On a late summer afternoon, I went for a New York City wander. It’s one of my favorite things to do: pick a neighborhood I know has street art, good coffee shops, and plentiful people watching. With my camera in hand, I’ll be content to walk around New York for hours. This is my preferred fitness routine.
I started my wander at First Street Green Art Park, at the corner of 1st Ave and 1st Street. On the boarder of the Lower East Side and the East Village, two perfect neighborhoods for wandering, this tiny “park” always features awesome street art. (It’s worth visiting even in a blizzard!) This park is full of color, never crowded.
I thought this would be a perfect place to set up a self timer and get some photos of myself for blog/Instagram purposes.
Totally blogger cliché.
So I set up my camera, took a photo with a giant, cheerful heart in the background by street artist Hektad! Immediately following, I looked at the photo to see if it was Insta-worthy. Ehh…why was I doing a weird thing with my leg? Why does my posture suck!? Starring at my camera, I decided to retake the photo. I looked up saw two men were approaching me.
“You need help taking that picture,” one of them said. A statement not a question. I replied, laughing, friendly, I actually like using the self timer! I’ve gotten good at it! It’s totally fine!
I didn’t exactly feel threatened being approached by two men in the middle of the afternoon in a well populated area of New York City.
But there wasn’t anyone else in the park…and I’d had my cell phone snatched out of my hand one too many times…There was something aggressive about the vibe of these two guys and I tried to diffuse it with an easy-breezy attitude.
A very common tactic women have learned to use with men. Don’t do anything to make him mad if you can avoid it. Angry men are fucking dangerous.
“You’re pretty. Take the picture with me.”
I have no idea what I said but I know I tried to giggle my way out of it, “Hahaha what a funny joke!” He was insistent. He wanted this picture. He wanted me. I was here, he’d found me alone, he deserved this. Fuck my wishes. Fuck me in general. I was just a smiley, giggly, uncomfortable-as-fuck-but-hiding-it goddamn photo op. A prop.
It wasn’t worth it to say FUCK NO, FUCK YOU, WE ARE NOT TAKING THIS PICTURE. There were two of them. I felt cornered and threatened. All I wanted to do was get out of this situation with as little conflict as possible.
“Ok, take a picture.” I said. Inside, I felt more like this:
Of course without asking, he put his arms around me, pressed his face against mine.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!
His friend took the photo. I was released from his clutches…this awfully intimate touch from a stranger. He insisted I give him my number. I gave him my real one because I just had a hunch he would check it. Trust your gut. He did check it, “Cool. I’ll text you, baby.”
They walked off one way, and I walked off in the opposite direction, feeling dazed and disgusting.
I have the photo to remember him by. I’ve thought about deleting it from my phone so many times…But how often do you have a capture of the exact moment you were harassed on the street? I have photographic evidence!
Except it’s not really evidence, at all. Do I look like I’m being harassed in this photo? No. I know I don’t. A picture’s worth a thousand words. Looking at this photo, you’d never guess it’s story. Unless I told you. I think that’s why I’ve been saving it. Yes, #metoo. But hesitating to tell this story because there are so many who would hear it, look at this photo, and call me a liar. LIAR- you look like you’re having fun! You’re not being harassed!
Or maybe they would believe me. Because me and my harasser fit the goddamn racial profile in just the way the system likes it.
FUCK. FUCK. FUUUUUUUUUCK.
It all just sucks. Can you relate to this story? What would you have done in my situation? Have you used the giggle-diffuse technique? I’d love to hear any thoughts you have in the comments.