I was raised in the suburbs of Chicago (there is such a thing), so when I used to walk down the street, which was rarely because I could usually gain access to somebody’s vehicle, the only people I would run into were my classmates, my neighbors and maybe somebody’s loose dog.
So moving to New York City and not having a car meant I had to encounter overly-flirtatious men walking and standing around on the street. Some of these men make it their mission to stand on the sidewalk at some point in the day with a friend or by themselves. It was all a bit much for me at first.
I have since become accustomed to the staring and coquettish commentary and try my best to keep myself from noticing it. To do so, I usually keep my headphones on (sometimes when nothing is playing in them), keep my head down or simply look straight ahead. But even then, such choices can still bring about a “pick your head up beautiful!” or a “smile!”
It’s been a daily battle so irritating at times (too many uncomfortable glances at my butt and a comment about my breasts) that I sometimes choose to alter my clothing choices. Don’t get me wrong, I wear what I want. However, the street my subway station is on is quite busy, so I decided to invest in one of those long sweaters that covers my backside (especially when I wear tights). Once I get to my destination, I take it off.
So I can admit that I’ve been on the defensive out on these streets. Most destinations in my neighborhood don’t take me more than seven minutes, so I would like those few minutes to be peaceful and quiet. But being a little too defensive put me on my backside this past weekend.
Taking my usual route back to my apartment, I found myself having to pass two men standing on the sidewalk talking. So I see the men, and one looks up at me as I’m coming closer to them. I think to myself, Oh Lord, it’s too wet and cold outside for any of this. Just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to judge them based on how they looked, but again, considering that most men in my neighborhood in Brooklyn have a lot to say when you’re walking past them, I just wanted to be left to stroll home without feeling like a piece of meat on the way. So I made the decision to walk faster so I wouldn’t have to be bothered. I kept my head up and continued to look straightforward.
Did I already mention that it was raining?
Down I went in some beloved flats with a heel I hadn’t noticed were starting to get worn out. Down I went right in front of both of the men I was trying to avoid, foot bleeding from hitting the ground hard and my butt wet.
“Oh wow! Ma’am! Are you okay?”
That’s what one said to me while the other gave me his hand and helped me up off the ground. Embarrassed, I wanted to say “NO!” but I said, “Yes, thank you for asking.” They helped me up and helped me with my purse.
“You sure you’re okay?”
I replied once more that I was fine and as I prepared to continue my walk, this time hobbling, I heard, “Be safe. Be careful out here.”
That was it. No one laughed. No one tried to flirt. No one’s intentions were anything but pure it seemed.
I felt like a jacka**.
I felt this way not only because of the fact that I fell in public, but because of the fact that the same people I was trying to avoid like the plague ended up being the same people who came to my aid when I definitely needed a hand. They helped me up and made sure that I got back on my way safely. That was it.
So I think I’ll try to change my strategy for dealing with men on the street, and some of you should too. Don’t get me wrong, the headphones will stay in. However, I decided that I need to do better about not walking around assuming every man standing around is a creep looking for more than to simply give a head nod and a smile. I got so used to the street harassers with no act right that I couldn’t show respect to the ones minding their business, but trying to be helpful when necessary. The ones who tell you that you dropped something. The ones who tap you to tell you something that should be under your clothes is on the outside of them or that something that shouldn’t be on you is. The ones who simply caught your eye and decided to say “Good morning.”
It’s definitely hard out here for the walking woman, but I’ve learned that not everyone is out here trying to get into my pants, so I shouldn’t treat them like that…until they prove that they are.