“Smile”

I feel as if I am a magnet for harassers. I could be walking by amongst dozens of people, but harassers feel the need to single me out out of all those people.

Yesterday I missed my bus home from Georgetown, so I thought I’d try to catch it from Rosslyn and I walked down the Key Bridge to do so. I was determined to get to my neighborhood before my local cleaners closed so I could pick up my pants. That was the only thing on my mind then. I had a look of focus on my face and I stared straight ahead while walking fast.

Things seemed to be going fine until some guy thought it would be clever of him to tell me to “Smile!” That pissed me off greatly because it was not the first time some guy told me to “Smile!” and I doubt it’d be the last. What makes a stranger think it’s necessary to tell a woman he doesn’t know to “smile”? He doesn’t know what could’ve been going on in her day. What makes someone else’s facial expression their business?

I lost my temper and ran up to the guy. He was smiling and grinning thinking I was going to find his comment cute, but immediately became terrified when he saw me running.

“Don’t tell me what to fucking do with my face you dumb ass—” and words I am ashamed of using and won’t repeat here. The guy was shaking, put his hands up in surrender mode, and said “I’m sorry!”

I hate how I reacted to that because I’m sure people saw me yelling and thought he was the innocent party and I was the lunatic. Just like I said earlier, you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s mind. Don’t assume.

I continued across the bridge, now riled up, and got to Rosslyn. Once again, another harasser, a homeless man on a bench, was trying to single me out, out of all the other people waiting for buses outside the station.

“Girl,” he said. “Girrrrrrrrl!”

I had no clue who we was talking to, so I ignored it. When he starts pointing at me and saying “Girrrrrrrrrl!” again, then I knew he was talking to me.

“Sit next to me,” he said.
“I don’t want to sit next to you!” I snapped.

He then asks if I had a cigarette and a light (I don’t smoke). What pissed me off about this is that there is a guy standing not too far from me, who was smoking. Once again, I’m singled out for a harasser’s attentions, while everyone else is left alone.

“Does it look like I smoke?” I yelled. “Why don’t you ask the person who’s smoking [I point at the smoker] for a cigarette and light, you dummy!”

“HEY!” the homeless man yells. “HEY!” I’d said enough and wasn’t going to react to him anymore. I crossed my arms and stared straight ahead, tuning him out.

“Uniform!” he started yelling. “Uniform!” I don’t know what he meant by that, but I got the feeling he was attempting to try to tell on me to the Metro workers. What was he going to say, he was bothering a woman who didn’t want him bothering her so she yelled at him?

His bus came and he got on it without incident. Though the drama was over, the lingering feeling of being harassed was still hovering over me, and the embarrassment of being singled out like that was hovering over me as well.

It’s not fair. I don’t get what about me specifically makes harassers single me out. The “Smile!” guy didn’t try to tell any other women or the other commuters on the bridge to smile, nor did the homeless man try to make anyone else sit next to him or ask for a cigarette from them. Is it because I’m usually alone that makes these men single me out? Is it how I carry myself (walking fast, looking stern, arms crossed when standing)? I don’t get it at all.

I went home wishing I were Susan Storm from the Fantastic Four, with the ability to turn invisible at will or put an invisible force field up over me. I wish I had some superpower to make these men leave me alone and let me get around in peace. If only superpowers were real.

Locations: Key Bridge and Rosslyn Bus Station

Submitted by: Wish I Were Susan Storm on 10/3/09 (Invisible Woman)

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment you would like to submit? Just click here and fill out the online submission form. All submissions are posted anonymously unless you specify.

3 responses to ““Smile”

  1. Don’t worry. It’s not just you. Last summer, I had some random guy on the street telling me to “Smile” at least once a week. I also use to wonder if it was the way I looked or carried myself that attracted so much harassment, but after talking to other women in DC I found out that most of these incidents are completely random. Most of the time it is just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Simply being female is enough for these losers to say something stupid.

  2. A man told you to smile. That seems pretty inoffensive.

    • A man told you to smile. That seems pretty inoffensive.

      I speak for myself when I say I find being told what to do by a complete stranger offensive. Like this story said, no one has control over anyone else’s facial expression except that person himself or herself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s