I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what it means to be a woman. It’s not something I spend a great deal of time mediating over. I don’t spend my days raging against the penis machine or anything. In fact, I think I’m pretty conservative when it comes to being a woman. I believe in the healing powers of a lovingly prepared meal, and in lipstick, and that every woman should know how to sew on a button. And, until this story started floating around Facebook, I was pretty philosophical about so-called street homage. Maybe it’s the neighborhood I live or the places I frequent, but I don’t get a lot of street harassment. I don’t remember the last time some strange pelvic-thrusting dude speculated verbally about the qualities of my ass and what, if given the chance, he could possibly do with it. I barely remember the last time I was walking to the subway and had to pointedly keep my gaze fixed in front of me so I wouldn’t make eye contact with the person in my periphery making soft, barely audible sucking, mmm-mmm noises. I hardly remember walking out of the door feeling pretty, but arriving at my destination with the thought, “Maybe this top is too low cut…” bouncing around in my head. I don’t remem… Wait a minute. I… was that…?
What the fuck. That was just last week.
How I had a completely blocked all of that out? Reading UnWinona’s story, not to mention the amount of comments on Jo Weldon’s Facebook page discussing it, brought all of that into sharp focus.
And then I started to remember.
I remember living in Downtown Los Angeles and dreading walking the six blocks from my apartment to school because of the unrelenting onslaught of comments from the local penile peanut gallery. Everything ranging from “You look like an angel when you smile,” to “Mmm-mm. I’d like to see what my dick looks like in that mouth.” And even one old-schooler asked if he could get some fries with that shake. An oldie but a goodie. I remember crossing the street with my dog and having a mystery hand inject itself into my crotch so forcefully and fearlessly that my first thought was that Mike had decided to come with us on the walk after all and, in an ill-conceived attempt at marital playfulness, goosed me for a laugh. I wheeled around to find, not my husband, but a sea of strange faces. I remember feeling embarrassed. Not indignant. Embarrassed.
I remember when I was 20 and spending the Halloween weekend in New Orleans visiting my girlfriend. I remember coming up against a wall of young guys, fraternity types, spanning the entire width of the street in front of us. It was a massive amount of drunk, unfriendly faces. My girlfriend and I looked at each other with dread in our eyes but we had to go through them. Our destination was on the other side. As we “excuse me, please”d our way through them, I saw hands shooting up my friend’s little schoolgirl skirt and I felt hands raking against my own ass. From behind me, someone grabbed the trailing bit of fabric from my Athena toga and pulled. Hard. It came off to the waist and I wasn’t wearing a bra underneath. I remember screaming at them as I tried to cover myself. I remember the guy taking a swig off his drink while he held the white fabric of my costume like a leash. I remember another guy pointing at my partially bared breasts and yelling, “Look at them tits!” and I remember a girl next to him laughing. When we made it through them, I remember feeling scared and embarrassed and so, so small.
I remember being followed home late at night by a guy who got so close behind me that I could smell his breath. I remember being called a stuck-up bitch and that I wasn’t that pretty anyway when I told a foul-mouthed dude to fuck off. I remember being called the same thing when I was polite about it. I remember being terrified while I walked to the laundromat. I remember wishing I hadn’t worn that dress. I remember foreign bodies “bumping” into mine on the bus. I remember wishing that I could just be left alone.
I remember in my mid twenties when I was finally ready to admit and confront that I had experienced some pretty fucked-up shit at the hands of a trusted friend of the family, how when I talked about it with my girlfriends every single one of them had their own story to tell, and in most cases it was way worse.
I also remember, passing it all off as just one of those things. A bit of street homage. A thing that you just have to deal with if you have a pair of tits and a vagina.
But I don’t think I’m going to think about it that way any more. Because now I’m remembering all of those times when I’ve walked around in the world and interacted with people, or didn’t interact with people, and felt fine and safe. And now I’m starting to notice that I’ve endured more harassment on the streets of Downtown Chicago than I have at a burlesque show where I’ve just stripped out of my clothes. And I’m thinking about the news and current political debates. Debates about the definintion of rape, and harassment, and equal pay. And I wonder what fucking century I’m living in.
And now I think that when I look back on this moment, writing this post, I won’t remember being scared or feeling small or embarrassed.
I’ll remember being pissed the fuck off.