Here’s a little story about street harrassment…and how one moment can restore a little of one’s faith in humanity.
FLASHBACK—two days ago, walking to Wednesday’s 6:30pm rehearsal.
It’s bright and sunny out, a harbinger of the nine-day heat wave yet to come. I am in black jeans, sunglasses, and a t-shirt, with no makeup on, my unwashed hair piled into a derpy topknot (think more Cindy Lou Who than casual high fashion). I am walking at a clip to Center Stage Conservatory. Leaving my mom’s neighborhood, I cross Downey St at the block between I St and McHenry.
Approaching the little park areaby Ralston Towers as I cross, I notice a man. He is crossing I St, his trajectory a path that will soon cross mine. As I step onto the curb, he says something; not hearing, I say: “what?” He repeats himself, still in a low murmuring tone, but loud enough for me to hear:
“Do you want to have sex?”
I am instantly disgusted, rattled, pissed, and a host of other reactions. But I am also a woman with a destination, and a woman who is f*****g tired after 20+ years of street harrassment. So, without even breaking my stride, I reply:
“Not with you.”
The fellow is persistent, I’ll give him that. His reaction was to call after me:
“Why not? Do you know who I am?”
Without so much as looking back, I call out “Not my type.”
And that was that. But boy howdy was I in my feels as I continued on my way to CSC. Although my responses had been quick and direct, I kept turning over the even-more barbed replies I could have hurled back at his audacity. I fell into the familiar line of self-questioning/blame: if I only hadn’t asked “What?” in the first place; am I dressed provocatively?; this is why I usually cross on the Starbucks side of Downey–crossing at the park side is an invitation for creepiness; how could I have made this a teaching moment?; what’s wrong with me that I attract such attention?
Don’t worry—this train of thought was brief: a programmed response that I know better than to indulge.
Nearly to CSC, about 2 blocks from the theatre, I see a young girl (between 10-12) and her father crossing the street. They are smiling and talking with each other, clearly enjoying a sweet and affirming bond. This instantly warms my heart—and is a reminder of the countless men in the world who aren’t Creepy McCreepertons.
And then I see her shirt—which I wish I could now recall with photographic clarity. It bore a strong, positive message of self-love and confidence, something to the effect of: “I am strong, I am intelligent, I am enough.”
I smiled so big, inside and out, and I said to her as they passed: “I love your shirt,” infusing my words with the sheer feeling of gratitude, joy, and hope that had overtaken me. She beamed and said “thank you,” and her father smiled at her and at me.
Her confident, happy “thank you” and his instant smile reaffirmed my initial impression—here was a young woman being given the tools to love herself, with a parent to be be a positive guide on her journey.
That girl is going to experience street harrassment in just a few years—maybe even sooner—but she has been empowered with a self-love and a support system to help her face the ugliness and pettiness of the world.
I walked into rehearsal feeling so much lighter than I had moments before seeing the girl and her father. She gave me a great gift that day, and I am so grateful to her.