Do you know the power of a smile?
I think of myself as a strong woman. I speak my mind; people who know me know this too well. I am tall, taller than a lot of men, and I walk with quick and confident stride. Yet, everyday, for a few moments, I will feel fear and smile. That smile affirms that I’m not as strong as I think I am. That smile puts me in my place. That smile is not freely given but demanded of me, and I give it because I am afraid.
It happens everyday. I live in the city, and I walk everywhere. I can’t walk anywhere at anytime of day without somebody demanding my time, my attention, my smiles. They shout to me as I walk down the street, and I smile in hopes of neutralizing the situation. They turn my own neighborhood into hostile territory. They rob me of my confidence–my safety. They believe that they’re entitled to power, and they seek to steal it from me. I’m ashamed when it works.
Recently, I decided to change what that smile means. I still give it to avoid further conflict, and they may interpret that smile as they wish, but I know what it means. My smile means, you are predictable, you are small, you are ridiculous in my eyes. For me, this smile no longer holds pain, but power.
So here it is: an incomplete guide to the things strange men have said to me. I assume that I have backwards engineered this guide from the one these men are given at puberty, because, for whatever reason, there’s a lot of repetition. Each bullet point below represents one and also dozens of encounters.
- “Nice tits, jailbait!” This was the first time I remember being harassed. I was 12, walking to a Beanie Babies store when a car full of guys decided to slow down and shout this out the window. I remember asking my mother later what “jailbait” meant.
- “I’d climb you like a tree!” Please, don’t.
- “You smell like a baby. Buy me a burger.” Okay, this one is unique. It raises so many questions. And yes, the guy got so close to me he pressed his nose to my hair.
- “I see that ring, come have a fling with me.” The Dr. Seuss of street harassment. Also, not very observant, the ring was on my middle finger.
- “Damn, you’re thick, I like thick girls.” How do they manage to say “thick” like it’s the most disgusting word in English?
- “Nice hair. You a dyke? I can fix that.” I wore my hair short as a cry of help to straight men everywhere. Please, save me from my gayness.
- “You a fine ass walker. Yeah, walk away.” Thanks, I’ve been practicing this whole walking thing since I was a toddler.
- “I’ll give you $50 if you come back to my place.” We were trapped in a public elevator together. I said nothing, and before I got off, he grabbed my arm and tried to pull me back into the elevator. I spent days trying to figure out what I had done to make him think I was a prostitute. I had just gotten off work and was wearing a black suit (something I feel the need to say since so many people ask me what I was wearing when I tell them this happened).
- “Look at me. I know you can hear me.” The man then tried to grab at my earbuds. I kept my eyes on my feet and tried to walk away as fast as possible.
- “Mmm, you’ve got those leggings on. You know what you’re doing.” And here I thought I was just trying to stay warm. I was wearing leggings under a parka that went to my knees with snow boots covering the rest. You know how sexy we dress in Minnesota winter.
- “God bless you, beautiful.” What’s so wrong with this you ask? The way it’s said–like their invoking God in their right to do and say whatever they want to me.
- “Got a cigarette? I want to smoke with you.” That’s nice, sir. I, however, just want to get to the grocery store, and you following me for two blocks after I said “No” won’t make me change my mind.
- “You look nice. You live around here? I’m going to follow you home.” And he did. For four blocks he followed me, but he was so drunk he couldn’t keep up. I had my finger hovering over the emergency call button on my phone.
- “Give me your number.” I said no and kept walking. He caught up with me and grabbed my arm, “Give me a dollar.” He tried to grab for my purse, and I pushed him into traffic and ran. I ran until I couldn’t see him.
- “Bitch! You think you’re better than me?” Well, considering I have never once shouted such disgusting things to anyone, yes, I do think I am better than you.
- “Learn to take a compliment.” I thank thee, kind sir, for having given me the assurance that my “tits are nasty”. Thank you for the etiquette lesson as well.
- My name is not: “sugar“, “honey“, “baby“, “girl“, “tits“, “bitch“, “legs“, “amazon“. Those are terrible guesses, but thanks for trying?