A black SUV rolls up and rolls down their window.
I hope the interaction is short.
“Hey, hey! Does he bite?” referring to my dog.
I ignore him and keep walking. I hope my dog doesn’t make signs that we’re actually right by my home.
“Do you walk every morning?”
Trying to establish routine.
I look him straight in the eye and tell him, “No.”
Was that the wrong thing to do? Should I have ignored this question, too?
I look at him. I look at the passenger seat that he’s talking over. There’s a little boy there. The boy doesn’t look at me. He’s uncomfortable with this situation.
But he’s learning.
He’s learning how his role model that he gets to hang out with on Saturday interacts with women. With strangers. How it’s routine to turn off a road to follow someone.
“Well, you look great.”
I want to tell this person that what he is doing is unacceptable. It’s uncomfortable. It’s predatory behavior. It’s not OK.
But I don’t want to escalate the situation. I’ve now walked past my house and limited my route options. I’m embarrassed. And I’m a little scared. In my experience, expressing anger or taking control of the conversation has always escalated the situation. If you don’t respond with kindness and gratitude over a man discussing your appearance as if he has the right to… well then you’re greeted with more anger than you can imagine.
I don’t feel safe enough to do that. So I let this man walk verbally all over me, as if I don’t have the right to go home. As if I don’t have the right to be outside without this commentary.
“Thank you. I really don’t feel like talking right now.”
I’m so angry that I’m feeding into this cycle. This boy just watched this man talk out a window and get thanked.
Get effing thanked.
He thankfully, “respectfully” rolls off.
I turn a different way. Walk awhile, then backtrack home. Sneaking a look around the corner to make sure he’s not still there.
I lock my door, and I try to decide whether I’m going to finish my run.
I hear a car door close.
I turn on my security alarm.
I feel so angry. I feel so trapped. And I rack my brain about what I should have done better (even now, as I consider posting this). But to hell with that.
I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t wave down that SUV and strike up a conversation.
I don’t run from person to person and ask them what they think of my ass.
I’m not wearing a shirt that says, “Please, video tape me from your vehicle!” as I run in the park.
And while I’d love to be a fighting feminist and explain to harassers that ‘harmless conversation with a pretty girl’ is really pointing out that you are alone, vulnerable, outside in a man’s world and as such that man can discuss your body. And if you greet that discussion with anything less than “thank you” and a smile (“Smile for me, girl!”), that you’ll be shouted at, followed, possibly physically assaulted, and otherwise put back into your place of vulnerable, outside in a man’s world.
In those moments, I just accept where I am in this world. Not a human with rights. But just a small thing, seeking permission to get home safe.