I’d been doing chores all day, running around, working up a sweat. I needed to shower but first I looked outside and saw that the apartment pool was empty. Blue, cool and shaded, seriously tempting. The afternoon sun dips behind the building around three so the pool sees little traffic after that. I threw on my old white-grey bikini, nearly destroyed by years of chlorine, but why wreck a new one when this one still holds up. I hurried down the stairs and dove in. It was glorious.
After a few laps I noticed in the corner of my eye that our new neighbor, a big burly guy, was hanging over the railing watching me from above. It made me a little uncomfortable but he hangs out there a lot, seemingly watching everyone. Our apartments are on the same floor connected by an outdoor hallway and he is staying in the first apartment so every time I leave my house I have to pass his window.
Now I have two choices. Continue to ignore him and hope he goes away, or acknowledge that I see him. If I do that, and he doesn’t feel awkward getting caught peeping and leaves, then whatever I do next will be as putting on a show for him. Which he may or may not already think I am doing since he seems perfectly comfortable intruding on my solo swim.
I swim more laps and then I float for a while in the middle of the pool. Completely weightless and the water shutting off the world around me. This is my meditation. I hope he leaves soon, but no.
I get out of the pool, wrap a towel around me, and go check the mail. I take the back stairs to our floor. As I turn the corner he is there, grinning at me. “You look totally different in the pool,” he says.
What is that even supposed to mean? Different as opposed to what? Why is it so necessary for him to interrupt my exercise and alone time with his opinion on my body? Does he like to tell men they look different in their trunks, too? I’ve already made a mental pact with myself to not smile and encourage this behavior so I just walk past him without looking, sternly saying to the air in front of me, “Yeah, the pool is nice.” Then I unlock my door and step inside.
Now, again, I guess I had two choices there. I can go against everything polite society has taught us and just completely ignore him every time. That is actually harder done than said because smiling and being polite is something every little girl learns early. It defuses most situations. Or I can confront him, sternly, and tell him that his behavior is unacceptable. There are girls that do that. I don’t know where they find that kind of guts. Confronting strangers has two outcomes – they either apologize or things get violent, verbally or physical. I have never confronted a stranger in my life. I wouldn’t even know how to. I certainly don’t want to get into some kind of violent argument with a man more than twice my size that lives two doors down and can watch from his window every time my husband leaves the house and I am alone.
So now maybe you want to say, jeez, Joey, you’re completely overreacting. He was just trying to be nice. No, there is nothing nice about this. A threatening, uncomfortable situation doesn’t stop being a threatening, uncomfortable situation just because you personally don’t think so. That’s pretty much the concept of privilege: thinking something isn’t a problem just because it’s not a problem to you.
I know most men aren’t rapists. I hope most men have never laid a hand on a woman. But there is no way to know these things so you always have to err on the side of caution. And that is fucking exhausting. It is so exhausting to always expect the worst. To have to plan out your day in such a way that at no point will you find yourself alone in a vulnerable position. To triple check locks when you are home alone late at night.
Only men can change this behavior. Women have been screaming into the wind for over 40 years. Men who treat women this way only respect other men. Only a man can tell them to stop. And why wouldn’t they want to? It must suck for the majority of nice guys out there to always be treated with suspicion by women because of this asshole minority of men.
We need feminism until women everywhere can step out of their homes and go about their business without constantly being graded by men. “Nice ass.” “Smile! You look prettier when you smile.” “She’s a slut.” Her nose is busted.” “She’s got dick-sucking lips.” You get the picture. I know tons of people on the internet have tried over the past year, through videos and blogs, but it’s actually impossible to imagine a world where men face the same sort of scrutiny for simply existing.
Sometimes girls make an effort before leaving the house. They dress up and they put on make up. By all means, tell her she looks nice if you think so. Tell her you like her dress (she probably bought it hoping to get compliments.) But don’t treat her as a contestant on a reality show. She didn’t come here to have her nose/boobs/ass graded on a scale. And sometimes we leave the house without giving a fuck. Didn’t dress up, didn’t comb our hair. That’s not against the law and you don’t need to comment on it.
There is a difference. Until we learn it, we need feminism and we need men who give a shit.