Walking down the long building that leads to the train station on campus, I noticed a young man ahead turn and look back at me. His glance made me uncomfortable. As soon as he turned his head back I got this sinking feeling because somehow I knew what was going to happen next, and I didn’t want to be looked at. I tried to keep my face neutral and my head raised confidently, when in reality my whole body went rigid. The man said something to his friend, who then glanced back at me, eyebrow raised. Then they turned to each and laughed.
It’s funny how victimizing an action like this can feel. As a girl, you learn how to expect when you’re going to be looked at, and it is not a good feeling.
You looked, I thought:
Do I have spaghetti sauce on my face? -No, I washed up and looked in the bathroom mirror since lunch. No! I didn’t even have spaghetti for lunch, I had chicken. Frick, I bet it’s my period. Is my fly unzipped? <subtle check> Nope, I’m good. Goddamn it- if it is my period, I didn’t even remember to put any pads or tampons in my bag. Again. I must be the worst girl ever…No. Honestly, it must be because I’m wearing a crop top- maybe they think I’m hot. Maybe they’re laughing because the first guy said look at that white chick trying to be a slut. I don’t usually wear crop tops, this was just for fun on the last day of fall. This one does expose a lot of my midriff. The air on my tummy feels cold for the first time as I continue walking.
I kept my chin rigid, headphones in, and kept walking:
How do I check if it’s my period and I’m now bleeding through my pants? There’s nowhere to stop between here and the train station and my home and I’m going to have to get on the train. It is around the right time for it? Tbh I don’t even remember when I had my last period. There’s a washroom in the building I’m walking through but the men are still walking ahead of me and I can’t stop now because that would mean they win.
It’s this sinking pit of dread you feel when you know your body is about to be subjected to a gaze you don’t want.
How do I know they weren’t just talking about something else? That it wasn’t just coincidence? Because everything about the way they looked at me bluntly, rudely, an overtly, and the way my body felt in response says otherwise. When I was eleven years old, I went to a huge indoor waterpark with my family.
I was waiting alone in one of the lines when two 20-something-year-old men pointed to their friend and said “he wants to rape you.”
I don’t remember whether I was wearing a bikini or a one piece suit and I don’t know why I think that should matter. I slid down the slide as fast as I could, and then I went on a couple more with my dad, shocked into silence.
Twenty minutes later I told my mum and she almost killed those two men.
I didn’t have sauce on my face, or my zipper undone, and I didn’t even have a surprise visit from my period. I was simply a young woman walking home from her university class. So why are you staring at me? I
wish demand a world where I don’t have to think this way every time rude men look at me. It’s a moment every girl and woman knows. Unfortunately, this sickly gaze is a glimpse into what is still happening every single minute, hour, and day- rape, sexual abuse, harassment, slut-shaming, assault, and domestic violence.
Image: Farooq, Rabia. Men staring at woman. Digital image. Wow! Reads. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.