You don't own my body (and you shouldn't think you do)
by Jeanine GleavesFW Designer Brooklyn, NY
I can remember my first catcall, the first time I was shouted at by a car-full of boys- that's how lasting it was on me. I was maybe 12, and I was walking home from the bus, down the busy road I lived on, carrying my books of doodles in my arms and wearing a pair of painted on jeans. A car pulled over to the side and asked me what ethnicity I was. I was perplexed, "I'm a whole bunch of things" I explained as I still do to this day: a mutt with no pure lineage left in me. "Well you sure have a fine ass pretty thing, where do you live?" I was completely shocked, and being the consistent Unsolved Mysteries watcher I was, was waiting for the moment I would have to fight to keep myself from being kidnapped. They simply laughed to each other and high fived and in my lack of answer stared at me. "So are you from here?" I thought carefully "I'm right over there" pointing at the closest house to my sight, an incorrect one, and running off to it as if I lived there, bursting through their side yard, ready to explain to the owners why I was there if need be, no one was.
I was petrified, but it was my introduction to something I learned we would all become too familiar with. I can still feel a bit if that fear everytime it happens now, in my mind if they have so little care as to shout at me, maybe they have so little care as to come over and hit me for my lack of interest. Not that that has happened, I have come to learn that shouters aren't those who act upon much of anything, I've learned the quiet type at bars are sometimes who you have to be the most afraid of.
In high school I worked at a gallery I was a part of for about three years. Everyone knew me, I was always serving the wine, you could find me at any opening, I was always sitting twice a week, and I was always at the after parties. I was the youngest of a crowd that had been on average in their mid twenties. If you didn't ask my age, it was assumed I was in my twenties as well, and everyone thought it better to guess than to know. I had been the whirlwind wild girl known for getting everyone in the same room to do whatever crazy thing I could think of, we'd take dares and party until we'd all crash on the couches and chairs of wherever we were. It was these moments that taught me the powers of being a woman, and the perils that soon followed. Sitting in the gallery during my usual sitting hours, a man I had met at a party walked in, all 6'8" with a bulky, toothy grin. Immediately I was disarmed, he had proven to be a relaxed guy at the party, so I had nothing to worry about. He took the small wooden folding chair and pulled it up in conversation. We sat and talked about whatever came to mind and the topic soon turned to relationships. I began to grow uncomfortable and moved into the main room to help an artist bringing in some pieces for the new show, in hopes the distraction would move him onto other ventures. As I turned around to close the door behind the artist, I was suddenly shoved into the corner of the gallery, out of street view, and found my face between two large palms, and my face covered by his. I panicked pushed him away, and when that didn't advance my cause, slammed my fist into the wall leaving a hole, then swiftly into his back as hard as I could. I just remember his eyes wide open in shock and then anger and then a sense of authority. He immediately while holding my face stared at me and said "Don't tell Pedro"- Pedro was the gallery owner and we were close. He immediately flew out the door, and I remember falling onto the gray painted cold cement floor in relief. After some shaky breaths, I picked up my phone and called Pedro, I still can hear his angry yells in my ears, he wasn't yelling at me, it was for me, and I never saw the man again, but the memory of it all still lingers.
