on public spaces

On Saturday, I was waiting at Trax (public transit) when a guy came up to me and starting talking to me. I was reading my book, but he either didn’t see that or didn’t care, and kept telling me I was attractive, he liked my dress, and other such statements. He ignored my verbal and non verbal hints that I would rather be left alone, until I explicitly said it. At which point he became offended and told me to learn to take a compliment. Sigh.

The episode left a bad taste in my mouth, even though nothing really happened. It made me both roll my eyes and feel highly uncomfortable. Why do some men feel the need to comment on and value my appearance, and why do they have to do it in such a way that they’re crowding my space? This guy stood in front of me, effectively blocking me from standing up and moving away. I mean, it was light out and there were other people there, so I didn’t feel threatened or anything, but it’s ridiculous that I have to think about things like that in the first place, right? And the other day, I came across this drawn post about this very issue. It’s steeped in feminist language, but if you’re either familiar with that or can get past it, I think it does a useful job at explaining how no, women are not just being “sensitive” when they complain about harassment in all its shapes and forms.

I’m still relatively new to things like this–until I lost weight a couple years ago, I was more likely to get comments on how I shouldn’t be eating whatever I was eating or wearing whatever I was wearing than these semi-creepy comments framed as compliments, or the glances that go on a little too long, or the myriad other uncomfortable things that can happen when you’re female in a public space. And I’m not sure what to do with it. How do you let men know you’re not interested, you just want to read your book, and your body is not theirs to comment on? I can handle the characters on public transportation that just want an audience and a friendly chat, but interactions like these leave me stumped and uncomfortable.

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2 thoughts on “on public spaces

  1. Was thinking about this some more today and getting really irritated. Two thoughts:

    1. I wonder how often men, when faced with unwanted conversation/flirtation, have to do the mental run-through you talk about: is it light or dark, are there other people around, etc. I wonder how often personal safety even enters their consciousness at all.

    2. “Learn to take a compliment?” Which, I suppose, translates to, “If a man interrupts your activities and demands your attention while he offers his unsolicited opinions about your appearance, the correct response is GRATITUDE.”

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