For the most part, I don't even notice if or when people "stare" at me. I'm not especially aware of the "constant attention." To the extent that, if you'd asked me about it just a week or two ago, I would have said that they didn't even exist. But a recent experience changed my perspective.
See, I just spent five-weeks in Panama and Costa Rica. When I first arrived, I noticed that people down there honk their horns a lot. I figured it had to do with narrow, windy roads -- people wanted to let pedestrians know they were coming, or even to get pedestrians to move over more. So much for "share the road," I remember thinking.
But then, my fourth week in Central America, I met a really cool guy named Mickey. We decided we wanted llama steaks for dinner, and started walking to a restaurant about a mile away.
To set the scene, here's what it looked like. So pretty!
After a while, Mickey asked, "Don't you ever get tired of people honking their horns at you all the time?"
And I was like, "Huh?"
He explained that on his first night in Costa Rica, his cab driver had honked his horn every time they passed a beautiful woman... then looked back at Mickey and said, "Chickas."
"I thought he was just doing it to be funny, but then I realized that everyone does it. Well, the men, anyway."
Hm. It had never really occurred to me that this honking had been a form of "catcalling" all along. Which, actually, doesn't surprise me. As I wrote in Dear Felicia Czochanski: You're Gorgeous, But You Don't Understand Street Harassment,
I rarely get catcalled. Probably because I have no fear. I have roamed many of the “murder capitals of the world” alone, at night, without much of a thought. When I hear women lament about how scary it is to go places at night, I have a hard time relating. I’ve never had that experience before.
Meanwhile, you lament, "Imagine how it feels to have heads turn and all eyes on you when you are simply trying to get to where you need to be... The immediate thoughts of whether my skirt is too short or my shirt is too low cause me to doubt the professional outfit that I put on in the morning. I wonder if there's something stuck to my shoe, if I forgot to put on some item of clothing, anything that could be wrong with me that would cause people to stare."
Maybe I was wrong about how often I get catcalled. Or maybe the catcalls in Costa Rica were due to cultural differences, and don't happen with the same frequency in America. Or both.
But the thing is... Who do you think will have a better experience in Costa Rica, or New York City, or just in life? The person who is constantly wondering if/why everyone is staring (or honking) at her... or the person who only realized the honks were directed at her four weeks later, when someone told her?
I'm going to go ahead and say the girl who was too busy thinking about the beautiful scenery, the fragrance of guava in the air, or the fascinating stranger she's just met to worry what others might be thinking about her.
Coincidentally, I came across an interesting image on Facebook this morning that explains what I'm trying to say a lot better than I'm saying it:
Just because I get checked out a lot doesn't mean that I'm so aware of what other people might be thinking about me that I notice or care. I don't constantly walk around thinking about who might be victimizing me.
No way, man. I'm way too present to be worryied about that. I'm way too busy appreciating everyday miracles -- clouds and birds and the beauty of imperfection and the kindness of strangers -- to concern myself with such things.
Even a scene like this one --
And while I absolutely support women who view this as threatening or harassing (because in some contexts, it absolutely is), I personally don't see it that way.
For example, on one of my last days in Costa Rica, a man on Langosta Beach and said something to me in passing I didn't quite catch.
"What?" I asked him, looking directly into his eyes.
"I said you look like a model. You are beautiful." He seemed really sincere.
I smiled - what a kind thing for a complete stranger to say.
And then I went back to enjoying the sunshine and thinking about the great waves I'd just caught. I was already pumped for my next surf session, and the compliment was already long-since forgotten.
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