An interesting thing happened to me this morning. I was hit on. If they even say that any more.
It’s been a while. Oh, that’s nice, you might think. It’s always a confidence boost when something like that happens. It’s nice to feel attractive and admired.
Let me back up and tell it properly.
Yesterday I went for my semi-regular morning run/walk round the lake. The lake is close to our house, a small, man-made watery object with a nice trail around it. There are always people there, running or walking, especially at that time of the morning, in decent weather. Not throngs of people, but several. As I left, a man in the parking lot smiled and said hi, and I realised I’d seen him before, so I smiled and said hi back. “Looking good,” he followed up with. “It’s working!” I grinned, because that was sort of nice to hear, and went on my way.
I probably should be insulted, I thought. Men are cautioned not to say things like that to female runners. Not to say anything beyond a curt greeting, perhaps. But hey, I’m sure he was just being friendly. What’s the harm?
And that was that until this morning, when I headed for the lake again, and remembered that the same guy might very well be there again, since he was a regular. And that then he might say something again and it might be awkward. For a moment, my imagination ran away with me and I wondered if he would hide in the bushes and jump out and rape me along the trail somewhere. Pretty unlikely, I thought.
But that’s why he shouldn’t have said anything, I realised. Because now I’m – not worried… concerned, maybe; just a little thoughtful. When I shouldn’t have any reason to be. A woman wouldn’t compliment a stranger like that; a woman wouldn’t even say it to a friend without quite a lot of forethought about how that comment would be taken. So if a man says it, it’s sexual, not friendly. It’s predatory. He doesn’t understand he’s crossing a line, but he is.
This morning, he was there again. I passed him on the way down the path and he said hi. I nodded in return and went on my way. As I came back, he was just leaving the picnic table where he had been contemplating the pastoral idyll, and was a little ahead of me. I didn’t run past him, but he heard me and turned around. He decided to compliment me some more.
Once again, he told me I was looking good. “Thanks,” I said.
“Do you run every day?” he asked. Friendly chat.
“When I can,” I said. Polite but short. Walking on more speedily. Not stopping to pass the time of day. Not making eye-contact.
“I should bring my shoes and run with you,” he said.
[Polite laugh noise]. “No, I don’t think so.” Continuing to walk on. Not dilly-dallying at his side. Not giggling coquettishly. Not fluttering any eyelashes.
“Do you mind me asking, are you married?”
“Oh, well. No harm in asking.”
[Polite laugh.] Walk on. Reach car. Leave scene.
No harm in asking. Sure, what harm could there be? How’s a single man to approach an attractive woman these days? It was broad daylight, a public place. He wasn’t sleazy or creepy. A little tone-deaf to my body language, perhaps, but since when is that a crime?
This is the problem: he was in the position of power. There were people around, sure, but nobody else happened to be right there at the time. Physically, he could take me any time. That is not the right time to have this conversation. He should have (a) not said anything yesterday; (b) not said anything today; and (c) taken the hint when I didn’t stop to chat.
What do I do tomorrow? Next week? I continue to go, I continue to not talk to him, I continue to smile and nod and keep going. What does he do? Does he press the issue? Does he follow me home? Does he bring a gun next time?
Unlikely. But these are the thoughts he has inspired in me through that well-intentioned little interchange.
Here is the message: being hit on (catcalled, complimented, anything) by a stranger in a situation not designed for it (i.e. not a dating site, not a bar or a club) makes a woman feel:
1% Good, maybe
It is also very unlikely to get you a date unless she’s been making eyes at you already.
Nothing bad happened to me. Nothing bad is likely to happen to me. I did not have a terrible morning. I will still nod and smile at people who pass me on the lake trail, and they will still nod and smile at me and I will not hold it against them.
It’s just a reminder, that’s all. Of how life is complicated and simple things are not always simple, and how hard it is for the person with the power in any given situation to remember what it’s like for the person without.
I think it’s called privilege.