Allow me to start from the end...
Apologies for the philosophical sidenote, I hate transposing reality into the academic realm... It makes everything too detached, too convenient and ready for dissection... But a number of events in my life have made me appreciate those white, old/dead, Eastern European male writers A LOT. Damit, they were right when they wrote about that duality between existence as a subjct and an object. The border between the two clings to us all like clothing, and shines like an ill aura when a woman walks down any public space. To you I am an object, viewed from the clothing outward. Voiceless, mindless... And I must say that as hard as I have tried - the louder I scream and flail my arms... I just become a very animated object, the subject behind it as invisible to you as the real body I guard under the clothing that separates you from me. An approppriate dose of stubborn dehumanisation makes anything acceptable, doesn't it?
At the age of 12, anything new feels good if it’s introduced gently. As you, girl, proudly begin to witness the appearance of the curves you’ve so been waiting for, it’s nice to know others are taking notice. Recall how many vacuous moments were filled laying your eyes upon the changing shadows of the flowing fabrics passing you by, recall the many ways you wondered if your shirts would someday crease in that fashion, the hem of your skirt bounce to that rhythm. Knowing that others could possibly look to you with such wonder in their eyes… it made you walk a little taller, each step a little more accented so as to lend grace to your newly-rounded angles.
And then the eyes stopped being silent and as you grew the words they sent your way grew up too. Into more ‘adult’ words, to suit the thoughts your now-adult body made legitimate; taking advantage of the license it gave them. You let your body talk that way – let me answer with the words it’s been asking me for.
Screw the childhood, forget about any illusions of gentle appreciative stares, you’re almost thirteen now. Welcome to the real world.
In the mall my booty was ghetto and appreciated in packs – at times I had trouble distinguishing what scores they were referring to because I knew their jerseys had won the night before. Throughout Europe I was worth a whistle, in Cuba a click accompanied by sustained eye contact. I averted my eyes and turned back once at a safe distance – the eyes would still be looking, stray dogs gathering around them hoping food was the reward for answering the call.
On Guy or Crescent they were Arabic and Greek and Italian words I wish I didn’t know, and whispered promises in passing - I will… I could… You make me…
In Morocco the echo of a compliment resonated through a souk – Why thank you, I DO find my pussy quite sexy, I’m happy the feeling is mutual. When the group of people I had met at the conference that had brought me in the Maghreb came together for dinner that evening - a bunch of young women and men from around the globe - we couldn't help but compete over our day's experiences of street harassement, laughing about getting our breasts and behinds groaped. We - the girls - shrugged our shoulders and blamed culture shock, while the boys sat in shock and dismay at our ease with letting it all slide. Culture shock, really? You're going to let them because they're different? Yes, yes I will because I refuse to believe it has anything to do with ME, it has to do with what they see when they look my way.
In the Village they came in the early morning, when the butches were recruiting and the fags were touchy – I think it had something to do with insecurity and power. Or blood-alcohol content. Or something. Because there was always an obvious attempt at courage in their voice – in all their voices, their whistles, their clicks. It’s not because I want you, it’s because I can. I can make you react, know your place, remind you of mine. Over and over and over again.
In Japan it’s a polite side glance accompanied by a sneer, alternating between myself and the manga on his knees. I cannot help but wonder if I become the girl on the page – the look towards either being equally empty, the assessment quickly consumed and disposed of. I haven't had a run-in with those famed chikan yet. Count yourself lucky.
In the Philippines my sister and I were always accompanied – by my father, my cousins, a ten-year-old acquaintance – anything with the proverbial balls we physically lack. It was my father’s first encounter with emasculation, as he cannot help but feel what my sister and I feel… The men directing their thoughts about us towards him did not help him in his attempt to ignore the stares that weighed on our pale shoulders.
You shouldn’t keep such beauty all to yourself, sir.
He wanted to puke.
You’re a lucky man, walking with such gorgeous things. Are you their father? Why, you’re an artist, sir.
I was used to it by that point, ten years had passed since I turned 12. But my heart broke when I saw his shoulders hunch a little lower and his eyes lose a little more pride with each fleeting comment. I knew what he wanted to answer…
Yes, I’m responsible for the entire shell, but you should see how I helped them decorate the interior – doesn’t that matter too?
I have walked alongside boys and men who have gotten angrier than I have at the knowledge of what populates my daily walks. Once at our destination, safely sheltered from their glances and their sounds, these boys and men ask me how and why I take it, why I don’t answer back.
All I can offer them is ‘What am I supposed to do? Stop and school each one?’
Frankly, I simply take comfort in knowing that while they’re standing, sitting, or taking their time wandering the same city block waiting for myself and women like me to pass by… we’re actually steady going places with a mind uncluttered by the delivery of the next inconsequential one-liner.
Read others' thoughts on the topic of street harassment and eve-teasing for their links on the BlankNoiseProject blog.
Action Hero dancing chaos