Walk This Way, Don’t Talk That Way

The city in which I live boasts two parks with lovely, well-populated walking trails that afford perambulators the opportunity to complete their regular constitutionals without fear of being run over by careless drivers, attacked by unleashed dogs or accosted by ill-intentioned perpetrators. The city in which I live has also decided that said parks require some major improvements and, in their infinite wisdom, scheduled the renovations of both parks at precisely the same time. Meaning that both have been fenced off and closed to the public until further notice.

Since the city planners apparently have no regard for my health or safety, I’ve been forced out onto the mean streets to get my daily exercise. Fortunately, it’s not a place known for great crime waves, and in the early morning hours, I figure I’m out at low-tide anyway. So, keeping an eye out for drivers to whom I’m invisible and dogs who might decide to play a game of Chase The Walker (running is seriously not a part of my repertoire at this point … I would lose. Badly.), I’ve begun exploring the city.

I started on the weekend and thought I’d found a good route which allowed me to walk

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two miles without crossing too many streets. But then Monday rolled around and, as I approached a corner near a local school, I spotted a crossing guard. Initially, I thought this was a good thing, as he would aid in preventing me from being run over.

“Como se llamas?” he said, by way of greeting.

Reaching back into my high school Spanish class memory, I replied with, “Buttercup, y tu?”

“Manuel,” he said.

“Hola,” I smiled. I was conversating in Spanish. How fun!

“Tienes novio?”

What? Do I have a boyfriend? Where the hell did that come from?

“Uh, no …”

Oh good! Green light!

“Adios Manuel!” And off I went. I was slightly disconcerted, but I was also having a good walk and enjoying my morning Motown playlist and didn’t think much more about it.

Cue Tuesday.

“Hola Buttercup!” Manuel greeted me with a smile.

“Hola Manuel,” I said.

“Tienes un esposo?” he asked, wanting to know if I had a husband.

“Nope.”

“I can have your telephone?”

“No!”

Saved by the green light again! I called “Adios!” to Manuel for the last time. I’d be finding a new route to walk the next day. I didn’t need to be hit on by the crossing guard while I was trying to get my morning walk on. It felt creepy.

The thing is, since then I’ve been wracking my brain trying to put my finger on exactly what it was about those two encounters that made me so uncomfortable and led to me changing my walking path. And further, how would I explain it to a genuinely perplexed, guy who asked, “But maybe he was just trying to be nice?” Because I do try to see things from a male’s perspective as they try to navigate this new, #metoo world we all live in.

What I keep coming back to is Justice Potter Stewart back in the 1960s when he was trying to describe obscenity. And I’m paraphrasing here, but it was along the lines of, “I can’t describe it, but I know it when I see it.” Well, the same holds true for my encounter with Manuel, I can’t diagram and point out exactly where the creepiness happened, but I know when I’m being creeped on. Maybe it’s years of experience, maybe it’s a defense mechanism that women have, but flags went up.

I’m not saying Manuel was dangerous or that I felt fearful. I just felt my boundaries were crossed. I was on my time, doing my thing and it seemed inappropriate for him to get instantly personal. Just like it might seem inappropriate to be introduced to someone at a party and the first questions they ask you are “How much money do you make?” and “What’s your favorite sexual position?” You’d likely be taken aback and decide to go mingle amongst others.

Or, if it’s still not sinking in, think of it this way: Say there’s a grocery store you go to on the regular. One day you notice there’s a homeless woman outside panhandling. She’s not really bothering anyone, she’s just asking for spare change. Seeing as you’re both human beings and you have compassion, you hand her a few bucks as you leave the market.

A couple of days later you’re back at the store and she’s there again. Except, this time instead of just quietly standing there, she makes eye contact and says, “So, you got another dollar?” Maybe you smile and hand her a bill. Next week, you’re back and she’s outside again. She steps up to you, “You have my dollar?” she asks.

She’s not touching you or accosting you, and you can certainly spare the money, but her presence and her forwardness are making you uncomfortable. You shouldn’t be expected to give her money every time you shop just because you did it the first time. You were just being nice, and now she’s acting like you owe her something. Eventually, you just start going to a different market to avoid her.

Well, that’s a lot like what it feels like when women are nice to certain men. We smile, we introduce ourselves, we make small talk and then there’s this forwardness that can feel like aggression. Like now we owe him something.

And that’s kind of how I felt with Manuel. Oh? You’re not attached? Then give me your number. Like that’s the only thing that might be keeping me from handing out my contact information to every man I run into on the street.

So, I guess what it comes down to, if you’re a guy, is pick your moment carefully. Is it fair? Maybe not. I’m sure a lot of guys aren’t trying to be assholes and genuinely think it’s flattering to run up on a woman on the street. Just remember that we are wary of strange men for a good reason. And if you can’t respect our boundaries, even if they feel arbitrary to you, you’ll get shot down faster than a duck in hunting season.

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