The joys of public transit. As I walk up to the stop in a million degree weather, headphones in and wearing shorts and a t-shirt, both best described as "comfortable and fun" there is a man, old enough to be my father, sitting directly beside the posted bus times. I instantly dislike people who do this when none of the other seats on the bench are taken, but it's one of the few spots in the shade so I don't think anything of it. He smiles and waves, I smile and nod back and he... keeps waving. Since to check the bus times I need to walk and stand right beside him, I assume he simply didn't see my previous gesture. I force the smile a little larger and nod again and he... keeps waving. Sighing inwardly, my smile slips, but I give a very awkward wave back. We exchanged about two sentences before I managed to disengage.
I've played this game so many times, I know it well. Once men hit a certain age, they assume they're no longer a threat to younger women (and there is a certain level of truth to that) and therefore they can flirt and chat them up under the guise of being harmless. Often enough they simply are harmless, but they're not always. Some of these men feel entitled to the attention of younger women like they feel entitled to a pension. They feel it's a right of age, something they've earned. The harmless old men are all smiles and are happy to leave it at a smile and nod if that's all you offer. This man kept going until I returned the gesture he was giving, and once I sat down on the other end of the stop (a small one, two benches) he kept staring at me. Which meant that as I looked around at what a beautiful, bright sunny day it was, I had to be very careful not to look to my right. I knew if I made eye contact that was it, he'd be talking to me.
It is times like these I am thankful for cellphones. It is at the point where I just start texting friends to avoid looking at this man that another man, younger, walks out, and just grins at me. Not a "Hi lovely day I'm in a good mood" sort of grin, but a "I am picturing you naked right now" sort of grin. I look back down to my phone and wonder if I am extra cute that day or what. As I wonder that, I get more and more annoyed.
I have done nothing to invite this attention, I'm not dressed "sexily" and I am reminded that short of wearing a burka, there is nothing I can do to discourage this sort of attention- and even then I'm sure some people see burkas as a "challenge". When strange men look at me, they don't see me as a person with thoughts and feelings as complex as their own who maybe doesn't want to be gawked at like a hunk of fucking meat, they see a decoration. They see one of God's works of art, put on this Earth just for them! If I were to protest their stares, they would be denied. If they weren't denied, I would be told to lighten up, it was a compliment! Or I would be told they weren't staring because they were attracted, they were staring because I was just so fat and ugly like, whoa, how arrogant am I? I should know better, being a lowly woman.
The fact is that being leered at by strangers, no matter what I wear, is normal. It's so normal that I am left with no recourse, no defense. So I sit there with my head down, paying as much attention as I can muster to my book, or my phone, or my mp3 player, even though the little voice in my head is screaming that these men are potential threats--because, growing up, girls are told any stranger is a dangerous stranger, and doubly so for men. But what can I do? Tell them to stop staring? Tell them off? That just invites aggression, and maybe even violence. It's easier to just keep my head down while I feel guilty for not standing up for myself, and angry that I should have to.