I thought I looked so cute.
Cobalt blue eyeliner, red lipstick, messy hair and a new dress that looked like a Helmut Lang but in fact cost only $20. Maybe it was a bit tight, but I didn’t see anything wrong with that as I often wear snug black pencil skirts and dresses to work.
He had been walking behind me for several blocks.
It’s a busy street, so whatever. He was talking to me, but I was ignoring him, listening to music on my iPhone and glancing behind occasionally just to make sure he wasn’t doing anything suspicious. He pulled out a flip phone and began “talking” on it. Maybe he was talking to someone; I guess I don’t know for sure.
I was almost to the edge of downtown when he grabbed me. Planted his hand right on my ass and grabbed me.
I have always commanded more than my fair share of male attention. I’m blonde. I wear lipstick and I like a formfitting silhouette. That’s just my style. I’ve learned as I age how to harness my feminine power; even if I’m wearing grody leggings and a hoodie, I can still attract attention if I want it.
Generally the stares and the comments don’t bother me. I’m in the habit of wearing headphones so I don’t have to listen to the things they say about my body and my looks when I’m walking to work. It sounds stupid, but I never thought someone would actually act on his thoughts.
I was wrong.
I didn’t know what to do. I was shocked. Stunned.
“DO NOT TOUCH ME,” I heard my voice say. “Do NOT touch me!”
The man grinned at me and laughed right in my face.
“What the fuck you sick motherfucker!” I yelled. My iPhone was playing Emmylou Harris. “Get away from me! GO AWAY.”
He continued to stand near me, laughing and smiling. What was I going to do next? “YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH ME,” I screamed, then started walking. The man, in plaid shorts and a yellow t-shirt, turned the corner and continued to watch me as I fled.
I looked around. Nobody saw it happen. I was shaking.
I tried to rationalize the situation. Maybe the man was slow, maybe he didn’t understand that what he was doing was wrong. Like Lenny from Of Mice and Men. See something pretty, try and touch it. NO, I told myself. There’s no excuse for that. What right did that man have to touch me, to laugh at my anger? None. I am not anyone’s property. My body belongs to me. I had done nothing to invite this besides wear a dress.
I was gagging. Violated by this man and his hands. And that laugh. My skin crawled. My outfit, which had looked so perfect when I left my apartment, made me ashamed.
And I hated myself for feeling that way.
As a 25-year-old woman, I reserve the right to look and dress the way I want. I look this way because it makes me happy. I feel comfortable in my skin. But now all I wanted to do was hide in the darkest corners of the skyway so nobody could look at me or the stupid dress that had caused this whole mess.
My feminist side told me, “Kara, walk proud in that dress. You look hot! Don’t let a stupid, nasty man change the way you feel about yourself. You belong to yourself and anyone who oversteps your boundaries is disgusting and not worth another thought.” But the scared little girl felt like cowering in the dark, avoiding every pair of male eyes. I got to work and started to cry as I scrubbed myself down with hand sanitizer, trying as hard as I could to clean away how dirty that man had made me feel.
I struggled with the “dirty” feeling for the rest of the day. I shirked from male attention, shying away from their stares as they watched me peruse the farmer’s market. Why did I let that man make me feel so creepy-crawly? Why did I instantly blame myself, my tight dress, my red lipstick?
I love men. I work at a small boutique in the Minneapolis skyway, and the majority of my customers are male. I see most of them at least once a week. I have an easy rapport with men; we joke, we laugh, we flirt. I tried to be lighthearted about the events of my morning with them:
“It was bound to happen sometime, right?”
But still, as I prepared to leave the safety of my store, I was afraid. Would another man follow me down the street as I walked home?