Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hey, Baby...

So I've noticed a hot topic lately has been street harassment. It's hot for a reason, so I'm going to put in my two cents. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, that's when a man or men catcall, hit on, "holla" at, etc., a woman whose daily activities happen to bring her outside.

Clearly, this special "outside" place is "Man's Land." Women with the audacity to venture forth into Man's Land have no right to privacy or personal space; they should expect to be approached and hit on or flirted with, and if someone touches her she should just smile politely and get on with her life. Because it's no big deal, honey.

Should a woman dare to speak against the Men in Man's Land, she should absolutely expect a flood of profanity and verbal abuse. Because that's what a woman deserves for not being submissive enough. She's being rude. She's a bitch. She ain't even that cute anyway. Whatever. Clearly.

"Hey, Baby." It starts so frequently with these words. "Baby." So familiar. So intimate. As though you know me. As though we're close. As though "excuse me," isn't manly enough. As though "Will you tell me your name," is a less important question than "Can I get your number?"

As though my identity doesn't matter. I don't need a name. "Baby" is good enough for you. "Baby" is good enough for me.

Next time, before you "Hey, Baby" at me, I want you to think about something.

I could be a doctor. I could save your life, someday. Maybe I have already. I could have saved your mother, your father, your child. I could have gone to school for a decade, I could have worked countless hours studying, or up to my elbows in entrails and blood, or walking nonstop trying to make sure my patients were cared for and comfortable. But you don't care. I'm "Baby."

I could be a war veteran. I could have fought for your freedom, for your rights, maybe for your very life. I could have bits of shrapnel hidden under my skin; I could have scars from bullets or knives that you can't see; I could have endured more hardship and sacrificed more than you'll ever be able to imagine. But my sacrifice doesn't matter, to you. I'm "Baby."

I could be a teacher. I could be working night and day trying to make the future a better place. I could be spending my days wrestling with childish exuberance, desperately trying to instill into children not only knowledge, but kindness; a sense of morality; a kind of empathy to relate to one another. I could be spending my nights grading papers, correcting grammar, making lesson plans. I could be spending my own money on materials, trying to find a way to better relate information to young minds. But my dedication doesn't matter to you. I'm "Baby."

I could be a mother. I could have endured pain that you'll never understand to bring life into this world. I could have nourished that life with my own body, protected it, encouraged it. I could spend exhausting days trying to keep toddlers in check so that they stay healthy and reasonably clean, while trying to keep the house in any kind of order, while cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while running errands, while trying to find time to feed and bathe myself and also maybe sit down once in a while. Maybe I'm out on a walk while a gracious friend watches my children. This could be my only peace, today. But my mindset, and my accomplishments, don't matter to you. I'm "Baby."

I could be a teenager. My future could be completely unwritten. I could be a mother, or a teacher, or a soldier, or a doctor. I could be a scientist. I could be an astronaut. A police officer. A veterinarian. A politician. I could be nothing but potential. But you don't care about my potential. I'm "Baby."

You're telling me that I'm a sex object, worth nothing more than your opinion of my physical appeal. A nameless vessel in which you should put your penis.

To you, I'm a vagina. A warm, wet, secret that you are entitled to know. I'm means to your sexual gratification. You have the right to dismiss all of my accomplishments. You are entitled to not care about me as a person. You are allowed to touch me, because you are a Man. I am in Man's Land, and I should just deal with it. Because "it isn't a big deal."

None of my accomplishments are "a big deal" to you. My rights, my opinions, my identity aren't "a big deal." Because "it isn't a big deal" for you to strip them away until all that's left are sexual features for you to enjoy. It "isn't a big deal" for you to demean me publically, for you to force me into the awkward situation of having to decide whether to stand up for myself and deal with the torrent of abuse that can come with that, or looking away and scurrying by.

I have the right to stand up for myself, but you don't think I do. If I just don't want to deal with you, for any reason, then you might still unleash that verbal abuse. Or you might think that you've won, that you are strong and I am weak. You can continue thinking that any woman in "Man's Land" is someone you are entitled to.

You're wrong, though. You aren't entitled to us. You don't have the right to our names, our numbers, or our bodies. You don't have the right to address us by intimate terms of endearment. You aren't entitled to our time. You aren't entitled to call us names for refusing your disrespectful advances, however "flattering" you think they are. When you ask me to get into your car, you are treating me like a whore. That's not flattering. That's degrading. It's not flattering when you treat us like sex objects; we do not swoon because you, in all your magnificence, have deigned to pay us attention. The attention is not flattering just because it came from you. We just want to go to the post office, the grocery store, or the bar in peace.

You are not entitled to us. It is not flattering that you think you are.

Next time, before you "Hey, Baby" someone, stop for a moment and think about that.