By Simone LeClaire
I need to point out this slow-burn version of street harassment, before I explode from not being able to express what is wrong with it, because it goes on endlessly, The-50-Year-Old-White-Guy-Version:
About six weeks ago I smiled at a dog in a yard I was walking by–I do not notice the approximately 50 year old white man in the yard is staring at me till he says, “Wow. You must have the most wonderful boyfriend.” This statement irritates me in many layers, I simply make a face as I continue my way.
A week later I pass same guy en route to a neighborhood coffee shop. A few minutes after sitting down in coffee shop the same guy comes in. He does not order. He lingers around pretending to look at the bulletin board right next to me, then begins ‘casually’ saying things to me. I can’t fully discern, because I’m right by an air conditioner, and I ignore it until I finally say, “What.”
He says, “Not even going to say hello?” with a smile.
I say hello.
And he says something like “You must be the most beautiful girl in the world, huh?” with an ingratiating smile. I say, “I don’t appreciate that and I don’t appreciate you following me in here.” He is the becomes the tiniest bit flustered but continues smiling, he shrugs a little and says, “Well you have a wonderful day”, I say okay.
He leaves without apologizing.
Since then I have passed that guy about four or five times in the park or around when I’m walking my dog. Even when we are a distance away he takes any opportunity to call out to me.
“Hey, that’s a nice way to walk a dog!”
“How are you doing today?”
“Nice day, huh?”
As if we know each other, anything to forcefully draw my attention to him even when we are too far away to naturally interact.
Here is what I have to say about this. It’s important to understand that people don’t need to be explicitly insulted to experience powerlessness and vulnerability. It’s so important to know what the various forms of entitlement can look like, and ask yourself how you perpetuate it in your life.
You can accidentally feel entitled to other people’s bodies, to knowing their thoughts, to understanding them, to their feelings, their time, their attention, their indulgence, to speaking with them, to knowing them, to seeing them, to giving them your opinions. But when you are so entitled then you can actually no longer see the other person at all & that sucks.
This man has fascinated me as an example. I feel he is willfully ignorant that he has done anything to apologize for, yet his very first sentence to me, which he probably decided to himself is “a respectful way to comment on a woman,” I legitimately found insulting regardless of how he intends it. I honestly find it deeply insulting to my identity as an autonomous person and I don’t care if its a socially average thing to say. I experience it as a small slap in the face, so I don’t want to debate whether it’s ok to say. The same can be said about every interaction since then. Every time I realize it is him again calling out to bring my attention to him, my face falls, my stomach drops a bit, and I’m just like–dammit this fucker.
It’s not like it’s a big part of my day or even a big deal in the scheme of things, I am not trying to compare this to worse situations. But I’m just saying these type of microinvalidations get old as they pile up. No matter how innocuous his statements are to him, I feel they are all just a way for him to willfully disregard all my desires & feedback (which are summed up as, just leave me alone). From the first minute when, instead of even asking a question of whether I am interested, he frames his commentary all around his own opinions and desires so that he can erase the question of mine–(Which no, I am not generally sexually attracted to 50 year old white guys with big hard bellies and red needy faces, he easily already knows this so makes my desire irrelevant).
Personally, I will be applying these thoughts to myself to more deeply investigate how entitlement shows up in me as a white woman.
I just want to repeat what I know so many have said before me: There is no appropriate way to impose your presence, thoughts, commentary on someone who doesn’t want it. If you have trouble understanding that, it is really important to think about, and find out why.
Simone LeClaire is a 26 year old white girl living that sexy poor bachelorette life in Minneapolis in a tiny apartment with a tiny dog. As a filmmaker she is interested in wonder and the intersection of art, social justice, and community engagement. Most notably she directed the award-winning Elemental series of retold fairy tales and UPM of the hit local webseries, Theater People Season 4. Follow her beautiful and inspiring work at Directed By Simone on Facebook and Instagram: @directedbysimone