Sidelined

By two things: First, teacher told me yesterday that we would start working on the next step in my path towards Sirsasana. How weird that I overslept and did not go to the shala today. Hmmmm. overslept because I got riled up about the video below before bed. Not the video but the blowback online from people who are outraged about her daring to feel uncomfortable and complain about the cat calls. Specially about the “coded” ones like God bless You which really means god bless your tits and that fine ass. Or Smile, which really means be grateful bitch that I am paying attention to your appearance.

This morning I post it on facebook and receive a comment from one of my young nieces who without an ounce of irony says that this happens to the woman on the video because she is not a savvy new yorker and stupidly walks without headphones and tunnel vision. She is seriously proud of having to use armor and attitude to earn the right to walk the streets with the same entitlement as if she owned her own penis.

Then I get a PM from a young nephew who feels wrongly accused and bunched up with the crowd of cat callers and compares them (the cat callers, that took me a minute to grasp) to the beggars who know that someone is going to drop a coin and these men just know some girl will eventually relent. WHAT. I had to disagree explaining that the manner displayed by these men is more like a demand, and yes some beggars are demanding and that is precisely why it is sort of scary. It was like don’t feed the pigeons which is a step away from you should really wear that burkha. This is a sweet 20 year old kid, and his cousin is a recent college grad excited about her city job, but this is what the culture has told them to internalize. My head is on fire.

I did mention to my nephew why I might be “oversensitve” to this issue. When I was 17 in Medellin, I liked to sometimes go downtown using public transportation to shop or to meet friends for a movie or teatime. Always during the day and during office hours in the part of of the city full of nice stores and office buildings. If you have traveled abroad you know that in certain countries what you hear hurled at you is pretty filthy and intended to embarrass and make you cower. I got it on two fronts; One, I was a girl of means who was driven places instead of walking to them and they had access  to me that they otherwise did not have and two, they could make me feel responsible for “arousing” them and making me feel I was the innapropiate one. I made the mistake of talking back one day to a boy much younger than I was. He in turn grabbed my breasts, slapped my face and called his friends who came and touched me everywhere. Two older men defended me but not without reprimanding me first for walking by myself. My parents reprimanded me as well for refusing to use the driver. So yeah, It could be that I am oversensitive. Or like my nephew said: That it’s terrible that this happened to me but this is different. Yeah.

8 thoughts on “Sidelined

  1. Wow. The niece and nephew’s response is the really sad scary part of this whole thing. I’m so sorry. And your story is awful. I have similar ones, as do most of us. In my college dorm we took a poll: out of eight women present, seven had been assaulted in varying degrees of atrociousness. Do I feel safer now? Somewhat but that’s only because I wear the cloak of invisibility: being over 50.

    This video has me really riled up too. My head, it is also on fire.

    • Unbelievable. It’s like the “if I speak knowledgeably about football/baseball and do not flinch at lewdness, and hold my liquor, and fix myself up nice but not too tarty, they won’t hurt me and I’ll be part of the gang” It’s like mad men part two. You asked me earlier if it has gotten worse and I feel that we have regressed and feminist is now an insult. The most insidious part is that somehow the “coded language” of -smile, have a good day, I just saw a 1000 dollars, god bless you, is so 1984 Orwellian.

  2. I have tears falling down my face as I know my baby girl at NYU calls me as she walks to class almost everyday, and without fail, she is being cat called each and every time. One of her best guy friends told her to take it as a compliment because she’s pretty, they got in a big fight…I understand the cultural aspects that sadly have still allowed this uncomfortable at best objectification, but I agree, too many people make excuses and blame the women.
    What happened to you was terrible, and sadly I too have terrible stories that I’m happy to have survived, nothing like being scolded for being victimized! It makes my blood boil.
    However, tomorrow is another day, good luck on your progress in sirsanana. The first time I got up in it and held it for a few of the counts, I was so excited I lost my balance and fell over sideways onto the person next to me:) xo

