Tuesday, March 07, 2006

 

Going to Get Coffee

Left my office to get a cup of coffee across the street at Anonymous NYC Deli. As I was pulling the crank, a man taps my shoulder:

"How old are you?" he asks.

"Um, how old are you?" I replied.

He laughed. "You're cute."

"I don't know you, by the way." I tried to wrangle my way around him to get my coffee to the counter. I did so, he followed.

"Do you always get your coffee here?" He asked.

"I don't know you, sir. What is this?"

He threw up his hands. "Just trying to be friendly."

At that point, thankfully, he left me alone to put my change on the counter and walk across the street back to work.

My midmorning coffee is one of my greatest joys. I wake up looking forward to it. But I can only enjoy it once I am sitting at my desk with it. I know that many days I will have to deal with something like this just to get there.

By the way, sorry I have no picture of my harasser- my phone is utterly old-school.

His comment on being "friendly" is one that really gets my goat. See, I used to think he knew he wasn't being "friendly". I really used to think that men did this to show their power over women and to scare us and make us feel uncomfortable. I also used to think that every incidence of street harassment was basically a manifestation of the exact same thing. But what makes me uncomfortable now is that, the older I get, the more sure I get that this guy has been trained that "friendliness" from a man to a woman looks like that. And it looks like that partly because women are not only trained to be "polite" as people are often pointing out with regard to street harassment (and rape and assault), but also because women are assumed not to have boundaries or levels of intimacy. You see it all the time in the way men relate to each other with such a distance. If a woman does that to anyone, not just a harasser, she seems and feels cold or superior.

I see myself as rather aloof and cold, tough on the outside. I think maybe I see myself this way because I'm a woman. I think, if I were a man, it's entirely possible that I would see myself as friendly. It's not just the prickles I've grown because of street harassment, but also the interpretation of those prickles.

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