The other day on my way home from work, I came around the corner of my block right by the deli that has the “Open 24 Hours” sign on it, but which is only open about four days a week and at whatever the hell hours it feels like. I was texting a friend as I walked, but keeping my peripheral vision peeled for any weirdness, as I always do because there are frequently some colorful characters hanging out near that deli.
I was right to be wary. As I passed the deli, this guy fell in step beside me, murmuring weird shit at me. Like… weird shit. Not overtly sexual, not particularly gross, just weird. I couldn’t hear some of it because he was mumbling, but some of it went like this:
Guy: *eyeing the turtle pin on my bag* Yeeeah, turtles and ducks and shit, yeeeeah, girl, where you going, uh-huh…
Me: *making a confused expression out of the side of my eye at this bizarre man*
Guy: *seeing my creeped-out-ness* Yeeeah, you real busy and shit, on your phone, you have dilemmas and shit…
I was coming up to my house, and considered walking past it instead of going in, because it seemed totally possible that he would try to come in with me, or stand outside and harass me from the street. So, to assess the situation better, I put my phone in my bag, stopped walking, and turned to look this guy in the face. He stopped, too, and looked right back at me.
Me: Does this usually work for you?
Guy: *immediately straightening his posture* Nawww…
Me: I didn’t think so.
Me: Because that is creepy.
Me: Like, real fuckin’ creepy.
So I turned and kept walking, him having just admitted that he was being creepy on purpose. He kept following me. I turned in at my gate.
Guy: So this where you live?
Me: *stony silence*
Guy: *very politely* So I’m Robert. What’s your name, Miss?
Me: *massive eye roll, continued silence*
Guy: Maybe I’ll see you again sometime?
Me: *walking inside*
I kept an eye out the window to see if he was lurking, and thankfully, he wasn’t. He went right back to the deli, ostensibly to be really creepy at somebody else. I may have had an actual human exchange with him, but I didn’t get the impression I’d made any breakthroughs in his personal feelings about street harassment.
I feel about 90% certain that this guy that because I’m a smallish youngish woman who doesn’t quite fit into the neighborhood, I would be intimidated by him. Sadly, I am not much intimidated by people being weird specifically to frighten me. If he’d appeared genuinely threatening or dangerous, I probably would not have responded at all, except to have taken off running. But Robert seemed fairly harmless, just a jerk, once I made it clear that I wasn’t impressed. The moment I started speaking to him and looking him in the eye, he straightened up, looked back at me, and spoke to me like a human being. I could almost hear his internal monologue: “Oh my god! It can talk! It’s a person! Man, I guess I was being creepy.”
He said as much. He agreed when I told him it was creepy.
Let me reiterate. He knew it was creepy and he still felt ok harassing me, in broad daylight, in full view of dozens of people, for no reason and with no expectation of any significant payoff. Just because he could.
Then again, before I judge too much, he did get me to talk to him. He didn’t get my number, or my name, or anything significant, but he did get a reaction. Maybe that’s all he wanted.
But… ugh. Being a woman in public. Of course, this incident happened at the intersection of multiple issues: socioeconomic class disparities/perceptions, culture and race and postcolonialism, gentrification of the neighborhood… the list goes on and on. But can we at least admit that gender played a role? And that, just like the rest of the issues involved, it’s not ok that it did?
In other news: I will be moving out of that apartment and off that block tomorrow. (Yeah, that gentrification thing = I can’t afford to live there anymore.) So, peace out, Robert! Good luck harassing other women!