Tonight I walked down to the hardware store to buy a large crescent spanner. It was dark and raining and two things happened. The first was that I nearly got hit by two turning vehicles despite my having the right of way and the traffic lights with me. Huh! The second was that a young man outside the McDonalds asked me for money. I don't as a rule give money to young men because in my part of town* they use it to buy artificial cannabinoids. The local store has a $120 tab for artificial cannabinoids, and they must be its only source of regular income apart from cigarettes and junk snacks. Up until very recently the artificial cannabinoid K2 was legal and very dangerous it was, bad for my business. The newest version, Kryptonite, is less toxic according to a chemist acquaintance of mine. It would have to be.
Anyway, when the young man said 'Miss, miss have you got two dollars please' I responded 'No thanks'. Why did I thank him? Did I think he was offering me the opportunity to give him money? Was I just being polite? Why would I be polite? Because he said please?
I am happy to walk around the streets at night. I am protected by my giraffe hat and my below zero cool attitude. I honestly believe that short plump older women should damn well be able to walk around when and where they like. As should young slim tall women. I also mostly believe that I am invisible to men. This has been the case for several years. It gives me a position of being permanently 'othered' where I can observe from a vantage point. I like it. It keeps me safe and amuses me.
A little while ago, however, I was briefly not invisible. I was on the bus going home from work. The bus was about two thirds full and a young ruffian sat down beside me, choosing my seat rather than some empty ones. His friend sat across the aisle. This man asked me the time. He then began to tell me very explicitly what he wanted to do to me. Very explicitly, but in a quiet monotone, so that the people around me probably could not hear. I was shocked, for sure. I sat stony faced (I hope) for the duration of the ride, and felt more and more alarmed as the bus approached my stop. To get out I would have to get past him. What if he wouldn't let me out? What if he did something to me as I squeezed past him? I realised to my growing horror that I may have to Make A Scene. I decided if he did not let me out I would stand up to my full height (ahem!) and say in a loud but calm voice 'This man is sexually harassing me. He is refusing to let me out'. While I doubt that anyone would actually intervene, people would stare, and I hoped I would be able to exit the bus while they watched and the man would be unable to do anything to me. After all, as a respectable looking short plump older woman I could not be considered to be complicit in his sexual harassment of me. They might have a laugh at the thought that this rough looking young guy would be harassing me, but they would not disbelieve me.
Even at the time I noticed that I was just as alarmed about having to Make A Scene as I was about the man sexually harassing me. When I was young, feminists commented on this. Women were expected to be polite and sweet and put the needs of others first. Women did not Make Scenes unless they were morally dubious, or their children were at immediate risk. Women were not loud or dirty or expansive, and they did not walk around at night.
In theory all that has changed. Women can drink and shout and fight and even beat box. Younger women really are more assertive. I didn't think, until that incident, that I still had that resistance to standing up for myself. How deep these social fears run, even over decades. How is it that I think I have to be older and less conventionally attractive in order to be creditable. To be safe.
As it happened, the bus came up to my stop. I rang the bell and said to the man to let me out. He rose, stood aside, and I got off the bus.
So maybe the next time a young man tries to beg money off me when I am walking at night I won't thank him. Or I may offer him my 10" crescent spanner instead.
* Aahh Linwood. Motto of Linwood: Linwood - 87% of residents prefer it to prison. Alternative motto of Linwood: You're never bored in Linwood!