As a woman, I feel we must survey and analyze every situation that occurs in a public place, in order to determine the safety factor. You know, how safe it is for a woman to act herself and be comfortable without guarding her words, dress, actions or gestures in order not to be harassed, intruded upon or attacked. The categorization of possible risks in public situations will then determine how said woman should adapt her behavior, dress, words, etc. in order to minimize any negative contact. For me, I had a lot of time to reflect on this autopilot vigilance this weekend when my best friend came to visit. Several incidents occurred that made me realize the pressure I feel to maintain a safety bubble, and how much it weighed on my decisions. It also made me want to do something about it.
I touched upon above the three major triggers that women need to be aware of while in a public place. They are: Words, Dress and Actions/Gestures. Let’s start with dress.
1.Dress. There is a lot of controversy over whether it is a woman’s fault for any unwanted attention she attracts due to her clothes. Phrases are thrown around, such as “if she dresses like a slut, then she deserves to be treated like one” or “if she dresses modestly, she would not get unwanted attention.” And while I would like to label assertions like this as big, old, fat BS, and completely ignore them, I still find myself thinking about it while dressing on a daily basis. Especially this weekend, while dressing to go out on U St, I found myself feeling uncomfortable in my choice of clothes, not because they didn’t fit or I didn’t like them, but because I felt nervous about the probable catcalls or comments I would get while walking. I found myself weighing the situation and thinking, “is it worth it?” Clothes are one of the simplest forms of individuality and independence. Having been required to wear a uniform for school in my high school years, I appreciate the expressiveness of clothes. Having to justify to myself that I should wear clothes that made me feel sexy made me angry that I had to second guess myself before I stepped out my door.
2.Words. Have you ever been dancing at a club, or talking with friends at a bar and someone approaches you? And this person’s presence is not wanted at all. In response, you say, “No” or “Please leave me/us alone,” and THIS PERSON DOESN’T LEAVE. This happened to me while out and I find it to be one of the most disrespectful things a person can do. To totally ignore your words or taking “no” as an invitation to try harder makes my hackles rise. It is the most frustrating and power-stealing action to have someone purposefully misconstrue what you are saying. This situation is not exclusive to a club. It could be at a store, walking down the street, at a café or a friends’ house party. Often responses by the other person could be “I didn’t mean anything negative” or “why do you have to be so rude about it?” This goes beyond simple miscommunication to a form of manipulation and the blame game. Even after the intruding person leaves, you can never really put down your guard. For me, I felt myself looking around the bar more often and steeling myself to go on the defensive.
3.Actions/Gestures. There are a lot of examples in which actions can lead to a negative contact or heighten a woman’s risk in a public situation. Here are two in particular that I encountered this weekend. In DuPont Circle, while exercising, I felt the stares of men sitting on the benches and their occasional lewd gesture when they saw I was looking. In my book, I have the right to exercise wherever I want. My body is my own, and my actions should not become public property just because I perform them outside. Right? Second, at a bar later that night, I was considering getting a second drink. But, would that throw my balance off at all? Would I look or act inebriated which would make the guys patrolling the dance floor think I was easy game? Should I care?
So what? Why such a laundry list of age-old complaints by women everywhere? Because these issues and feelings still exist. And they are constant. What should WOMEN and MEN do about it? My fall back this weekend was to call out the action and shut it down. I put on my heels because I wasn’t going to let a comment about my butt stop me from enjoying myself. I repeated myself when someone did not take my “no” for an answer, and gave them a little push in the opposite direction. I finished my hip workout looking at the sky. Finally, I reflected on all those incidents, and shared it with you. Women, you can keep asserting yourself and not let yourself be restricted or limited by the opinions or actions of others. Men, LISTEN, and be aware that your actions and words have an impact on the opposite gender. What may seem like a joke to you, may not be all that funny. It’s through a dual effort that this typical experience can become atypical.