Sexual harassment, or straight-up unwanted attention is a reality for almost every woman. It’s also incredibly frustrating to be walking or be sitting somewhere by yourself and have someone approach you. I don’t need to extrapolate very much – there’s a line between friendly and uncomfortable. Friendly makes eye contact. Friendly has a sincere, sometimes sheepish smile. Friendly doesn’t make your skin crawl or make your heart beat hard. Friendly makes you want to reciprocate. Friendly is a time and a place.
Uncomfortable, on the other hand, is an older man making an odd request, or a complete stranger asking your name out of the blue when you’re by yourself. Uncomfortable never comes when you have men with you, funnily enough, and Uncomfortable strips away a woman’s right to be by herself on her own terms.
I’ve lived 7 years in Dubai, and Uncomfortable has become a bosom friend in that time. From 13 to 19 I went through various stages when confronted with Uncomfortable: fear, panic, anxiety, confusion, annoyance – and as of late – anger with a heavy dose of impatience.
Perhaps it’s the conviction and confidence that college + independence have nurtured in me, or maybe my meter’s just been overshot and my bullshit threshold has been lowered markedly – whatever it is, I find myself not being able to stomach Uncomfortable.
Day after day, catcalls and unwelcome “compliments,” cowardly solicitations behind tinted windows, and I finally thought to myself: enough. If a scene is warranted, a scene will be made.
This phenomenon, whatever you want to call it, is perpetuated by silence. And sure, I sympathize and empathize deeply – sometimes you just want to grit your teeth and ignore something because it’s not as scary as letting the bubbling of emotions gush from between your lips. You don’t want to entertain the thought of what would happen if your bravado turns the situation even more sour. Your mind flicks through its catalogue of “worst-case-scenarios” and that’s enough to ensure your silence.
At worst you internalize the toxicity and begin to believe that somehow you brought this upon yourself.
And I cannot speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself when I say that there is nothing more satisfying than looking at Uncomfortable coldly and saying, “I don’t want to have this conversation right now, sorry.”
Granted, it isn’t tried and tested – I gave that strategy a shot about thirty minutes ago, and I was amazed at how well it worked. And the look of embarrassment and sudden self-awareness on Uncomfortable’s face was heartening. In that one short, curt sentence, I felt 10 years of complacence disappear from my conscience – and it felt like cool water against chapped lips.
That’s my way of taking back my right to walk alone, unfettered and undisturbed by Uncomfortable. And it feels really, really good.
Note: This is more a spiel than anything else, and I apologize for how gendered this is, but I can only speak of what I’ve experienced as a cis-woman, and what I’ve experienced myself and in my life.
2 thoughts on “Walking alone”
I was once alone at a Caltrain station when three men wandered by. As they got close, one began to “compliment” my appearance very loudly and aggressively. I don’t know what kind of protection instinct kicked into gear inside me – but before I could think, I looked straight at him and said, “Please leave me alone. You’re making me feel uncomfortable.” His FRIENDS immediately got on his case, telling him, “Hey, come on man, you’re making her feel uncomfortable” and making sure he kept on walking. It was a deep relief and a victorious feeling. But you are absolutely right – most of the time, we lower our eyes and keep silent because we’re afraid to engage with an aggressor.
An excellent lesson for women everywhere.