The first year I moved to the city I saw a pick up in catcall activity, being in a city where everyone judges what you wear. To an extent I guess I expected it in a weird way. I came prepared, already used to ignoring people shouting at me from moving cars, I figured walking past them was no different. I became a bit brazen having been tired of it and would occasionally shout back, but I never thought twice about what I wore. My first NYC Halloween was supposed to be great, my friends and I would go to the parade in our 'art school made' costumes and at night we'd go to a club and party hard. The first half I had gone full out and made myself Edward scissorhands, a costume I fully articulated with makeup tricks, hair styling, sewing ability, and functional sculptures for hands that I had been quite proud of. Throughout the night I had compliments on how 'movie realistic' it had been, even (with the help of a tight sports bra and some tightly sized compression tops) been mistaken for a guy a few times as long as I didn't speak. The second half of the night, I had cleaned up and decided to go as something simple, a beer garden girl: before the unstoppable rolls remove your eyes from your skull, I must add I made sure it was more of a traditional outfit than the ones you find in costume stores- i had made it so that it met my knees knowing that if it was shorter than that I would have to deal with unwanted attention, and I wore shorts underneath to make sure I was still fully capable of doing whatever I wanted with no snafoos. My friends and I (a group of guys and girls) went out. My close guy friend stayed by my side as he always did, and we started the night great- we got to the club and had drinks (I quickly realized upon moving I was never particularly asked for ID in the city) and began to dance in the obligatory group circle, keeping unwanted outsiders at bay. Unfortunately my night turned here, a guy came up behind me and began to dance -which happens so I thought nothing of it- then slowly began to grab my hips, as I continually pushed his hands off me, I realized this was getting aggressive and eyed to my guy friend that I had a situation, as I turned around to try talking to this guy, he had grabbed my hair and tried to kiss me, I was struggling by this point, it had escalated so quickly that when he decided my rejection angered him and tried grabbing me as I attempted to duck away, he had began shouting at my friend (at this point my friend had grabbed him) that he was "30 deep" and currently carrying. My friend finally was able to tear me out of his grip, and we ran out as we were chased by him threatening to shoot us if we didn't tell him my name. We had told the coat check as we hid behind a crowd trying to get our items, who directed us out the emergency exit while she called the cops. I was petrified. We escaped down the stairs into the cold air and I have never felt more thankful to see an alleyway. I had gotten away. I refused to go to a club unless surrounded by a large group for the longest time, and I still prefer a dive bar to a club anytime of the week.
More recently, after seven odd years of the city, and working as an interactive developer in the FiDi, I found myself waiting for lunch as usual at... wait for it... Wendy's. You've probably never heard if this place, it's super local and they make this artisanal one of a kind burger called The Son of Baconator. Anyway, as I was waiting for my ethereal sandwich, I found myself against a wall waiting with a crowd of other people- notably a group of men, clearly who worked some sort if construction job together. I paid them no mind as I waited until I overheard them mention me. "She's a cute one, with those glasses" as he motioned towards me. As I began to prick up my ears I casually wondered where this would go "Yeah she is" added worker #2 while adjusting his neck to look behind me to check out my ass that was leaning against the wall. At this point I was getting annoyed at the sheer blatant disregard they had for me. And then I heard something that sent me into blind rage "We could totally gangbang her" said worker #1 to worker #2. I clamped my fist tight and kicked my foot back into the tiled wall while slowly screaming inside my head. "Take them off" said another worker "take them off" he repeated gesturing as if taking off glasses. I was seething, "Take them off!" "Or not!" He said as I moved to get my lunch trying to keep from making a scene. I couldn't keep my cool, as I began to walk past them I noticed them looking and stopped dead in my tracks "you are complete morons" I said while shaking my head, at a loss for what else to do. "What did you call me?" Responded worker #4, "you fucking heard me" I quipped back stopping shy of throwing the cold cock I so desperately wanted to and instead settling for throwing the middle finger and giving a dirty stare. I continued to walk on, furious with myself that I let them get away with that, remembering all the other instances where I felt I had let men off the hook when I felt I should have 'taken care if business' and set the line however it needed to be handled.
I wish in so many ways I had taken them by the neck and dragged them outside like the children they were, and set the record straight. I wish it was just common knowledge that my body is not communal property, and that any interaction with it should only be done after acquiring consent. There have been too many misperceived romantic notions where boys have been told to swoop in and make the move when she least suspects it. This is great if you have established consent or matched feelings beforehand, but is quite assumptive otherwise, and means you're already feeling your chances in a situation where you may have none.
Never mistake my kindness and conversational nature for romance, never assume I will not fight when I can, and never assume my body is yours.