Yesterday I worked. I ran errands. I worked some more. And then when I realized it was time to head out the door to a happy hour I threw my jeans and a black tank top on, put on my sandals, ran a flatiron through my hair, threw on some bb cream, mascara, and chapstick and then I grabbed my purse and stepped out the door to start my 6 or so block walk to catch a bus.
As I was waiting to cross the street at the cross walk a block from my home some guy in a big white truck stopped so I could cross. As I often do I waved and smiled in thanks as I was crossing the street and once I made it across and he began to drive away he wolf whistled at me and yelled out “Oooh baby…” The rest of what he said blew away in the wind of traffic as I walked west and he drove east. I didn’t take the high road, I flipped him off.
A block or so later another cat call from another car.
And after that a man, very likely with some mental health issues for which he was/is in need of assistance, had thrown himself on the ground screaming about bitches and cunts and how much they hurt him.
And then on my bus ride on a mostly empty bus a man decided he needed to sit next to me. Despite all the empty seats. I told him to sit elsewhere.
That’s enough, right? That should be it.
After I got off the bus, as I walked toward my destination, another guy decided he just needed to know where I was going. Followed me asking.
All of those incidents happened in the span of 45 minutes in close-in Southeast Portland.
And while each instance occurred my first thought was to blame myself. Had I worn something revealing? Had I put on some item of makeup or clothing that screamed for folks to harass me? Had I suddenly gotten so super amazingly hot that folks just could not control themselves? I wanted to grab the baggy sweater from my purse and put it on but it was 80 degrees with the sun beaming down and I was already sweaty.
And then I thought about my kid. If some asshole catcalled my kid would I think they’d worn the wrong thing, had on too much makeup, needed to put on a sweater? No. No I’d just be pissed off that in this civilized world people still can’t walk a few blocks without the judgement of others being loudly passed. Without being sexualized. Without being harassed. Without being objectified. Without someone making sure that we all know where the balance of power lays.
I soon arrived at the pub to meet two guys prior to the happy hour. And I was relieved to see them. My partner and his friend sitting in the well-lit pub. The waitress came over and I was relieved to see her smiling face. When she asked if I needed a drink all I could say was yes. And my drink order included an “and” as I had a cider to be social and a bourbon to settle my very frazzled nerves.
That was the end of the overt stuff. The aggressive display of societal power. The end of the intentional reminders that I am less than. That I am other. That my body is just there to entertain those who pass. Those who have the power. That was all I had to take from street harassers yesterday.
But the problem wasn’t quite over. The balance of power, of societal control, was still front and center. At the happy hour I attended for a startup blog and the maker community I was the only woman at the table. Guys came and went. Some really nice guys with whom I genuinely enjoyed conversation. There were a couple of people, one in particular at the other end of the long table I would have liked to connect with but didn’t have the chance before I left. Many I did speak with. A few I avoided as I listened to them dominate their conversations.
But each time a woman walked out onto the patio I waited hopefully to see if she would join us. If perhaps I could cease being the only woman in a sea of men. There were about a dozen folks, give or take, who showed up for the meetup and for the most part they were white dudes.
As my partner and I headed toward home I just started to rant. About the creepy guys on the way to the happy hour. About all the men at the event. About all the men and white folks at all the events in Portland. I had no point. I had no conclusion. I had fear on one hand and disappointment on the other.
And I had had enough social time. I was tired. I was done. I just wanted to get home with my kid and my partner and have a meal and watch a mindless show on tv and sleep.
12 hours later and I’m sitting at the airport. I’m early for my flight and I’ve already eaten breakfast. So I sit by the window a few gates away from my departure gate waiting to meet my teammate. When I sat down here an hour ago it was just me. Me in my big black boots, my quirky polka dot skirt (it has pockets!) and my WordPress t-shirt. The sun is streaming in. Glaring. So huge sunglasses hide most of my face. As I’ve been sitting here working the gate has slowly started to fill. The seats are mostly still empty but those that are filled are filled by men waiting for their flights. Again I am the only woman. And as I’m at the airport and clearly going somewhere all these guys make me think about all the guys where I am going.
I’m headed to my company’s yearly grand meetup. A week where all of us in a wide-spread distributed workforce gather for 7 days to work and play in one location. This year we’ll be in Whistler, BC.
I’ve been really looking forward to this trip as a time to connect with my teammates and those in the company I have the honor of working with. To meet coworkers with whom I haven’t had the chance to connect. To laugh, to think, and to have important discussions.
But as I sit here I’m reminded that most of those coworkers are men. Most of them. Automattic works hard to ensure that it is a safe and positive place to work for all of its employees, but I am still aware that I’m walking in a minority. Which usually isn’t something I mind. I’m used to being the only woman at the table. I’m used to being the exception and not the rule. I grew up with a brother. My friends have always been boys.
I’ve never exactly felt welcome in a community of just women. A community of sisterhood.
But after last night I’m tired. I’m tired of being the only or the exception.