible pants and totally normal walking.
Perhaps it’s defeatist to say that this will never change. But, sadly, I don’t think it will. Most of the men in question will never see the harm in doing what they’ve come to consider paying someone a compliment. “What’s the big deal?” they’d ask. And I struggle to come up with a good answer. One that’s better than, “It’s annoying. And frustrating. And demeaning. And just wrong.” I guess that should be good enough, but it’s not. It’ll take a lot of convincing to get them on board and I, for one, don’t have the patience to do it.
So if I have to keep with my theme and offer some advice, it’s this: Take it all in stride. Find humor when you can and give someone the benefit of the doubt if they deserve it. Tune the rest out, but don’t throw it back. Because even the baddest bitch is no match for a can of Coors Light.