Men I Have Not Met While Walking

As I was crossing a street in Ireland last week wearing my prized old-school Apple logo T-shirt, a man passing close by me growled, I'd sure like to take a bite out of that apple. As is my customary policy, I gave him the cut direct, which, if delivered properly, means that his comment absolutely no change in my outward appearance: no alteration of my breathing, no flicker of my eyes, no movement of the tiny hair follicles in my inner ear. At its very best, this approach should lead him to doubt his own existence for a moment or two, or should, at the very least, cause shrinkage.

However, once I got back to the house I noticed in the mirror that of all the uninspired comments that have ever been inspired by this shirt, his was perhaps the most visually acute.

I in no way to imply that I am above average attractiveness just because most every day of my adult life, as a woman walking the streets alone, I have had to field at least one or to half-hearted comments of this type and also some delivered with considerably more zest. In fact, one's first public harassment is a coming-of-age event for every American female, I suspect, one similar to menarche in that it's special and exciting for about the first half-second and almost instantly becomes an arduous drag that may at times even go so far as to dictate what clothing one can wear out of the house that day.

A few summers ago, I pummeled and cursed a strange man on the street for daring to make the wrong obscene gesture, on the wrong day, to the wrong clearly bra-less young woman (myself). His face showed only hurt and surprise that I did not take his titty -sucking-squeezing pantomime as the openhanded compliment he meant it to be. In my experience, this is the response of cat-callers and wolf-whistlers everywhere if you respond to their overtures with anger and annoyance: genuine regret that the battle of the sexes should cause their intentions to be so misconstrued, that another of Cupid's arrows has so sadly misfired.

2

One evening last summer, I was walking past a group of men clustered outside a liquor store, and one said to me, you're looking the wrong way-the moon is up here. I looked up and sure enough, there was a beautiful full moon hanging low in the Chicago sky. I smiled and nodded my thanks appreciation, agreed that it was a beautiful moon and continued on my way. A few blocks later, I stood waiting for the light to change and suddenly noticed with a start that one of them had followed me down the street and was trying politely to introduce himself to me. My natural reaction was to recoil and shake my head and make whirring noised intended to dissuade, trapped by oncoming traffic as I was, and he said - Why? Is it because of my class?

I swear, he actually used the word "class." It was exceedingly awkward.

"Er, no," I fumbled, "just not talking to strangers today," and rapidly crossed the street.

I've thought about this a lot since it happened and felt like shit a fair amount and come to no useful conclusions on the matter. As noted above, I'm a seasoned pro at rebuffing unwanted male attention. It's become such an ingrained habit that I've successfully extended it to my dating practice and treat my suitors with the same equanimity I use with, say, panhandlers: I have to tell you no, see, because I told the last guy no, and it's only fair you see, no, I'm sure you've got a great story, but I can't even listen to it, because I didn't listen to the last guy's story, and it wouldn't be fair, you see? I've generally become so effective at discouraging my gentleman callers that most of them probably think our failure to hook up was their idea. But there's no rejection that I have thought as much about, or felt as guilty about, as my instantaneous rejection of this particular individual, on this particular occasion.

In general I don't give people a chance. That's a wall-known and undisputed fact. But in fact I lied to him when I said that I wasn't talking to strangers today, because actually at the time, I was making a game attempt at internet dating, which essentially meant that I was going to a lot of trouble to talk to strangers. To go on incredibly boring coffee dates with strangers, albeit strangers pre-screened by my own bigoted, class-conscious, mullet-sensitive intuition. And all these strangers turned out to be the same kind of guys I would generally shirk at parties, and all eventually met with the same response as the man on the street, although by that time they were the price of a few lattes poorer and a few weeks older than when they started. A lot of them I see around when I'm walking, or we pretend not to know each other in the line at Jewel-Osco. So, while I was well within my rights to completely dismiss this fellow who dared to talk to me without the social necessity of a formal introduction on Chicago Ave at approx. eleven o'clock at night, he was also quite correct in what he said to me: I did avoid talking to him because of my immediate knee-jerk assumptions about his "class."

Walking away from this exchange, I was reminded again that not only do the few (un)lucky males that I deign to date tend to be white males, they also tend to be white upper-middle-class males, and not only that, but they tend to be white upper-middle class males who subscribe to a particular subculture, a certain special pigeonhole of a particular musical taste, artistic sensibility, political leaning, ironic t-shirt wearing. I can't help it. I'm an introverted person. These are the men that I meet, or rather the men that my roommates drag home for me to meet. It would be very easy to never notice the frightening similarities between them. To think about it would force me to notice that I meet the people that my friends know, and by an large, my friends tend to be just like me, from the same social background, who will be able to laugh at my inside jokes. Even walking through seemingly unlimited public spaces, I never seem to venture very far.

 

- Becca Taylor