Eye Contact in Public Spaces
I was recently at a small music festival for a weekend. Even though I went there alone, I felt safe. When I walked past people, men or women, I would often smile, make eye contact, say hi. Sometimes it was clear that we were both in the mood to stop and chat, so we would. This environment made me feel relaxed, open, and connected with the community around me.
When I got back to the city, I noticed a huge change. Walking past people on the sidewalk — I had grown accustomed to eye-contact, but I am deeply conditioned against doing this in cities and public spaces. I might feel a smile coming on, but my face would quickly succumb to an icy stare, purposely ignoring the existence of passersby.
Why? Because if I make eye contact, I might get harassed, catcalled, hit on, or coerced into a non-consensual conversation. (Non-consensual conversation is when they try to make you stop walking, engage you in conversation, even though you show signs of discomfort, or haven’t signalled that you feel like talking. Then they call you rude or get offended if you ignore them or cut the conversation short.) Many men are so starved or desperate for female attention, that if you give them eye contact they think they’ve won the lottery.
You may wonder if I similarly avoid eye contact with women in public spaces. The answer is, I don’t have to. They are already pre-conditioned to avoid interaction in the same way that I am. Even if I try to engage, they walk by me as if I am a wisp of smoke.
Of course this doesn’t happen every single time, and I do occasionally have good interactions with people in public. But when I do decide that a man looks “safe” and it’s OK to interact with him, I bet he can still detect that flash of fear in my eyes.
THEREFORE: If we want to give our public spaces the ability to become comfortable community spaces, men need to stop trying to “go after” women all the goddamn time.
And, thank you music festival organizers for making spaces where people feel safe.