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Walking through the Financial District during the middle of the afternoon, I was so caught up in thinking through tasks remaining in the day that I almost didn’t notice the man running across the street in my direction.
“Excuse me! Excuse me! I have NEVER seen a woman wear a dress so well. You have a terrific body.”
Perhaps I was annoyed at the interruption of my reverie, or maybe something about his certainty that his commentary was welcome made me react. Maybe being caught off guard, and in a crowd in broad daylight, made me braver than usual.
“It’s just not polite, to say things like that to a stranger.”
He responded with such vehemence that he spit in my face, a reaction hinting at similar confrontations in the past: “It’s a COMPLIMENT. Take it.”
“It is NOT a compliment,” I assured him, “it’s harassment.”
“You’re paranoid, bitch,” he insisted.
And with that, I was silenced. Even in broad daylight in a crowd, that switch to anger, to threatening language, puts me back in place he expects me to be. Because all I want is to move on, to stop shaking, to get back to work and back to my to-do list. Even in broad daylight in a crowd, that assertion of power leaves me feeling unsafe, and even I would rather shut up and move on than risk escalation. Even in broad daylight in a crowd, one man’s “compliment” can make me feel vulnerable – and angry at my vulnerability.
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