I don’t know what to do with men on the street. I am mostly quite good at not seeing them, even as I watch them for threat or danger. Sometimes one will push or slide past my shield, and I have no choice but to interact with him in some way. I have yet to develop the ‘face of beligerence’ that Fox and my mother can level with such skill, but I can manage an outraged-but-dismissive glance down my nose.
I wore one of my favorite summer dresses on Friday. It was hot, I was listening to Juanes, singing along in my head. As I passed, a man seated in front of a shop stood and leaned into my path, put his beery breath in my face and started singing Besame Mucho.
I love Besame Mucho. It’s languid and melancholy. It reminds me of Oscar Hijuelos and João Gilberto and a beautiful elderly Chinese man on the Lexington F-train platform playing it like a soulful moan on his gaohu.
I love Besame Mucho, but I don’t really want a stranger — particularly not a half-naked, half-drunk, fully-sweaty one — blocking my path and throwing it in my face.
With headphones on, I can pretend I don’t hear, which lets me pretend I don’t notice. I can keep on down the street to the party beat of La Noche. But why do I have to be bothered by this in any way anyway?
I could go on and on, work up to a real rant. But that’s the wrong direction. I’m more upset with myself right now. I don’t want random masturbators trying to make time with me on the street, but I use them. Ok, not the disgusting men, but men in general. I am quite consciously aware of how some men will respond to my voice, my smile, and to some things about me that are … uh … shall we say very up front. I know and I take advantage of what I know when I need to. Not five minutes after the half-naked singing man, I used my Sweet Girl voice to get some heavy-lifting help from a stranger in a store.
Didn’t they used to call it “feminine wiles,” this manipulative behavior? Fox isn’t a fan. She thinks it’s demeaning, insulting, that women resort to such tactics, that I resort to such tactics. I hear her. And sometimes even I find myself rolling my eyes and getting annoyed and disgusted when I see women doing it … but I do it, still. Not all the time, but sometimes. Yes.
Part of me feels a little sheepish about this, but part of me thinks, “Why not?” If men are so foolish as to let themselves be taken in because of my voice, my smile, my breasts (yeah, let’s just put it out there … we all know what I’m talking about), whose fault is that? And where’s the harm, really? They get to feel all “manly,” whatever that means for them, and I get to walk away without breaking a sweat … or a nail.
Except there is harm, isn’t there? Every time I smile pretty or use my girly voice or pretend not to notice some man directing his conversation at my chest instead of my face I’m making it harder for the next woman who walks up and has a question, for the next woman who becomes his supervisor or assistant and has to deal with the belief I’ve helped cement that women are helpless and needy or that we exist for his pleasure.
Fox will be happy to see that the light bulb’s finally gone on over my head, but I’m annoyed. Do I have to be conscientious all the time? Sometimes I really just want some guy to hold the door open or offer me his seat or put my suitcase on the overhead rack. Is that so wrong?