I’m walking along Huntington Avenue, on my way to meet Kevin, when I “pull over,” if you will, to check an incoming text message.
So I’m reading this text, when a guy approaches me and says, “Hey, beautiful.”
I look up, see that it’s nobody I know, and go back to responding to my text.
This was apparently wrong.
The guy starts screaming at me. I am a “fucking snob,” a “fucking bitch,” and a “fucking cunt,” all because I did not respond with what was, to his mind, the only correct response: I should have been flattered and delighted. I was not. This was unacceptable.
I started walking. He continued to hurl invective at me.
I ducked into a CVS and headed into the “seasonal” aisle. Surrounded by chocolate eggs and fluffy, pastel-colored stuffed animals, I started shaking and sobbing.
Perhaps I should have shouted back at him. But the guy was clearly out of his mind with anger, because he’d been denied what he felt was his right, and I’d been in that situation before, years ago, with someone I knew and trusted. That did not end well.
What happened to me last night is sadly not uncommon. There are articles about street harassment all over the internet. And the comments sections of these articles invariably are filled with nasty responses along the lines of: “Why can’t you just take a compliment, you angry feminist shrew?”
- Don’t tell me I should have just smiled and thanked him, thus avoiding the whole spectacle. It is not my responsibility to manage his expectations.
- Don’t tell me that I’m overreacting. The guy screamed at me all the way down the street. That was overreacting.
- Don’t tell me that I, a 40-something-year-old woman, should be psyched that I’m getting a compliment at all. You’re a troll. Move along.
Understand this: the guy was not being “nice.” He was not engaging in a random act of kindness. He did not tell me I was beautiful to brighten my day. This was not a selfless gesture. He approached me because he wanted a specific reaction.
The problem is not that he told me I was beautiful — the problem is that he exploded with rage the SECOND I didn’t give him what he wanted. I did not tell this guy to go screw. I did not tell him to leave me alone. I looked up from my phone, then looked back down at my phone. And that, apparently, gave him all the justification he needed to attack me verbally, on a well-lit street corner, in front of a whole lot of people who did absolutely nothing.
And that is profoundly messed up.