Tuesday, December 18

Don't look at me


On the streets of New York City, eye contact is a dangerous thing. It is dangerous because people think it is an invitation to engage. When I make eye contact with a homeless person, they get to ask me for money. When I meet the glance of a construction worker, he gets to name me “Mami” and ask how I’m doing. When I look at a table of cheap purses and scarves as I walk by, the man selling them gets to ask me to stop for a minute.

It seems that everyone wants my money or my body. Everyone else pretends I’m not there.

To live in New York is to feel constantly harassed when you go outside.

I’m not used to being harassed. I don’t know how to describe what it feels like to not be harassed, but imagine not really knowing what rain is and then suddenly every time you go outside, it’s raining. You can’t avoid that. It’s just there.

Recently, I tried to stop thinking of myself as a victim. After all, I don’t have to avoid eye contact. What if I’m the one harassing men who pass me on the sidewalk? Then it’s my game. That would be such a relief.

My first experiment was to stop breaking eye contact with people. This did not provide the results I had hoped for. Maintaining eye contact only revealed what men did after my eyes were usually glued to the pavement: they stared at the rest of my body. The fact that I was watching them do it did not change this. In fact, maintaining eye contact often only made things worse, since men like it when you look at them. After all, eye contact is an invitation. I felt powerless.

I concluded that sometimes ignoring things is the best way to make them disappear. If I don’t watch long enough, I can pretend that the man in the elevator only looked at my face. This can work in any area of life, I’ve found. If I pretend that I can’t hear the cell phone vibrating in someone’s purse during a meeting, then it didn’t really ring. And it most certainly wasn’t my cell phone.

So I returned to averting my eyes. Still, it’s hard to actually not notice someone staring at me for an entire elevator ride. And to then pretend that they’re not watching my ass while I walk out.*

I thought I could deal with the harassment, but it’s starting to suffocate me.

Just as bad is the ignoring. The people who don’t harass you simply pretend that you do not exist. Today I felt like screaming. I was walking to the train station on the person-wide trail carved out of the ice on the sidewalk. If someone came from the opposite direction, it was obvious that one of us would need to step aside, onto the ice, in order for the other person to pass. No matter, though. Every single person who passed me just kept going, staring straight ahead. Nobody stopped, nobody acknowledged my presence by stepping up on the ice, or, I don’t know, maybe looking at me. I was the one who stepped on the ice. Every single time.

I might be ready to be that “FUCK YOU” person. Because, seriously, fuck them.


*Is the whole “Ladies first” thing just a ploy to look at our asses?

11 comments:

lessake said...

yeah, nowadays it's a ploy to look at our asses.
but as the joke goes - in the stone age they let women go into the caves first cause you could never be sure if there weren't any dangerous animals inside :)

Tex said...

Ah TAB,
I see things so differently now. I do look at women's asses and now I must say I'm sorry. I've never looked at your ass I'm sure but please let me say I'm sorry for the men who did.
Regards,
Tex

kittenpower said...

yes, i've felt the harassment for sure.

ignoring is the way to go...

maybe you should try running into one of the people on the trail. play chicken or something fun and see what happens...

jenniti said...

Walk like you mean it! People can sense when you're serious and will get out of your way. Have fun with it =)

Chevy said...

girl, I feel your pain. Esp. here in the Caribbean where men are 10 times more bold than NYC men. I tried the whole staring back thing..yeah...that turned out about as well as your attempt at it. Just ended up engaging in annoying 3 minute convos where I had to insist that I wasn't giving him my number, wasn't taking his and wouldn't call even if he tried to press into my hand. Averting the eyes of creepy men, unfortunately, has to be our technique. Makes me feel like the 'weaker sex'? Unfortunately, yes...but we girls must remain safe! Great blog, btw. I'll be back!

The Ambiguous Blob said...

every time I read a post or see a show or hear anything about NYC, I am more and more terified of ever going there. Honestly, I can go into jungles and deserts and to Antarctica, but NYC??? I'm so scared of it. You're much more brave than I.

The Ambiguous Blob said...

every time I read a post or see a show or hear anything about NYC, I am more and more terified of ever going there. Honestly, I can go into jungles and deserts and to Antarctica, but NYC??? I'm so scared of it. You're much more brave than I.

bunny said...

I just stumbled upon your blog, and I definitely agree with this post... living in NYC can be a pain. Also I HATE how whenever there's a mass of people on the sidewalk about to collide, I am the ONLY one who moves aside to prevent said collision. Annoying! I am sick of acquiescing to strangers' needs...I think I need to be bitchier...not accidentally (haha excuse the lame pun!)

.Nicotine.Queen. said...

"To live in New York is to feel constantly harassed when you go outside."

I couldn't have said it better myself.
Kudos!

deluded said...

I apologize on behalf of all such men. and I would just like to say that maybe you saw the minority bad or that you saw the bad(but small) part of those guys.

Rob said...

When I first moved to the UK from a fairly small country town in South Africa the rudeness of people here shocked me too. Over time you do get used to it. I am not one to ignore people, but if they ignore me, or a courtesy, such as me holding a door open for them, they get a loud 'thank you' or 'f*&! you' hollered after them depending on the circumstances (The ones that walk me off the street invariably get the second).

My sister has also complained of the harassment she gets here in London - she has lived in Dublin and Rome as well and noted that neither were anywhere near as bad as London - both in terms of frequency or the sinister undercurrent that goes with the harassment (including being followed home on several occasions).

You could always do what she does - challenge the blokes. Mostly this works, they back off quickly. Those that don't get whacked with an umbrella...