The other day a man working in New York City’s Times Square was following me on a crowded street. I could see him in my periphery, but I was doing my best to just keep plowing ahead, as I had to meet a friend for dinner.
“Hey miss! Hey!”
In my head I’m saying “just keep walking, keep staring ahead.” But my insecurities always get the best of me in these odd situations. “What if you dropped your scarf and he’s just trying to hand it back to you?” my brain went, “They all can’t be potential crazies!”
So I finally turned around to look at him. There was no scarf, just a wanting, thirsty, habitual-line-stepping guy who immediately started grabbing my arm, trying to pull me away.
“What’s your name? I’ve been following you for the last block just to talk to you! What’s your name!”
“I’m sorry, I’m in a hurry,” I said.
“You wasn’t walking like you were in no hurry?”
“Please, I’m sorry. No.”
And yet the grabbing of my arm and pulling continued, until finally I crossed a crowded street and ducked into a pharmacy that he did not follow me into because he had to get back to the vendor station he’d abandoned to chase me down.
It wasn’t until I was out with my friend at dinner that it hit me that I was way too “OK” with what had happened. So “OK” that I’d almost forgotten to mention it to my friend I was eating with. And when I did bring it up finally, it was as a joke.
“Oh my God, Jason! I almost didn’t make it to dinner because some creepy dude tried to steal me from you!”
But when I really thought about it, how often had this happened where a guy grabbing me and pulling me in a direction I had no interest in going got no response out of me? When-oh-when did I get used to it?
And what on Earth made this guy think this was OK?
My fake big brother Jada and I have this constant dialogue about how being good-looking allows people – male and female – to get away with behavior that would be “Dial 9-1-1” worthy of anyone else. Part of the reason why he enjoys having this conversation is because he’s good looking, in the classic “tall, athletic and big smile” kind of way and usually my stories of having my personal space intruded upon involves men who don’t typically fit those parameters.
So, in their haphazard defense, he’ll often say, “But, yeah, what if he was really good-looking? Would a complete stranger grabbing your arm in the middle of Time Square shouting, ‘I’ve been following you for two blocks just to get your name!’ creep you out?”
And I always respond with, “I dunno. Probably. But I’ve never had a good-looking guy do that. Have you ever done that?”
And the answer is always no. Why would he do that? “I don’t need to do that,” he’d say.
And that’s how I usually win this argument.
Men of the knowingly handsome and/or emotionally secure persuasion know that it’s strange and concerning to do what Times Square guy did to me as I was walking to meet with a friend for dinner. It’s inappropriate in a world where women get snatched off the street and where one-in-six women are victims of sexual assault and a world where I DON’T KNOW YOU WHY ARE YOU TOUCHING ME?
Being good-looking means you do get away with more. But usually the men who are the best with women have learned how to read cues of interest and disinterest and traverse those well. Jada admitted that he’s polite to a fault and I’ve witnessed as much. But he’s pretty good at reading signals. If you throw some his way that you’d be OK with him getting a little handsy, he’ll catch what you’re throwing. But for some guys there seems to be a gross disconnect between a woman minding her own business and a guy looking for a good time. Or maybe they just don’t care about a little thing called “consent” and “mutual attraction.”
Things like asking for a hug when I wasn’t giving out hugs. Or when you go in for the hug your hands just always seem to want to slide as close as possible to the sides of my breasts. Being in New York City is like suddenly being junior high again. And the weirdness and the sexual harassment weren’t appropriate then, but at least you could blame it on the stupidity of hormones and youth. What’s a 30-year-old man’s excuse? What’s a 45-year-old’s excuse when he doesn’t respect things like boundaries? When he think your boobs are like a public park anyone can freely partake in?
The most attention I ever got in New York was the day I wore stretch pants. And I remember thinking, maybe I shouldn’t wear stretch pants. But then I thought, “Why do I have to change who I am because of the half-dozen weirdos who can’t get a date don’t know how to behave? Why can’t they just follow the example of the 99.9 percent of guys who don’t do or say anything?”
So, I kept my stretch pants. But the men of New York are seriously testing my degree of “friendliness.”