A man on the street asked me for change the other day. I told him I didn’t have any cash on me. He said, “You’re still beautiful anyway.” I shook my head and kept walking, annoyed but figuring that was that. It happens all the time and I always ignore it. This time, though, I heard someone behind me say, “That’s harassment.” It took me a second to realize that a guy, a stranger, was sticking up for me. I turned around and said, “Thank you.” I was completely surprised. The stranger didn’t even acknowledge my thanks. He just kept walking, but it didn’t matter. I was so happy that he had said something. I felt stronger, like someone had finally said what needed to be said. Like I had an ally.
It is striking how rare this is. No one has ever stood up for me like that before. Not once. Ever.
It is overwhelmingly common for guys to offer unwelcomed comments to women on the street. I can’t count the number of times a man has told me to smile, that I was beautiful or said to his buddies that I looked good as I walked by. For those who don’t see this as a problem, I have to explain in simple terms: THIS IS NOT A COMPLIMENT.
“You’re still beautiful anyway” translates to, “You didn’t give me what I wanted but you’re giving me something else. You’re eye candy and I’m happy to take that from you instead of money.” The thing is, I didn’t offer to be his eye candy. I do not want him to think I am beautiful. I do not care about him. I am not his object. The stranger is right, it is harassment.
This video that shows what it’s like when genders are switched is useful in portraying how it feels:
Another encounter I overheard between two high school boys about a girl they knew: One boy said to the other, “She’s super stylish one day and the next day she isn’t. I’m just like, ‘Choose one, woman!'” I glared accusingly at the boys but they either didn’t notice or took me for another weird person at the metro station. I wanted to walk up to them and say, “This girl doesn’t have to choose. Just because she’s female doesn’t make her one-dimensional,” but that would have only scared them away. Beauty magazines make us think that women’s style is an expression of who we are. As I mentioned in a previous post, I grew up wondering whether I was a “girly girl” or a “tomboy”. I couldn’t be both, I had to choose.
A different stranger called me “plain” the other day, equating it to me being from the Midwest. I easily laughed that one off, as if I would care what that idiot thought. It never ceases to amaze me how much men think they should have a say in how women look.
When I think more carefully, it is a bit surprising that being called “plain” and being called “beautiful” incite two different reactions from me. I am more insulted by someone calling me beautiful than plain. I think it’s because the man who called me beautiful was objectifying me and the guy who called me “plain” wasn’t. He wasn’t interested in me as an object. I didn’t live up to his standards, and being put in the position of uninteresting is a million times more comfortable than being objectified.
The stranger only said two words when he stood up for me. Those two words felt great. It made me realize that this is a tool we can easily use. I ask that more men (and women) stand up for each other. Maybe those high school boys will hear you and learn from you. Maybe a passerby will think about it and stand up for someone else the next day. Maybe you will simply call someone out for doing something wrong and will help to make one woman not feel alone. That’s worth it.
To the guy who stood up for me, I have to say it one more time. I don’t have any idea who you are, but what you did means much more than you probably realize. Thank you.
Among the diversions she discusses: suddenly turning on the lights at a party or turning off the music; accidentally spilling a drink on the guy; forming a conga line and pulling him away from the woman he’s bothering and onto the dance floor. One of her favorites came from a young woman who approached her drunken girlfriend and said, loudly, “Here’s the tampon you asked for.”