By S. Nicole Brown
When you write for a living, you become a quite ardent and keen observer of people. When living in New York City however, you learn to perfect the art of ignoring other humans completely, to the point that you barely notice the breakdancing guy on the train, or the couple screaming obscenities at one another mid sidewalk–unless they happen to bump into you, or swat you with a flailing foot. The one circumstance that has become so increasingly flagrant that it is nearly impossible to ignore though, is what I’ve come to call the eye-rake. The eye-rake is seemingly custom for New York (or any big city, apparently), an aggressive visual scan of any woman in the almost-to-very attractive spectrum crossing another (sometimes”rough side of the tracks” looking, most times not) woman’s path. The mouth turns grim, the eyes drag up the woman’s body analyzing everything from toenail polish (neon pink? girl, no) to eyelash length (those are NOT hers), then down, and usually up again, brazenly stopping dead at her eyes, a silent challenge that says sarcastically, “and what?”
I don’t understand.
When I moved here last September, these eye-rakings went mostly unnoticed. Wide-eyed, smiling, and geared with my Midwestern friendliness, I naively misread the scowls and stares, attributing it to being simply one of the many Big Apple things I was unaccustomed to. As time passed though, I began noticing more and more, the mean looks and evaluating stares from women. I won’t exaggerate and say this is all, or even most women whom cross paths with one another–as New York people usually tend to be aware of everyone and yet pay attention to no one at the same (damn) time–but it happens often enough for one to take note. Comparing stories with friends and women on twitter sadly revealed many shared experiences of unprovoked walk-by mean-muggings, and even snide comments in that loud-enough-to-be-heard, but low-enough-to-not-be-directly-aimed voice.
In the wild, it’s self-preservation. That innate instinct to lash out, protect yourself and your respect when sensing that a threat is near. In NYC, it’s just rude. Assuming that because another being has breasts and a similar skin hue she is a threat, is problematic. It’s disturbing the hostility with which some women view women they don’t know. It bespeaks either a personal insecurity, or an unhealthy amount of ratchetness floating in one’s DNA.
It would make sense in a time when black women have become media not-so-darlings, the subject of many a Mama’s Basement “scientific study” on our latest collective shortcoming, that we would learn to embrace one another. When black women are bombarded regularly with articles teeming with platitudes on why we’re not attractive, why we’re single, why our man is cheating, why we’re too fat, why we’re not phat enough, why we don’t get married, why black men don’t like us, why our hair isn’t long/straight/curly/kinky enough, why we’re too dark to be beautiful, too light to be black, but still both pretty for black girls … the one safe haven, the one respite, should be with someone that looks like us, that knows what it’s like to be a woman who seems to both mystify and repel an entire industry. It is easy to judge first, easy to be a “mean girl,” but what do you gain? I really believe that doing our part to expand the idea of sisterhood beyond sorors and friends, and not perpetuating the Love and Hip-Hop-esque attitude the media keeps reiterating, there can be positive change.
Another woman’s beauty, intelligence, confidence, bigger or smaller butt, longer or shorter hair, simpler or more eclectic wardrobe, darker or lighter skin, takes nothing away from what great qualities the next woman possesses. Every woman has noticed some quality or trait (or fly handbag) that another woman has and wanted it, but there are often far more reasons to be happy with yourself, wear a smile, and go about life, without casting unwarranted eye stabs at women just because they do. For this reason, I’ve made sure to offer a smile most times when I see another woman passing. If only to counter the not-so-positive looks she may have encountered that day. It’s impossible to do this with everyone, but it’s amazing to see how many people are surprised to see a smile their way.
I challenge everyone who reads this to smile at the next woman you walk past (and to some, to just to not blatantly eye-rake them), offer a kind word to the girl you see weekly in the gym but never speak to. Build community and not walls. Compliment, don’t judge, you may find yourself adding to your circle. I know not everyone is meant to be your friend, but she certainly doesn’t have to be an enemy.
S. Nicole Brown is a writer of fiction, lover of words, and chronic reader happily living the clichéd under-spaced and overpriced life of a NYC writer. You can follow her @muzeness and read random words of wisdom and senselessness on her blog, Because I’m Write.
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