My husband and I were JUST. talking about this. This whole “hidden” experience of being a woman. Not just, you have no idea what it means to train yourself to be always observant because you cannot afford to tune out your surroundings lest you become someone’s prey, either. That I can chalk up to being life – it’s not hard and it’s definitely not a grievance for me, just not a privilege I own.
So I just read this blog about a woman being verbally abused, intruded upon, intimidated and mocked on the metro – all for not wanting to engage in conversation with strange men. (Yes, that’s a long hyperlink which is my way of saying READ IT NOW.) And I feel the need to further blog about this because it’s not.rare. Like, do men get that? That it’s not an isolated incident? That it happens even when you’ve got a ring on your finger and your child holding your hand? (That was the MOST.) Thank the LORD, I have not for years had someone verbally abuse me to the degree this young woman suffered (but I can paint you a pretty vivid picture of the day it happened and I know exactly where I was and what I was holding in my hand, that’s the kind of “I remember” this is).
But here’s why this pisses me off. Aside from the part where even if I explain this, I’m still not convinced it can be understood without being true to your experience (which is why I can’t even begin to know whether reading Invisible Man could either… unless part of your experience is being trained and required to relate to the experience of someone else, ie unless you’re a minority which usually means a person of color, it seems there’s a wall and maybe that’s just another way of saying privilege).Okay, here is why: my first job was with Victoria Secret Beauty in the Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento, California. I was the Demo Diva, the lady who stands just inside the lease line for the store and debuts a fine fragrance or two, trying to entice mall goers into the store. I was pretty good at this job (hi, it’s sales). I was good enough that after a month on the job, they sent me to the national conference in New York to give a speech to managers about how people should be trained for this position – actually I remember this speech having more to do with how best to pitch the new-at-the-time laundry detergent for delicates.
One of the reasons I was good at this job was that I only sold to consumers. Meaning, I didn’t give off a carny vibe by verbally intruding on every person who walked by me and spraying the air like the potion would sell itself. No. I first made eye contact. If someone immediately dropped my gaze or, better yet, if they pulled their arm in and therefore away from me or stepped discretely to the other side so they wouldn’t pass directly in front of me, I let them pass. I laced my fingers behind me and looked away to let them know I understood. Sure, sometimes I ventured a guess and asked if they’d like to sample (not the people I just described but others who were less obvious), but I really tried to pay a lot of attention to people’s body language.
So when I’m on the subway or waiting for someone right outside of it and I’m accosted, I get really upset. Seriously. I can go from happy to indignant pretty fast at having my personal space invaded. What gives a stranger the right to command, “Smile!” as he passes too closely? I’m sorry. I’m supposed to be constantly smiling because? What, I need to please my audience? Right. That’s not my job. Or how about the guy who traced his finger down my back and then defended himself with, “I was just saying hello.” DO YOU EVEN GET WHAT YOU’RE SAYING?!
The guy at the same mall where I worked who then went and found his female friend to come pick a fight with me – I’m not kidding when I say she took her shoes off – after he stepped into my space and I told him so (after which he still tried to hit on me for several minutes). This is the response to a woman not letting a stranger stand close enough that our clothing touches?
This just boggles my mind. And I went to UC Santa Cruz aka Redwood Forest so I’m not a girl who walks with her head down and slowly or aimlessly. If these are the sort of advances *I* get while I’m going about my business, I can’t even imagine what happens to smaller, sweeter looking women. I hate that we have to “be careful” in how we assert our right to not entertain strangers for fear of how they’ll react – which doesn’t stop them from making sure we know they’re mad.
I don’t even know how to end this other than to say I’m pleased my son will have a good role model. I pray he never makes a woman feel as offended as I’ve felt.