I get asked why I moved here to Texas a lot. It’s easy to tell I’m not from around here. I retain quite a bit of my northern accent, with some Midwestern words thrown in. I can pull off a southern accent if I want to, but it’s not a Texas one. I explain that I have family living in the area, that job opportunities are better, and that it was a decision I made with my husband. If they ask me what is the best thing about living here, I give an honest answer. Which first, surprises people that I’d give an honest answer. Because mostly these people are the customers at my work, and when a retail person makes small talk a lot of it is pretty little white lies, but I’m not doing that when I answer this question. The second reason people are surprised with my answer, is the answer itself. I’m so happy to not have to deal with street harassment.
One week in Chicago I decided to poll every day whether or not I was harassed on the street by some guy and truly find out it such occurrences happened every day or was that just an over-exaggeration in my head. It was not. I was harassed every single day. The most depressing thing? It was more than once a day, every day. This happened all nine years that I lived there. I had several men try to hug me as well. I always confronted them, looked them in the eye, and told them no. On one occasion the man kept advancing toward me with his arms open, I stood my ground and held my arm out solid in a halting motion. He walked around me and I rotated all the way around to make sure I was not grabbed from behind. On another occasion the guy who decided he deserved a hug and touching without permission asked me, sincerely puzzled, “Why not?”
“You are a perfect stranger.” I told him as I passed him, also with my arm out so he could not touch me.
By far one of the most hated things men would do is tell me to smile. I’ve ranted on this a bit before, but I find that the most deplorable form of chauvinistic mindset. I am not walking down the street for the pleasure of these men. My face is not in any arrangement for their pleasure. It is not my reason to exist on this earth to walk around with a smile so that THEY feel better about THEIR day. When I would not smile, they would get mad. Because I had disobeyed them. It was so maddening. More so that my safest course of action was to ignore them and walk faster so that they would not try to grab me from behind. Finally, one day I had had enough. A guy tried to put out his arms to get me to stop and sign some stupid petition, when I would not stop he yelled at me, “Hey, you should smile.”
I turned on him. “THAT is the most deplorable thing anyone has told me to do today. How dare you! What if my grandmother had just died? You don’t know. Don’t F*cking tell me what to do.” I walked away with my head up high. It was the most liberating thing that had ever happened to me on the streets of Chicago. (True I probably only did this because it was the middle of the day and there were other people around so I was not afraid of getting beaten up for in insolence, but still, it was liberating.)
I was reminded of all of this yesterday when I read the Freshly Pressed posting: I am not decoration. She too talks about being told she has to smile. She also referenced a posting on Jezebel and a video which I’m embedding below. The video accurately depicts what women, who live in big cities, have to deal with on a consistent, daily basis. For no other reason than that they are women. Street harassing comments are not compliments. They are a tiny wear and tear, each and every time, on the soul. A continuous attempt to tell women that we are not allowed to exist as ourselves, but only as street decoration.