"Innocent" fun can often feel threatening

We move through life anonymously, inconsequential among billions, except to those who know us, love us, care about us. We know others are as self-involved as we are. Life plods on; we live in our small social spheres mostly unaffected by the world until one day, walking down the street on a lazy long-weekend Sunday we hear:

Honk, honk!

"Whazzup?! You ladies are looking fine today!"

Finally, validation, acknowledgement as a human being of the opposite sex. See, even in baggy jeans, bulky sweaters and with hair tousled by the wind from an earlier bike ride and the peaked, pale look of two people who work really hard all week long, we were women, objects of affection and attraction even to those who don’t know us by name. Wow. My sister and I were impressed by our ability to garner such attention from a group of unknowns in a shiny gold Mercedes…

Yeah, right. Actually, we muttered "fuck off" and then began a half funny conversation that went something like:

"See, this is why we need a feminist militia…"

About 20 minutes later, on the walk home, three grizzled homeless men called out, "Well, hello there, you fine young ladies! You sure are something!"

Now the sexist, unliberated nature of both these incidents is evident; however, I want to focus on the lack of power many women feel when they find themselves the objects of unwanted attention on sidewalks and other places. In these situations, women are left without any recourse to take the men to task. How exactly do you chase down a car full of yahoos on foot? How do you tell three drunk men to piss off? We put ourselves at risk if we do and consequently, are not given a voice. Instead, we’re relegated to harping about it over drinks with friends in order to come to terms with what we experience as harassment. And it is harassment, in case you were wondering. It’s also extremely unnerving.

If you’ve ever been grabbed by a drunk on a C-train platform, or worried about whether or not the guys howling at you from their car were going to stop to really check you out, you’re not alone. Sometimes we can chalk it up to stupid, male behaviour, crack a joke about how nothing changes and move on. But let’s face it, sometimes these events occur when you least expect it, when you already feel vulnerable–like waiting for the train at night or walking across a dark parking lot.

The age and cultural gaps between the two groups lead me to believe very little has changed in the general social education of boys and men. The young block men in the car were probably reasonably educated and probably considered themselves members of the enlightened social structure, railing against racism and the like. Still, they felt it necessary to hang out the window and hoot. I guess what’s good for the minority gander still isn’t good for any goose. As for the old guys, well, they’re too old and down on their luck to know any better or to change, right? Yeah, right.

These guys know exactly what they’re doing when they lean over you, blow booze-breath into your face and say, "Those sure are pretty legs you have there," even when you’re wearing longjohns under your jeans. They gain a little power in their lives by taking it away from women who know better than to comment for fear of harm.

Either way, young or old, my belief that women have made gains in our society disappears faster than a Mercedes full of joyriding boys when I’m the object of or witness to situations like these.

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