No You Cannot Culturally Appropriate My Legs

I was walking home from work when he shouted “Nice legs! I want to culturally appropriate your legs!” from an apartment balcony. There was no else around and it was almost two in the morning, so I just kept walking.

What I wanted to say was “What the fuck does that even mean?”

I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want him and his friend to follow me around the corner to my home, where I live alone. Where sometimes I sweat through the night because I’m too afraid to leave my patio door open even a crack, and too disorganized to buy a fan. I didn’t want to anger these — likely drunk — testosterone ridden men whose best ideas included yelling things at women from balconies and joking about cultural appropriation.

Having men stake their claim of my body is nothing new. As a server I interact with men everyday who feel they are owed a piece of me. They pay me for a service. A service that society tells them includes me pumping their egos and laughing at their jokes. They ask me how I stay so skinny drinking beer, how they can get my figure, if I’m standing on a box — I’m six feet tall. They ask me if I even like beer. They turn to my male colleagues to ask for suggestions on beer while I’m the one helping them.

I once had a bar and brewery owner ask me, in front of a large group of people on the first day that I met him, if the reason I didn’t want children was because I didn’t want to “ruin my body.” He went on to explain that the reason he assumes I do not want children is because I am a “feminazi.”

During daylight hours, with others around, I stand tall, look these men in the eye and say what needs to be said. At two in the morning, walking home alone with my Fox40 whistle in hand and my house key ready, I keep my head down, my cell phone handy and I do not engage.

I could take a taxi home, and sometimes I do. Even though, taxis are still another opportunity for feeling unsafe. While living a couple blocks from where I do now, I once had a taxi driver pull over and yell at me to get in the car. That my neighbourhood was unsafe and he would drive me anywhere for free. And when I said no, he yelled “get in the car” again before I started running the rest of the way home.

I recently read an article by Heather Burtman published in the New York Times Modern Love column. It is entitled: “My Body Does Not Belong To You. In this article she describes the multitude of ways that the men around her have violated her personal space. Made her feel unsafe and uncomfortable doing everyday things. I read this article, nodding along, thinking about the ways in which we subconsciously mitigate unsolicited comments and physical advances by men every single day.

At my work I have developed a series of ways to prevent guests from touching me, from asking personal questions, from expecting intimacy that is not owed to them. Not surprisingly, these tactics make me seem “standoffish” and “cold.” I’ve been told that the middle finger is my spirit animal.

But really, I am just trying to feel safe.