    • Today was my daughter’s birthday P, and I admit I was kind of hypersensitive. As mothers we suffer knowing what our daughters have to endure for no good reason. Like my friend Laura says, hard to find a woman who does not have a war story. I don’t know if you knew that I already broke O’s nose a couple of years ago while she was trying to help me out. This is a long project. Thanks for the encouragement. xo

  3. I am sorry to read about your story, it is awful and horrifying and no wonder you are ‘foaming at the mouth’. I have been fortunate to have grown up in a place where this behavior just does not happen (back in my day, not sure about now), but have had my fair share of harassment on travels. The rape threats and misogyny are undesirable but sort of par for the course for the Internet these days (skeptical, much?). What really makes me sad are the attitudes like your niece who think it’s the woman’s fault for not ‘knowing’ how to walk in NYC. How are we going to change street harassment if young women don’t even think that this is a problem?

    • Exactly. Sort of like buying the most cumbersome painful shoe to look fetching if you ask me. So it hurts a little but they really like it and that’s what matters. My nephew was making it all about “now we can’t even say hello to girl”. And you are right, the internet is such a clear mirror in which to look at what rattles our chain and how rage when it happens. We would never show that enraged side when we are in each other’s presence. that video sure touched a nerve.

  4. I am so sorry that this happened to you, Maria.

    It’s amazing how many women are victims of some form of harassment or abuse. Start talking and sharing, and we all have our own stories. It’s also sad and frustrating how resistant to change so many are – both men and women. They see this as a condemnation of longstanding behavior that they have either perpetrated or – yes – welcomed in the past. The refusal to see that what happened to this woman in the video as being even slightly offensive and obtrusive, by the vast majority of people who view it, means women have a very long way to go to find true equality – and empowerment – in our world.

    I almost got into a huge argument with my father yesterday, who thought it was a “stupid video” and could not even see how the man walking next to her for five minutes could have been considered intimidating or harassing. I asked him what he would do if a man did that to him – how he would react? He said, “Well, I’d stop walking and say threateningly, “What are you doing? Get away from me.” Uh, huh. Let’s think about your answer for a few moments, Dad, and imagine it was me or one of your granddaughter’s he did that to.

    My oldest daughter recounted an incident that happened to her when she was 17 – alone at night coming back from work, getting gas around 9am. Three men came up to her as she was pumping her gas, began to talk to her and tell her how beautiful she was. One even tried to kiss her and touch her. She was frozen and didn’t know what to do, but laughed nervously and tried to make a joke about it, gently shrugged the guy’s arm off her as she was getting the gas as quickly as she could – hoping that by being passive, they’d leave her alone. The station attendant in his box finally announced on the loudspeaker said he was calling the police. They laughed and said, “Oh, we didn’t mean any harm.” Yeah, right. Fuckers.

    Women are taught to be passive in the face of this behavior, to act like a delicate little fawn in the forest, avoiding the predators by being quiet and unmoving, non-assertive – and not flying, either. We don’t even get taught “flight” response, let alone “fight” response! Just be meek, and the bad man will leave you alone. Unfortunately, not always.

    Enough, I say. I am teaching myself* – and my own two daughters – to be strong and empowered enough to say, “Stop”, “Fuck off” – and/or flee if necessary – in the face of intimidating or harassing behavior. I’m also trying to educate my son, too about what this feels like for women.

    *(I do find it interesting that it has taken me until I was 48 to feel empowered enough to assert myself against these types of deviants. You know one of my own stories, Maria, but not my worse one – I won’t share either here. But, I suspect it’s many years of doing scary things on the mat – things where I might get hurt, but still coming out whole on the other side – that’s given me this strength.)

  5. I marvel Michelle at how hard some people are trying to sidestep the issue of street harrassment. I read a post where Derek Beres who I happen to like and respect, said that the problem with this viral video was that it was sponsored by a group/person who benefits form gentrification and that was why there were no white cat callers in the clip. So lets focus on the probability that the video is racist so we do not have to look at verbal aggressive behavior towards women. Any distraction from the real issue is desperately grasped at.

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