Pay Back is a Son of a Bitch
Several years ago I was walking past a construction site and none of the construction workers commented, whistled, cat called or even stared at me or any other women. When was the last time that happened to you?
No, it wasn’t because we were all old hags. And they weren’t blind. It was because it was on Xerox’ training facility campus and they apparently made this choirboy approach mandatory. And I had the weirdest feeling. It was incredibly. . . liberating.
What I had realized was that most of the time, walking past construction guys made me really uptight. But, like most women, I had built up my defenses without realizing it. So, my first thought was, ah, how great! My second thought was, I am really pissed off that I have to deal with this shit the rest of the time.
And it surprised me. I didn’t know how tense and trepidatious I was feeling until I realized I didn’t have to. It made me mad. We’re never free of it, are we?
Even now, at 58, I get the skeevy looks and the nasty, dirty comments from men who apparently believe that’s a turn on for women. I imagine that’s how minorities must cope, at times. The need to keep your eyes averted. To pretend you don’t hear. To swiftly keep walking (knowing that sometimes it gets physical, too).
We all deal with it in our own way. Usually we think of things to say when it’s too late. But sometimes we get to inflict retribution. Twice that I can remember, I had just the right thing to say and I said it. And I’m damn proud I did.
When I was in my early 20s, I was walking with a friend at lunchtime in NYC. Some clown was sitting on the second floor of the partially completed Celanese building, ripe for an harassment attack. He yells out a particularly graphic suggestion, aimed at us. All his buddies laugh and whistle and – this time – I reacted without thinking, yelling up at him:
“Hey, I heard your mother’s really good at that!”
His friends whooped and hollered – but he hadn’t heard me and had to ask them to repeat what I said. As they told him, I saw his face twist with anger and that pushed my buttons even further.
“Yeah” I yelled at the top of my lungs, “I heard she gives the best bl*w jobs in all New York. And she loves to take it up. . .” Well, you get the gist. I was on fire. And he was apoplectic.
I loved it.
His friends were hooting and hollering – but this time, at him – and my girlfriend was mortified. But, guess what? I walked away with a smile on my face and I swear, women looked at me with gratitude.
The other time, I was about 19 and working as a bank teller in midtown. This time, the tormentor was tamer. It was pay day and all the guys from the construction site were lined up to cash their checks. They always got in my line - I knew them by name so they didn’t need their IDs. But, that day there was a new guy and he was feeling frisky.
“How’d you like to get married for the weekend?”
How do you answer something like that? I pretended I hadn’t heard him, making him repeat himself, thinking maybe he’d simply drop it. But, no, he asked again, “How’d you like to get married for the weekend?” I made him repeat himself 3 more times. He got incrementally louder each time, until he was finally getting embarrassed, when I said, in my cheerleader voice, “How would I like to get married for the weekend? No thank you; I’m too young to get married.”
Well, the other guys – many of them old enough to be my father – flipped out, grabbing him and reprimanding him for talking to a “young girl” like that. See, it’s different when they know you. Then it’s wrong.
That guy? He never came back. Maybe I embarrassed him into civility
Or maybe he got a job on the Celanese building.