Here we are again: warmer weather, chirping birds, melting ice, men catcalling and groping women on the street.
Two weeks ago I took an Uber to travel three blocks down Lyndale for a birthday party. It wasn’t too cold to walk, but it was dark and I was alone. The driver snickered at my short route, assuming that my shoes or hair or some other wimpy-ass thing was keeping me from hoofing it three blocks. I told him I don’t feel safe walking alone. He was surprised, but didn’t want to ask questions. So we rode in silence for two minutes.
I grew up a few miles outside of a very small town in central Minnesota. On Saturdays, my parents would drop me off in town so I could wander around like a city kid (“city” in this instance was a town of 2,500 people) with a bunch of friends. We’d get Reese’s Blizzards at DQ and rent movies from the video store downtown.
It was the middle of summer and the five of us flip-flopped in unison down the sidewalk in matching American Eagle jean shorts and Sun In-streaked hair. The sun was just setting when a black two-door hatchback pulled up next to us, and two adult men tried persuading us to get in the car.
We stopped for a second. We must’ve heard them wrong. We must’ve known them.
But we hadn’t heard them wrong. We didn’t know them, and so we ran. They followed us, yelling as we ran down the sidewalk. We cut through yards, darting around patio furniture and clotheslines and old car parts. It’s the only time I’ve been able to run through asthma wheezing.
We made it to someone’s house, panting, hearts pounding out of our chests, and we worked on convincing each other it was a joke. They couldn’t have fit five lanky 12-year-olds in their car anyway.
I never told my parents.
Today, I was waiting to cross the street near Hennepin and Lake when a man reached out the passenger side of a car and slapped my ass. It came without warning and I jumped. I started shaking, both from the jolt to my nervous system and the invasion of my space, but my feet were frozen to the street. He gave himself a little fist-pump as the car drove down Hennepin. He was proud. I was embarrassed.
Initially I thought about my outfit, because somehow, in my fucked-up brain I tried to justify this behavior for him. Because if my dress was too short or jeans too tight I deserved to have my boundaries shattered by this douchey 20-something in a Nissan Altima. And then I shook more, out of anger at myself, because NO, FUCKING NO. If I were standing naked in the street he still wouldn’t have permission to violate me.
I went home. I needed to crawl under my covers and hide from him.
There are people who will say, “Is this really that big of a deal?” and maybe it's not. In isolation, it's probably not. In isolation, today's incident is one fucked-up guy who slapped a woman’s ass and made her feel violated. But it’s not an isolated incident.
We live in a culture where men feel entitled to the bodies of women they’ve never met. One where I stop to think about whether my outfit is inviting someone to grope or rape me. Where 12-year-old girls try to justify the behavior of adult men.
That culture makes me feel unsafe. It makes me take a cab three blocks at night. It makes me wear long coats and loose-fitting dresses. It has taught me that if I wear high heels I will, without a doubt, have a man tell me that he’d “like to hit it,” and if I mow my lawn in shorts a man is allowed to leer at me from the sidewalk until I go inside.
It’s not okay. It’s not okay for women to feel unsafe. It’s not okay that someday, inevitably, my daughter will be violated just like I have been. It’s not okay that the men who do this are raising children who will act the same.
We need to do better. You need to call out that casual acquaintance who groped a woman, but you both laughed it off to avoid awkwardness. You need to tell your creepy uncle that the way he talks about women is inappropriate. You need to teach your sons that they NEVER EVER GET TO TOUCH A WOMAN WITHOUT PERMISSION.
[Editor's note: This essay was first published on Flock of Broads, and was reposted with permission.]