Saturday, July 21, 2007

Fear of Men

It's 1:20 a.m. on a Friday night and I'm almost home from working the dinner shift. I'm getting off the train and as I head towards the stairs that lead down to the sidewalk I hear an unknown man's voice behind me saying, "I see you at the gym."

What would you do? Turn around and say, "You do?" or "Are you talking to me?" Or "Excuse me, do I know you?" Whatever your words, you might at least turn around. I don't even glance back. I don't even consider glancing back. My response is the same as when any male stranger tries to talk to me at any time: I pretend I don't hear and keep walking. It's not because it's after 1 a.m. or because I'm alone or because it's creepy to hear a stranger address you so closely and casually. It's because I am afraid of all men, all the time. In broad daylight, with plenty of people around, when I'm in a good mood, I respond the same way. "Hello!" a man will sometimes say to me, or "How are you today?" or "Hello, fellow Bally member!" (this guy has spoken to me once before at the same el stop). Nothing in my demeanor, expression or gait reflects that I've even noticed that anyone's speaking. I just keep going. Sometimes the guy will switch to Spanish, thinking I'll want to talk in that language. "Hola, señorita!" he'll try, which only gets the same response, plus me thinking to myself, "Idiot."

This is how I behave in public. At the age of (almost) 41, I act as if I were ten, following my parents' strict instructions to never talk to strangers. Sometimes they really are just trying to be neighborly and wish me a "Good morning." I still ignore them. I figure, if everyone's so nice and neighborly, why do only men address me this way? I rarely pass a female stranger who tries to greet me. In fact, I don't know if I've ever had a woman I didn't know try to tell me hello on the street. It's really only men.

And that makes me feel hunted and unsafe. I hate this attention. Sometimes when I'm walking towards a man and he's about a half a block away from me, I'll feel his eyes on me. If I glance at his face, he'll take the eye contact as an invitation or acknowledgement and then he's more likely to say hello to me. Why? Why does a man stare at me and then when I look back for a quick-quick glance, he takes that as his opening? Why?

So I make a point of not looking at men when I walk down the street. But sometimes even when I don't look, they still talk to me. I really hate that. How dare they speak to me? I've given them no opening, no invitation, no reason at all to think I might like to talk to them. So why do they say hello, good morning, how are you? Why?

It feels like a game, with men trying to get me to return their greeting and if I do, they've won. It's like they just want my attention, even for just a second, because if they can get my attention, if they can get me to answer them ("Fine. How are you?") then they're in. And what does that mean? I don't know.

Is it about sex? Are men so relentlessly on the lookout for possible tail at all times that they just constantly say, "Hello," "How are you today?" "Good morning!" "Hola" just in case one of us might actually say, "I'm good. How are you? Can I press my body against you for a little while?"

Am I paranoid? Am I filled with irrational man-hatred? Am I just a hardened California feminist surrounded by all these nice midwestern men who just want to offer me their seat?

I hate when strangers talk to me. I ignore them every time.

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