I have been in New Orleans for five days and ever since day two the joke that has been swimming around in my head is that, in NOLA, when a man you cross on the street asks you how you’re doing, you can never be sure whether it’s a Southern hospitality thing or whether it’s a men-preying-on-women thing; I’ll be the first to admet that I am not the best at humor.
Except when it’s eight in the morning on an empty street and a car stops at your level, and how are you doing becomes do you need a ride, miss, becomes lemme see that ass hang out, well. All of a sudden it’s pretty easy to tell the difference.
It used to make me so scared, when this kind of thing happened to me. Now, it makes me scared, and furious.
Sometimes I talk back. Angry words like knives and spit. And sometimes, like this morning, I don’t. Because a woman all on her lonesome on an empty street that talks back to three men in a car ? There’s a difference between brave and reckless and stupid and dangerous, and I really, really didn’t want them to get out of that car.
So I swallowed back the words and pushed them back down my throat and changed itinerary, went down a one-way street they couldn’t drive into and onto a slightly busier avenue, and for twenty minutes I jumped at every car coming near me, because what if they had followed ?
I text J., because I am rattled and so mad and I need to tell someone who will understand, and she texts back almost immediately, and for a moment the relief of being heard by someone I trust punches the air out of me. It’s OK, I text her back. It was just a two-minute bit of fear.
Two minutes of fear and twenty minutes of apprehension and a day’s worth of anger.
I am mad that it rattled me. I am mad that it made me feel afraid and unsafe and that I carried it with me for the rest of the morning because who are these dickwads to have a say on how my morning goes ? And it makes me mad, too, that it only really bothered me for an hour or so. This kind of thing, it used to haunt me for a day or two, but by mid-morning all that was left was the anger. And I am mad that it took me so much quicker than before to get over it because it means I’ve toughened up, sure, but also that I’ve gotten used to it. I don’t want to fucking get used to it. I’m just rattled, I tell J., because it’s been a while since it last happened. Who says that ?! How is it acceptable that street harassement is a contingency to deal with and that my first thought is that I’m lucky it doesn’t happen more often ? I’m so fucking furious it’s not even funny, even by my dubious humor standards.
I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know how to fight it, because for every eye-opening conversation I’ll have with the men in my life I’ll have five douches in the street who talk and look and stalk me like I am meat or prey or fruit ripe for the picking, and defending myself might actually put me in more danger than I already am.
I can talk about it, for sure. Write and speak the words loud. I can keep having the conversations and I can hear and hold my friends when it happens to them, too. I can talk back when I’m able to. I can keep walking that fine balance not letting fear dictate too much of my behaviour while not getting too reckless either. It’s just. I don’t know how it can be enough.