The other day I was talking with a friend who said she had a problem. "Not a big
problem, but it's bothering me." She explained that she frequents a 24-hour
market near her apartment and that lately the guy who works there has been
making her uncomfortable. "I think I was just too friendly," she said. She added
that she felt guilty. "He's nice; it's not threatening; I even think he's
married - it's just a lot of 'I've missed your pretty smile,' and 'you haven't
been in this week' — and I kind of dread going in there!" I knew exactly what
she meant. But when I tried to explain the situation to a male friend, he looked
at me blankly. "Does he insult her?" No. "Is he inappropriate?" Not exactly.
"He's just being friendly? What's the problem." The 'problem' of course, is that
as women we're vulnerable in ways guys can't appreciate. Sure, they can
comprehend that catcalling is offensive and that pervs rubbing against you on
the subway is disgusting. But they can't understand the smaller things you need
to guard against, day in and day out, that you can't be too friendly, because it
just leaves you...open.
I feel like this every single day. It's the reason I wear sunglasses at all times and walk faster than everyone else around me, wear headphones and read a book simultaneously, it's why the one time I thought I was being followed home, I walked around the block until I was sure I was alone. It's why I don't go to the corner store on Saturdays because the guy who works on that day told me to come in every Saturday just so he could see me. It's why I ignore every friend request because of the guy 20 years older than me who used to serve me coffee two years ago found me on Myspace and asked me out on a date.
I asked someone I know - a boy - to read the article because I wanted them to know that it's true and I do feel like that. They told me it was petty to complain - petty to feel upset about these "encounters". Which made me more upset than I probably should have been.
But at what point am I no longer being petty when I am upset about these things? At what point am I "justified" in complaining? Could it be that when the guy at work calls me sweetness and I complain, that's petty, but I have to wait until the day I catch him leering at me (hypothetical here) to be justified in being upset about it?
Some people do not understand social boundaries, for lack of a better term. If someone is invading my space, or forcing me into an unwanted, often inappropriate conversation, if I feel the slightest bit uncomfortable, I will not pity them or feel bad when I tell them to leave me alone. You cannot excuse someone who is not picking up on my blatant cues that I don't want to talk. When I'm sitting at the bus stop wearing headphones and reading, does it really look like I'm in the mood to be chatted up?
I guess the person I asked may not understand this feeling, because maybe it's never escalated to something more, and they've never had the urge to break into a frantic run just because there's someone walking a little too closely behind you. Maybe they've never felt the sick feeling in the bottom of your stomach when you realise the man behind the counter is leering at your boobs...and it's not like you can hide them. Is this my fault, did I wear something too revealing?
I'm most likely never going to stop feeling this way, and telling me it's petty is not exactly helping. I guess it was just nice to have somebody put the feeling in words - to know that I'm not being narcisstic, people everywhere feel like this. Why so prevalent?
As for me...I'm investing in a burqa.