I recently moved in with one of my best friends. Our apartment is adorable. It is pretty small, but the way we have it set up really creates different living spaces between the kitchen and living room. Our bedrooms are cute, our decorations are tasteful, I really couldn’t be happier with this place.
We live in what people consider a “dangerous” neighborhood of Boston. When I tell people where I live, I usually get a raise of the eyebrow, followed by “well what part?” as if they want to assure me where I live is a safer place than others. The funny thing is, I feel safer here than I did in Allston, or on my college campus. My neighbors are mostly quiet families, and sure, I hear sirens quite a bit, but no more than I have in any other part of Boston. What crime rates show you are reported crimes—they don’t show you every catcaller or date-rapist. Many (about two-thirds) of sexual assaults go unreported, so how can we really understand the danger of specific neighborhoods?
When I think about feeling safe, I don’t think about a gunman or mugger, I think about that guy who follows me home. Or the stumbling drunk on the T who, out of fifty empty seats, decides to sit right next to me. I think about the creep who, when I was thirteen, air-fondled my breasts when my parents weren’t looking. I think about how much I loved the dress I was wearing, but I never wore it again. Or even better, the fifty year old man who told me what porn to watch while we rode the T during rush hour, with the whole train listening closely.
Talk about some borderline Kitty Genovese shit.
The number of times I have been followed home from the T in Dorchester is far fewer than when I lived in Allston. Now that my neighbors are mostly families, rather than a majority of young people and students, I can see how unsafe I felt a lot of the time. I’m not making a case for gentrification here, in fact that is another issue I think about a lot. But for the purpose of this essay, I will set that aside. The real difference I find is the constant sexual-prowl so many people are on is now mostly absent.
What it boils down to, in my eyes at least, is that single men often see a woman walking alone as available to them. And living near so many families, I don’t get that too much anymore. The fact that my main defense when random men approach me is, “I have a boyfriend” is appalling to me. But I keep that in my repertoire because the last time I told a guy I was happily single they harassed me for my number for about fifteen minutes. The scary thing about this is I wasn’t even fazed. Sure, I was happy he eventually left, but I was even happier that he did not try to touch me. Any passerby could read me like a book: I was uncomfortable.
I think a lot about the sexism women experience as a part of daily life. I see it every day in coworkers, out with friends, and even in myself at times. But it is those times when people step in and point out acts of sexism that actually make an impact. I work as a receptionist now, and since this is typically thought of as a position women have, I started the job a bit worried this would be an issue. I do not want to perpetuate any false notions of a woman’s role in society. But as soon as I started, my reception manager at the time quickly made me realize this would not be the case. It could be something small, like a co-worker giving me a harder time than a male employee, or something more insidious like a much older employee literally telling me I needed to be fired a couple times because I am too naive as to how the world works (Oh- also that my college degree is worthless). But my manager, a strong woman who I could talk to about American Horror Story one minute and PMS the next, not only supported me when I told her these things, but would call them out when she saw them. Rather than awkwardly accepting these things and internalizing the frustration, I was able to see the humiliating cessation of a person who made a sexist comment. It’s like watching a dog hide from you after it peed in the house, but much more satisfying.
That is what gives me some hope for the future. The people who listen to each other give me hope. The men who listen to all women—feminism isn’t feminism unless it is empowering women of all colors— give me hope. However, this hope is not enough if we don’t call people out for sexist nonsense they spew; whether it is a casual ‘women belong in the kitchen’ joke or something much more serious like street harassment. We will get nowhere if we continue to be bystanders to the sexism we see everyday. I would much rather be called a bitch after telling someone to get lost than to listen to another man tell me to smile. I quite enjoy not smiling, thank you – and the fact that it’s making you unhappy is just the cherry on top.