sometimes i wish i were invisible

i dont want your leers or your whistles or your requests for my phone number/address/a date.  i dont want any of that.  at least not when you look at me as if all you see is my body and all you feel is your right to that conquest.  yuck.  i’ve been getting so much of this attention lately and it makes me want to crawl out of my skin, to leave behind my little curves and hairy legs and hide where nobody can see me.  at least nobody who’s going to look at me that way.  it makes me resent my body which i otherwise worship giddily.

just the other night i went next door to our new neighbors to see if this package we’d had delivered to our house was meant for them.  larry answered the door and after making some small talk on the front porch, invited me to sit down inside.  thinking nothing of it i followed him in and he told me some of his story.  and sure i’m bad with boundaries but i’d done nothing active to signal i wanted his attention in any more focused way and still he was asking questions about my romantic life.  and foolishly i told him the truth, hoping my polyamory would be a turn off.  feeling very unsafe and scared, i found myself trapped in this room with a man who was making me more and more uncomfortable.  finally i wiggled my way out but still larry was asking for a date at the end of his driveway and all i could manage was something non committal like i didnt want to set any time just yet.

or there was the man who upon my smile, started to follow me through the streets of DC asking me to flash him that beautiful smile again.  he followed me all the way to the coffee shop i was going to for a drink and some internet.  he staid with me even though i was feebly trying to shake him. then when he finally left he leaned in for a hug and a quickly diverted kiss.  i didn’t smile at anyone on the streets again for awhile.

and it makes me angry that my naturally joyful spirit sinks down into these moors of skittishness, where i shrink away from the world and myself in order to protect myself.  it makes me angry that i can be made to feel so unsafe.  just thursday night i was sitting down to watch a movie with willow in the living room, and never before have i had the experience of fearing the darkness around my house.  but there were noises outside in the yard i couldn’t explain and i ran to turn a light on and check to see if willow was in his room or playing a trick on me.  he was sitting in his chair reading.  i was only partly redeemed when, a few minutes into the movie alex walked in through the door from smoking a cigarette in the yard.  and i know i have my part, there’s got to be a way to set boundaries with these men and still experience them as another human.   i’m just not there yet and right now i’m feeling exhausted by the onslaught.

the post script to this entry is that when i went to search images of small, cowering animals, in the first few pages of results there were a considerable number of pictures of women cowering.  which seemed a bit telling.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nexus
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 14:11:45

    I’m concerned about this dynamic. For contrast, would you be willing to give an example of what it looks like when someone you’re not interested in respects your boundaries and does not go too far?

    Reply

    • Sara Tansey
      Apr 23, 2011 @ 20:33:37

      sure. though i’m not saying these are always men i’m not interested in, or wouldnt be interested in if there was an opportunity for more easeful getting to know you stuff happening.

      but i’ll give the first example that jumps to mind which fits within your request. again, i was walking down the streets, smiling and waving at folks, this time in charlottesville. a man i’d passed walking the opposite direction turned around to walk along with me. going out of his way, we walked together for about 20 minutes. we talked, there was a clear respect for who i was, a back and forth of conversation. he was able to demonstrate to me that he was interested in me as a person through listening and asking questions, instead of merely opening the conversation with how sexy he thought i was and asking after a date or my phone number or my address. as it was clear our paths were parting, he did, indeed, make some of those requests, and i was able to turn him down without much hurt or reservation. and we parted amicably.

      and what feels important in my different experiences from man to man is the desire to know me as a person, a communicated respect and a recognition of me as a person. with the man in the example above, i had no fear that my rejection would cause upset that might threaten me, but with the men that make me wish i were invisible, i often give them my number at least because i am pushed into a place of feeling so unsafe that i fear retribution for a rejection. i hope thats clarifying.

      Reply

  2. Brittany
    Apr 23, 2011 @ 17:01:17

    That guy in DC? Some people call that type of thing the smile police. It’s apparently pretty common as a form of harassment, demanding a smile from a woman. But when following isn’t involved a lot of people don’t see it as harassment, even the people it happens to. So a woman gets a horrible, horrible feeling and can’t explain why. That it progresses into street stalking is telling, however.
    I wish I had some kind of signal that would make guys not interested but still respect me. Sometimes I’m afraid that only having a male body would make that happen. It’s sad that we have to edit our normal selves “just to be on the safe side” while interacting with about half of humanity. The creeps who scare us mess it up for us and for all the other men. Women are awesome people, and men are going to have to miss out on knowing exactly how awesome as long as they keep giving us reasons to hide. And some of them are so misogynist they don’t even give a damn. Ugh.

    Reply

  3. Lorena
    Apr 28, 2011 @ 01:50:21

    Sara,

    I had a similar experience last summer walking in my city on a Saturday night. I was walking a male friend home and as we walked I passed a group of men outside their home. I remember thinking, oh no, is this shirt too tight, jeans too tight? Are they going to harass me when I walk home alone? Am I going to be safe? I dropped my friend off and pulled out my phone in preparation of walking home because I thought it would make me look more unapproachable. But they did exactly what I most feared they would, cat called me, whistled, yelled to me, and then followed me half a block. It was really frightening and upsetting because they did exactly what I had expected. The sociologist Charles Cooley has a theory of the looking glass self, in which part of how we view ourselves comes from the mirror we get from other people’s impressions of us. I think what’s so frightening about being objectified and harassed because of my body parts for me is that I see myself as they see me – a flat thing with one purpose – and it’s so radically different from what I know myself to be that it’s sickening. The threat of physical violence doesn’t help either. I ran home that night and cried. I really grateful that I didn’t live in a home or environment where that was how I was seen and saw myself all the time. I don’t know what the solution is. Next time I get harassed though I think I will be more violent in my reaction though. I don’t like the way I feel when I’m docile. Do you have any ideas for yourself?

    Reply

    • Sara Tansey
      May 03, 2011 @ 18:54:03

      yeah, i’ve thought about this a bunch since i wrote and have talked to others about it too. i think what i want to practice in the future is just saying, in response to these men, very clearly, that the attention they’re focusing on me is uncomfortable. that i dont feel seen as a person separate from my body and that if they want to get to know me they’re going to have to demonstrate some amount of respect. and there’s a piece about the persistence, that i’d like to be able to address clearly when i’m talking to these men. i just think i’m going to communicate my experience and see how that is received. i dont want to let them push me into a place of fear and feeling unsafe. so this is what i want to practice the next time i’m getting this sort of attention. i’ll let y’all know how it goes.

      Reply

  4. Bri
    May 03, 2011 @ 16:45:30

    I have always been extremely bothered with this phenomenon, before and after coming out. I suppose some people do respond well to this kind of attention, but most of the people I talk to do not like being cat called. I have received attention just for being friendly, especially from men, and I loathe that I can’t just be friendly or friends without it turned sexual. It has also made me appear less outwardly friendly, especially towards men, so I can empathize. Like other posters, I wish we could retain our friendliness and dignity on the streets without feeling accosted.

    Reply

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