An article in the New York Times a couple of years back announced, in an effort to curb 'Eve Teasing,' the advent of eight commuter trains exclusively for women. Not in New York, but in India, where women are constantly subjected to pinching, groping, predatory staring and catcalls on their way to and from work. The government didn't enact a law requiring men to behave in a civil manner, or impose fines or punishment upon those who don't. It simply created a system of separate but equal, circumventing a demand for respect and decency.
While I don't find this to be the case on Manhattan subways, I'm sad to report that the article might very well have been talking about life on the streets of New York City. In truth, at least three times a day I am either glared at in a predatory manner, or shouted, whispered, or sneered at with language that would make a grown man blush.
I'm not blushing however. I'm deeply concerned. And over the years, I've grown increasingly concerned by those who feel they have the right to a form of blatant disrespect and prejudice that, directed toward any other group, would be an offense worthy of similar front page coverage in our nation's leading newspapers.
My concern has manifested in a variety of ways. I've ignored the remarks and accompanying energy. I've tried to engage the men with compassion and care, including starting conversations about how they would feel were their daughters, mothers, or wives being addressed and treated in a similar fashion. I've given into anger, fantasizing about having a BB gun to shoot out the car tires of those honking and screaming as they drive by, tongues wagging. I've imagined being in possession of Harry Potter-like powers, anonymously zapping bolts of humiliation or empathy through men who walk by making obscene noises, and from time to time, touching me.
But I don't have a gun or magical powers. Instead I watch women and girls in the city wear sunglasses on cloudy days to avoid eye contact and pretend listen to iPods in the hopes of silencing the daily blows. I listen to countless tales about altering wardrobes and lengthening skirts while confidence, ease, and comfort in the world threatens to loosen.
I'd like to insert a few items for those who may be skeptical of my reports:
1) These offenses rarely -- if ever -- occur when women are with men, so it may be hard for some of the latter to imagine that they actually happen. It seems indeed that there is a protocol of respect -- or perhaps, fear -- that enables these men to regulate their behavior.
2) These offenses occur whether I'm wearing a lovely dress or loose sweatpants, a baggy t-shirt, and a baseball cap. It seems that contrary to the opinion of some -- that women bring this treatment upon themselves -- that sexual harassment is indeed an issue of power rather than one of sexuality.
3) These are offenses, not angry misinterpretations of flattering or courteous gestures. Neither I, nor any woman, would take offense to a man or woman respectfully commenting on an attractive outfit, spirit, or appearance. What I am speaking of is entirely different, and entirely unacceptable.
I, along every man and woman, should be able to walk two blocks to get a newspaper, a cup of coffee, or to catch a train without being treated in a disrespectful manner. Our society stands up against the heckling and harassment of elderly Americans, LGBT Americans, African Americans, disabled Americans, Asian Americans or Hispanic Americans. It's time to add female Americans to that list.
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more