Every single woman has played nice with a perve, just so he won’t get angry and hurt her. Republished from Whimn.com.au.
When I was 14, I was walking home from my part-time job in a deli when an older man approached me. He would have been in his 50s, I suppose, although back then everyone over the age of 20 looked ancient to me.
He told me he was a painter, that he found me strikingly beautiful and he wanted to paint me. He asked me if I would sit for him at his house.
I knew enough about life to know I wasn’t going back to this old guy’s house, so I politely told him I was expected home by my mother. He fell into stride next to me though, and said that was okay, he’d paint me from memory instead. He studied my face, side-on, as we walked. I had no idea where to look or what to do so I just kept walking.
Then he started asking me questions about my body. Do I have any birthmarks? Do my thighs touch at the top? Are my nipples small and pink, or large and brown? Was my pubic hair blonde or brown? Full and bushy, or trimmed and tidy?
I was raised to be polite, and I had no idea what else to do all alone on a quiet street with this stranger asking me questions about my naked body, so I answered all of them. Eventually he told me he had enough information and that he was going home to paint me. I got the feeling that wasn’t what he was going home to do. At least he waited until he got home, I suppose.
I felt violated afterwards, but also confused. He hadn’t touched me or done anything illegal, so why did I feel so bad? I didn’t tell my family what had happened because I was so embarrassed and ashamed that I had gone along with him.
I was reminded of that incident recently when I found myself talking to a drunk man at a taxi rank at 2am. We were the only two waiting for a taxi, and this guy decided to strike up a conversation. Where did I live? What did I do for a living? Was I aware of how pretty I was? I was exactly his type, he told me.
He didn’t pretend to be a painter, but I sure got the feeling he wanted to know what was going on under my jeans and t-shirt.
Of course, he expected me to be flattered.
Being 30 years older and wiser than I was for the painter incident, I wasn’t down for this guy’s bullshit, and I wasn’t swayed by a cheap compliment or two. I told him I wasn’t interested, at which point he got verbally aggressive, calling me a stuck-up bitch and moving into my personal space in a way that made me feel physically intimidated.
In that moment, I was aware – as us women always have to be – of my surroundings and the vulnerable situation I found myself in. There was nobody within sight up and down the street. If this creep wanted to hurt me, he could.
So I did what women everywhere do in this situation all the time: I kicked into self-preservation mode. I told they man I didn’t mean to offend him, and he seemed lovely, but I have a boyfriend who gets terribly possessive, and wouldn’t take kindly to another guy chatting me up.
In this instance, the placating worked long enough for a taxi to came along to carry me safely home. But that didn’t stop my blood from boiling.
It’s not this particular incident that has me furious, it’s the fact that it’s not unique. Every woman has those stories. Every woman scans her environment regularly to assess her safety and work out who she needs to be wary of. Every woman clocks those guys immediately and then watches them out of the corner of her eye, while pretending not to.
And every woman smiles and holds her tongue in situations they find themselves in with men who make them feel unsafe. It might be in the office, in a group of friends, on a night out, or on the daily commute home.
I’d wager most women who regularly use public transport have had a guy tap them on the shoulder and ask, “What are you reading/watching/listening to?”
And we smile and answer politely because we don’t want to cause a scene. Because we don’t know how this stranger will react. Because we’ve seen this shit go south in the blink of an eye before.
So what am I asking for? For creeps to be less creepy?
That’s clearly not going to happen. But as the mother of two daughters, I want things to change, so they don’t have to answer questions and smile politely while some douche invades their privacy, and makes them feel like they should be ashamed of themselves.
I don’t want my girls to always have to scan, to always have to know where the exits are, to have plans in their heads constantly of which way they’ll go if they feel in danger.
But most of all, I don’t want to tell them they need to be nice to creeps just to ensure their own safety. They deserve better.