Don’t tell me that patriarchy’s dead.
I was walking up Thayer Street with a friend, after getting brunch. Broad daylight. Men yelled profanity at us as they were driving by. Multiple men. Multiple cars. Just a 5 minute walk.
My friend told me that there are gorgeous summer days that makes her want to ditch the bus and just take a slow walk back from work. But she puts herself on that stuffy bus day in and day out, just watching the sky out the window. She’s afraid of the words that she’ll hear on that trip back.
Then there was that woman who yelled, “Eat my pussy!” out the window, as me and another woman walked towards the park. I froze, not knowing how to feel about it. I had never encountered a situation where another woman had harassed me on the streets.
Or that man in Berkeley, who gave me his business card and told me to call him anytime. I’ll drive you around and show you the town, he said. Called me an Asian delight, like the kind that comes with the fried rice and fortune cookies in a small Chinese take-out box.
I was waiting at the bus stop today. A tall middle-aged man walked up to me, yelling about the death of Michael Jackson. He asked me if I knew that he was a guy that could get any woman he wanted. Grabbed at my hands. Reached for my phone. Asked me, “Girl, what time is it?” I backed up, only getting further from the busriders silently waiting on the roadside. Some turned to look back. My arms were tightly pressed against my chest and my eyes shut, when he touched my face. I flinched. His hands were sticky and warm. I don’t remember what he said. Because all I could see were the people who had caught a glimpse of the situation, quietly slipping in their headphones to drown out my silent pleas. No one met my eyes.
It never matters when it is. I’ve seen the way that men claim the streets in the darkness. It’s as “natural” to them as the way I shrink into my skin at night and obsessively check behind me. But even in broad daylight, they lay claims to your body without any shame. The audacity to throw out unsolicited opinions of your body or how they want to “do you long time” as if we actually cared. As if their words and opinions actually mattered. All the time. It makes me sick.
It never matters where we are or what we are wearing. I’m the short-haired Asian kid with the glasses, flat chest, boyish figure donning a t-shirt and jeans, dragging along a pair of large flipflops — and they still find me. As soon as they read you as a woman or feminine, the words start being thrown. And it follows you everywhere.
And it never matters what we do. That helplessness and lack of agency is hard to describe to someone who has never felt it. The regret that you didn’t push him away and say “NO” like all your feminist handbooks taught you becomes irrelevant with the sudden realization that it wouldn’t have mattered anyways. There was simply nothing you can do to stop it, and that is always the most terrifying.
I got off the bus and ran all the way home. My feet pounding the sidewalk. A dim streetlight glow. My lungs burning from rapid gasps of wet air. The contents of my bag tossed and jumbled. My glasses almost slipped off the edge of my nose. It was as if my body was trying to compensate for that awful stillness that had gripped me in that encounter. As if it was seeking to prove to itself that everything was still working, that I was still okay.