“You’re a good looking girl. Wow. I want to attack you.” That’s what a dude said to me last week while I walked through Toronto’s Chinatown. I was in town for a comedy festival and feeling fairly free. With shows every evening, I’d get up early and bang out some work, then have a few afternoon hours to explore the city on foot.
Walking a new city is among my favorite activities; it’s right up there with trying to introduce the musical Cabaret into any conversation. I love imagining which restaurant would be my one restaurant. Because I frequent restaurants at a sitcom level, a Central Perk/Monk’s Café/Luke’s Diner level.
I was just starting to feel comfy in Toronto—I’d been in town for a few days, shows were going well, audiences had been lovely—when I passed this Chinatown dude. He wasn’t Chinese—that’s not what this column is about—he was some white-looking dude, wearing basketball shorts and on his way into a grocery store. We were on a semi-busy street and it was a Sunday, so there were lots of folks around.
As I got up to Bball Shorts, I could tell he was going to speak to me. He stared me down, put his body in my path and waited for my approach. Women are used to this behavior on the street. We can identify a dude clearly coiled and ready with a comment. I changed my path a bit, and gave him a wide berth. When he started his first sentence, “You’re a good looking girl,” I kept my eyes forward. Women learn early that it’s better not to engage. “Don’t make eye contact and maybe he will stop,” we repeat to ourselves.
I pushed my shoulders back and tried to appear as if his words didn’t even register. I hoped he would think that I hadn’t heard. I hoped this would make him feel less powerful. I hoped for, “Oh well. I guess she didn’t hear me. Maybe I’ll shut up.”
Instead he stepped closer and paused. He fell in step beside me for a moment. “Wow,” he said, under his breath. I tried to make eye contact with a woman strolling past beside her boyfriend. I smiled at them and focused my energy on them—I wanted them to see me in case anything happened—and I picked up my step.
Bball Shorts didn’t follow. By the time he said, “I want to attack you.” I had passed him. He said it loudly, spinning on his heels to face my back as I kept going. I only know that because that’s when I turned to look at him. He was stepping through the automatic doors at the grocery store, still facing me. “Fuck you!” I yelled. I wish I hadn’t. “No one should fuck you!” would have been so much better. In total, this was probably a 30-second interaction.
I told that story onstage that night, retold it the next. There’s a lot of material in there because it’s an almost perfect microcosm of what it is to be a woman in the world. Let’s begin here: If you are a stranger, I do not care if you think I’m beautiful. This is especially true if you are a man.
I recently received a series of messages from another dude across various social media sites and via email. All of them said the same thing. “You are so beautiful. How do I get to be friends with you?” The answer is simple: you don’t. You don’t “get” to be friends with me because that’s not how friendship works. Friendship is based on things like thinking BoJack Horseman is very funny, not a badgering series of looks, focused Internet pokes, and a flat-out question about friendship.
In that case, I blocked the dude. That’s creepy Internet behavior. In Toronto, Bball Shorts brought his own special flavor of creepy real-life behavior. He got all close to me to make sure I knew he was in charge. He offered an unsolicited comment about my looks to make sure I knew his opinion was important. And he threat-complimented me to make me feel unsafe. He’s not the first person to link sexual assault and physical attraction—that incorrect link is in the ether. Sexual assault isn’t about sex; it’s about power and control—the same impetus behind Bball Shorts’ street praise. I must have been very threatening to him, striding that street in my jean jac. Just like perhaps this column is threatening some of you guys right now.
Listen babyfellas: I’m not picking on you. I’m trying to help you. And I’m trying to help me. As a woman, I don’t imagine that I will ever get to feel safe in my lifetime. I don’t think this column, or my stand-up, or some series of very well-timed tweets are going to change one of the greatest games of intimidation in human history. But, as a woman, I am never going to stop trying. Even after. I plan to have my ashes rolled up a This Is What A Feminist Looks Like T-shirt and shot into space with a T-shirt cannon.
There are tons of men trying to figure out how to make this a safer world for women. Some dudes seem to have a handle on the kinds of behavior that work in that direction. They are reading speeches delivered by Hermione Granger to the U.N. and deciding not to open hacked intimate Mystique photos. This is awesome. I also know there are other guys that are trying to help but just confused as to how they might be able to. For those guys especially, start with this:
I do not care if you think I am beautiful. Your feedback or evaluation isn’t needed. I also do not care if you think I am not beautiful. Your feedback or evaluation isn’t needed there either. If you leave a comment on this column about how you don’t like my haircut, or don’t think I’m that pretty anyway so how did this story even happen, that tells me that you have a problem with control.
That’s where feedback and evaluation come from—a feeling that you have been wronged and that something should be done to better suit your tastes. Feedback and evaluation can be great—Yelp provides very helpful 200,000-word cupcake reviews and I personally have tweeted at @DeltaAssist after an eight-hour flight delay and gotten some extra miles, thank you very much.
But people are not service providers. I am not here on this Earth to have the haircut or face or sweet, sweet ass you want me to have. I do care what some people think of my looks—I want my fiancée to think I am beautiful; I want my friends to think I’ve worn a great vest/tie combo to their wedding. Looking my best in these situations makes me feel good, as good as walking a new city. I feel like Sally Bowles shaking off all the shit she’s gone through and stepping out onstage to sing Cabaret’s titular number—I feel in control of myself, like I’ve taken the raw material I’ve been given and shaped them to suit my personality. Like this dumb old side mullet of mine which I goddamn fucking love. I don’t care if don’t like it. It’s not for you. It’s for me.