At sixteen I spent a week in Paris with my German host family. What is a polite Canadian girl to do when approached by a thirty-something French man on the street? Answer his questions, engage in conversation, run across the street when he tries to bring me back to his place or at least get my “address and phone number in Canada, Oui?”
The male gaze. A term that’s only a few years old to me but a concept I (and every woman) have long since understood. It’s been a bad day, you walk down the street carrying groceries unable to even wipe the sweat from your brow. In your own mind your at the peak of unattractiveness and yet that man on the corner – three times your age and half of your visual appeal – finds you good enough to give the old up-down followed by a quick wink before he lets you on your way.
But then there are those other times. Your feeling good, your hair’s done and you’re clothes are fitting just right. As you walk down the street with your head held high you notice broad shoulders and a confident stride coming right at you. The panning gaze gives you a sudden thrill and you turn your head after the pass to make sure he’s still looking. Back at home combing the miss-connections page you wonder what would have happened if he had said hello. I’ll tell you: You look down and quickly walk away.
Listen men, you wanna know why the girls are so cold in this city? Because returning someones smile sometimes means they will FOLLOW YOU HOME! unfortunate but true. If those fifth grade videos taught us anything it was; not to talk to strangers, not to get into anyone’s car, and to “Just say NO” when the creepy neighbor guy wants to touch your ‘private parts’. As women we were also taught not to wear headphones after dark, to go to the washroom in pairs, and to never leave a drink unattended. We text our friends to let them know we made it home safe, we don’t jog alone at night, and we never EVER make eye contact with the guy passing by the bus stop – especially when his jersey hangs past his knees.
I made that fateful mistake last year when i was downtown after dark. Waiting for the streetcar there was a split second of eye contact with the man coming off the subway. Averting my gaze quickly I thought to myself “don’t look up, don’t look up”. Insert generic thug catcall. I looked up because the comment came about 2 inches from my face and his hand was grabbing my ass while he said it. As quickly as I could spin and yell “Don’t FUCKING TOUCH ME!” He was a quarter block away. He turned back and proceeded to yell, instructing me not to tell him what to do and to suck his cock because i am a hoe/bitch/etc. The bystanders? they stood by. After all, maybe I was this guys hoe and who were they to tell him how to talk to his woman. He left, i shook. I suppose i’m lucky as far as harassment goes. Lucky there were people there to spectate, lucky he didn’t stab me, lucky we weren’t meeting on a side street where he could have taken his time. I wondered if it would have been better for me to say nothing, just let him cop a feel and head on his way. Is silence a better self defense then telling the asshole where to go? I made a mental note to try it out the next time.
So, to the man I offended on my walk home the other day, I’m sorry. My actions were very impolite. When you asked me ‘how’s it going’ the proper thing to do would have been to answer. Unfortunately my gut reaction was to cross the street to the opposite sidewalk and remain a few steps behind you so I could be sure of your direction. You see, I wanted to know which way you were turning so that i could go the opposite. You asked what was wrong with a simple question, again I pretended not to hear you. As if to prove your point you greeted the man crossing our path. “Hello.” he replied and continued on his way. Still I said nothing but i sighed with relief when you turned and headed away from my building. I could try to explain but you probably wouldn’t understand.