I am walking with my friend back to her car after happy hour. It’s a nice evening, going dim as purple dusk falls, but the city streets are quiet.
The men are outside their bar, some smoking, some just standing around. There are five of them. I know what they’re waiting for and they confirm as we come into range. We’re the only other people on the sidewalk and though we don’t say anything to each other, we know what’s coming.
It’s never just “hi.” It’s bait and hook in one, words tossed out indiscriminately to discomfit, to bother, to outright hurt.
Being smarter than the fish, we have options: fight back; instruct; keep walking, ignore; respond politely and hope that doesn’t bring their net down on us.
(Thank God it’s “us” tonight and not “me.”)
We keep walking, silent, resolute. We have swum this noxious creek before. What woman hasn’t?
“Fine, whatever – bitch.”
Regardless of whether you bite or not, the hook still stabs. There’s still the searing heat of shame and fury because no matter how you react, they win and you lose because the goal was never flirtation. The goal was pain and the power to inflict it.
Fight back? That only works in the movies.
Instruct? An invitation for further harassment.
Ignore? “Bitch” is one of the more salubrious designations they assign you, and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you try to maintain your pace and look unruffled, all the while expecting angry footsteps, shouting, a grabbed arm.
Respond politely? Like hell.
Middle finger up over the shoulder as we stride away, a reversed salute, a pathetic dismissal that does nothing to change them or their behavior, does nothing to protect whoever else they might prey on that night.
It doesn’t even make me feel better.