Last night a man asked me for a dollar as I left the subway on my way home. I gave him one.
He then proceeded to start talking to me and followed me for ten minutes as I tried to walk home. He ignored my repeated attempts to part ways and made comments about my body, his body and allude to us having sex. He asked personal questions about my life. He asked if I was married. I told him that I had a boyfriend, not because I owed him any answer, but my past experience has shown that these type of men, when hearing you are ‘taken’ often will leave you alone out of respect, not for you of course, but for the man who already ‘has’ you.
He walked all the way to the block I lived, talking away, moving closer to my side while I clutched my keys, splayed out between my fingers in one pocket and my cell phone in the other, mind frantically going over my options to get out of this situation. How to get away from this man without angering him. How to get into my apartment without him seeing where I lived.
When I turned the corner of my block I saw that the bodega was open. I told him I had to go to the store and said, again, good night. He followed me into the store, where with witnesses and the store owner who knows my face I had to courage to tell him to stop following me. That I didn’t want him to know where I lived. To go away.
He called me a bitch.
The store owner made him stay in the store long enough for me to dart across the street, duck into my apartment, and lock the door behind me.
I’ve spent most of today going over in my head what I did wrong to get into this situation.
I was stupid to give him a dollar. To speak to him after. To let him walk with me so far. To be so concerned with being polite.
But what that really boils down to is that I, my entire life, have been told that being a woman in public is asking for attention, and once received it is my fault in some way.
I don’t owe anybody conversation, my number, my time. It’s not a complement.
The truly insidious thing about harassment is that in the moment, the potential violence, quiet, persistent and vague threat combine with a world of people telling you that if something bad happens to you it’s YOUR fault. The conditioning women receive to be ‘nice’, be polite, smile for goodness sake (lest, horrors of all horrors we become that horrendous monster, a bitch). All this is why we accept being uncomfortable, being afraid, why we consider how our keys could be used as a weapon.
The man called me a bitch, and my biggest regret today is that I wasn’t a bigger one.