Eight Things Male Strangers Have Said To Me
If you’re a woman, you don’t need a subtitle. You know what it’s about.
Who am I? I’m the cousin you see at weddings and funerals; fun to drink with, easy to talk to, hard to stay in touch with. I’m the mom who buys organic food at the co-op; the one always trying to wrangle her enthusiastic toddler. I’m the reporter in the back row at school board meetings. I’m the girl looking at her phone in the doctor’s office waiting room. I’m someone’s wife, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister. I’m the girl who is overly gracious in customer service settings; I used to be the girl behind the register.
Here are things said to me by men I did not have connections to. Strangers, acquaintances, passersby.
In a diner, an older man asked, “Are you some kid reporter, out trying to learn how to look for scoops?” My editor, seated next to me, told him I was the lead reporter and I had plenty of scoops. It occurred to me only when the man was corrected that it was inappropriate for him to belittle me that way. “That’s how older men have been talking to me since I was two,” I said later to my editor. I was 34.
On a sidewalk in the fashion district, a man in a suit walked past me so slowly that I thought at first that we must have known each other. His tone was quiet, conversational, intimate. “I could fuck you so hard your eyeballs would pop,” he said, maintaining eye contact as he passed. I was 25.
A cable guy came to set up my router. I was in my apartment alone with him. He said everything was all set, and then as he packed up his bag his tone got a lot more familiar and he said, “Oh, by the way, there’s a router in the bedroom, right?” I was caught off guard and didn’t get it at first, so I said an innocent no. He shook his head, clenched his hand around his bag, and abruptly left. He closed the door hard. I was 24.
Who am I? I’m a woman who hasn’t always felt feminine, or proper, but who is most certainly a woman. I’m a wearer of makeup and ill-fitting clothes. I’m a mother, trying to do best for her baby but always sure I haven’t given her enough. I’m a wife who depends on her husband for comfort, strength, and safety. I’m a daughter still looking for approval. I’m a sister who needs camaraderie. I’m a friend who is happy when you call, happier still when you answer my calls.
Here are more things said to me by men I did not have connections to. Strangers, acquaintances, passersby.
In a bar, a guy we weren’t talking to looked my friend up and down and told her she had a nice ass. Then he looked me up and down and rolled his eyes like I owed him something and didn’t deliver. “You don’t even have an ass,” he said. I was 21.
On the second day at my job as a banquet waitress at an upscale hotel, the maitre d’ told me I should keep wearing the rings I wear on my hands and that if anyone asked, I should say I’m married. “I told the guys you were married, so they’d leave you alone.” The guys were his staff. Well paid. I didn’t think to wonder why he didn’t just tell them to leave me alone. I was 20.
At a party, a guy asked my name like he’d never seen me. I said we went to high school together. It crashed around him and he said, “You’ve changed,” while looking me up and down and biting his lip. I hadn’t changed, but he was drunk and he’d come to the party alone. The guy I’d arrived with walked into the room and stood behind me. They nodded upwards at each other, like they were coming to an understanding, and the high school guy disappeared. I was 19.
In the co-ed locker room “backstage” at the resort I worked at in a theme park, men catcalled me, but only when I was the only woman there. One routinely called me “Mami” and kissed the air as he pushed himself up against a locker. Then he’d disappear as quickly as he arrived. I never knew his name, or department, or how I could report him. I was 18.
I was standing behind the register of a drug store when a man came to buy something. I smiled and said hello. He became filled with rage. “Your smile is disgusting,” he spit at me. “Don’t ever give a man that fake bullshit again.” I don’t remember what he was buying, but whatever it was, it was mundane. I was 16.
Who am I? I’m a naive little flower who doesn’t know much. I’m here to be punched with your words. I’m an opportunity to fuck in the middle of your work day. I’m at a bar, so I better work my ass for you. I’m open for business unless I’m married. I’m hot now that you have no other options, but, oh never mind, I’m with him. I’m the object of your amusement. I’m here to please, so I hope you like my smile.
(I’m none of that).
Lauren Harkawik is a writer of essays and fiction. She works as a local reporter in rural Vermont.