By Lisa Marchand
There are many things I love about being a woman. In fact, many days I’m grateful to live in this day and age as a female. But there are some days, ones that still come too often, where I wonder how progression still feels so stagnated. Days where I cannot comprehend the disrespect we face on the streets.
Several weeks ago I left the bus shaking, immediately dialing my father to tearfully thank him for being the man that he is. Shortly after, I called my mom to tell her what happened. What I experienced churned up feelings inside of me that meant—although grown up and on my own—I still needed my parents to process the mysteries of the world.
The unfortunate reality is, like so many other women, I am accustomed to less-than-flattering compliments on the streets of my own cities. But I am still not immune to the disgust I feel.
Walking down a bustling street towards a bus stop I frequent less than others, I carried a bouquet of flowers I won that day at work. It was a beautiful day; it was sunny, one of the first real days of spring. I was perfectly content with my day and was on my way home to see my boyfriend for the first time in nearly two weeks. I was lost in thought, only to be interrupted by a strange voice: “You should be smiling.”
Let me tell you something: No. No, I should not be smiling. I don’t need to smile, especially for you. What is this ridiculous notion that a woman must be outwardly overjoyed in order to meet men’s expectations, even those of strangers?
Mind your own business—that is my expectation of you.
I brushed it off and chocked it up to a forgettable irritant. I continued down the block when suddenly my strides were matched by another stranger, asking where I got my flowers. Naturally, I ignored him, because here is another expectation: I don’t need to respond to unsolicited conversation.
But he was relentless, spewing meaningless flatteries that went unanswered, only to end with his hand on my upper arm. I heard my voice, which in memory feels so small and not quite strong enough, “There is absolutely no need for you to touch me.”
I was lucky, because someone standing no more than 10 feet away turned around as soon as they heard the words tumble out of my mouth. It was a downtown ambassador whose mere presence diffused the situation, and he offered to walk me safely to my bus stop. Many women are not that fortunate, and my heart breaks for those who aren’t.
People say terrible things come in threes, and sure enough, my bus ride was no exception. A young girl and her father sat down across the aisle from me, and another man got on the bus a few stops later. As he stared at the little girl with a crooked grin I can never forget, I felt my stomach turn. She took no notice, until the man said to her father, “She’s beautiful, really.” He turned his fat, grimy head toward the girl and asked, “No smiles today? You should be smiling.”
I wanted to scream. I wanted to turn to the girl and tell her, “You don’t need to smile. Please, don’t ever smile unless you feel it in your heart. It is not your responsibility to smile on command.”
The man continued to stare and I signaled for my stop, silently praying this young girl would still be of an age that her memories of men, strangers or not, would be positive ones. That she would grow up with supportive, protective loved ones who would help her comprehend her self-worth. I realized in that moment that never in my life had I heard my father, my brothers, my past boyfriends—any man I knew, truly—talk that way to women. And I was so grateful.
My weeks carried on, littered with occasional catcalls and inappropriate mumblings—something that I am positive any woman can relate to. Until one day, when I heard a comment so vulgar, so disturbing, that I barely remember what came next. My head spun and my heart grew so heavy that I cried the entire bus ride home. All I heard was this man’s voice to my right, perfectly audible, saying, “Looking good, girl. Ted Bundy wasn’t ain’t no joke.”
Allow this to sink in for a moment.
Ted Bundy was a notorious rapist and serial killer of women, not to mention a necrophile, in the 1970s. His crimes were so grotesque, so unfathomable that I refuse to go into more detail.
For those of you with women in your life—any of you, regardless of gender, sexuality, or life circumstances—imagine someone uttering those words to a woman or girl you know and love. Does your temper flare? Mine does. It nauseates me.
I want to turn to these harassing passersby and scream, “Where did you learn to speak to women like that? What would you do if someone said the same to your mother? Your daughter? Your sister? Your girlfriend? Do you even care that I mean something to someone?”
Let me tell you something: I am someone’s daughter. I am someone’s sister. I am someone’s niece. Someone’s friend and someone’s lover. I mean something to someone—to so many people.
Those men will never read this, and I am so, so very sorry for women who will continue to live their life ogled and intimidated by them. I am deeply sorry for those who encounter worse—those who are beaten, raped, those who have scars so deep the rest of us will never understand.
The remarks that women hear will never change the fact that we are loved by so many people, but these remarks will change us. Our worldview is cracked, our guard is up. But perhaps these encounters will garner us a greater appreciation for the men and women in our life who love and respect us, those who protect us. And don’t forget to tell them.
Lisa Marchand is a Minneapolis-based writer, editor, yogi and proud feminist who hails from Fargo, N.D.—yep, it’s a real place. She thrives on sunshine and coffee and adding things to an ever-growing bucket list.