To the boy who said it shouldn’t matter,
Thank you, first of all, for getting me worked up. I had no intentions of writing about this, truly, but you have given me all the reason. We were having good conversation – listening to each other’s points and sharing various insights based on our life experiences and what we brought to the table – as any important intellectual discussion should have.
Then we got on the topic of women’s rights and feminism. You tried to tell me that feminism is stupid and that all feminist hate men.
All my best friends are guys, I grew up with brothers, I love the hell out of my guy friends, and I identify as a feminist, so you can no longer say that.
I was still keeping the conversation light. I didn’t feel like actually having an argument tonight.
But you pushed. You continued to tell me that there was no way women were at a disadvantage in any aspect of anything in our society. I could have taken a million angles with this but, too tired for an actual debate, I settled for an indisputable fact.
Okay. Here’s one. You (as a straight man) can walk down any street in New York City at any hour of the day and people aren’t going to shout at you. People aren’t going to gesture and say inappropriate things and comment on your body. People won’t follow you or touch you or make you feel uncomfortable when you’re just trying to walk home from work.
I realize, that my voice was rising at this point, but I think I was still staying pretty calm. Until you said this:
But that’s not even a big deal. Why does that matter?
And you, my friend, are part of the issue. Yes, to your point, it isn’t all guys – I never said it was. But if it’s one that’s enough. And the fact that you are refusing to acknowledge that this happens makes you part of the issue.
I never said I hated men. I never said all men in New York City are creeps or weirdos. All I said was that rarely has a day passed in New York City without a man making a pass on me.
But I still gave you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you didn’t quite understand. So I told you an easy, quick story. Just one story but that didn’t seem to quite get through to you either.
I could have told you about the man in Harlem who followed me for blocks while I articulated to my friend on the phone – god bless whoever invented those headphones with the microphone – exactly what was happening before deciding to stop in a populated area and wait until he eventually got bored of me standing still and left.
I could have told you about the man on Broadway who at noon on a Sunday, reached out and grabbed my hip while licking his lips and reaching his other hand for my chest.
I could have told you about the man in the Meatpacking District who came around the corner to cut my friend and me off from the rest of the night-owls after celebrating my friend’s 21st birthday. I could have told you about how that was the first time in my life that I was legitimately terrified something awful was going to happen.
I could have told you about the men who used to sit outside the laundry mat in the Upper West Side by my old apartment and make gestures and shout obscenities as I tried to do a basic chore.
I could have told you about how the first time someone yelled at me on the street, I was standing outside my future place of employment on my way to a job interview.
I could have told you about how middle school boys take dares on the subway to make young, single women in dresses feel uncomfortable.
I could have told you how it doesn’t matter what I wear or what neighborhood I’m in. I could have told you that it doesn’t matter the age, race, or occupation of the heckler. I could have patiently stood there and tried to explain that I’m not just talking about “creepy old men” but I’m talking about young professionals in suits and younger students coming home from school.
I could have told you about any encounter I’ve had walking on the streets or riding the subway by myself, but there isn’t much a point.
Because you can’t understand what it’s like until you’ve experienced the touch of a man you don’t know on a Sunday afternoon on the busiest street in the city.
You can’t understand what it’s like to have men gesture at you with their hips or their lips.
You can’t understand what it’s like to have someone say inappropriate things, or whistle, or shout, or stare at you with all their buddies like you are some display who only left your apartment so that they should have a piece of entertainment.
You can’t understand what it’s like to live in a world where people think your body isn’t yours and yours alone and where your mindset of “it doesn’t matter” only fosters ignorance and permeates this cycle of rape culture where it’s okay for a man in the street to yell at a solo female. Where it’s okay to gesture and stare.
And if you think I jumped too quickly to a word that makes you uncomfortable than let me find the most polite way possible to say this: go to hell.
The fundamental concept at the heart of rape culture is the idea that men have a right to claim women’s bodies. And that has never been clearer to me than existing as a single woman in the streets of New York City.
I typically get the news from my phone or the internet as I don’t have a TV, but in the past month on two separate occasions, I have been at my brother’s apartment and seen snippets of the news and both times stories were running of two separate encounters in two separate neighborhoods where a man followed a woman back to her apartment, followed her inside the building, and tried to rape her.
In both these stories, the suspects were stopped in some way or another and caught on camera. But that won’t always be the case.
So don’t tell me it doesn’t matter if someone yells at me on the street. Your ignorance only feeds the culture.
This has nothing to do with hating men. Not at all. But, forgive me, because right now I hate your mindset. I hate that you can’t understand but I am also glad you will never have to.
I’m truly happy that you will never have to walk down the street to sexual remarks. But since I don’t have that luxury, at least try to understand.
It matters. A lot.