This weekend, I was an invisible woman.
Flashback: There’s a festival in Davis Square with an array of arts and crafts vendors. I’ve been to several similar events already. A couple friendly vendors had remarked on my bright red hair. It’s noticeable. Not in Davis Square though. No, this is a fancier event. The handmade cups here cost $68. And I am wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and shoes that cost less combined. My hair fades in the eyes of the vendors and I become invisible. They talk to the customers around me, but not to me. I can’t help being a 5’3” young-looking female. I can’t buy a $68 cup of awareness.
I wish to be conspicuous and big and loud when…
- … I go to CVS with my partner and hand my purchases to the cashier and slide my card and pay for my things, but then the cashier hands my boyfriend the receipt and says, “Thank you, sir.”
- … bus drivers and vendors and other professional adults call me, “dearie,” “honey,” or “miss,” even though we don’t know each other and I’m certainly not a “dearie” and how can they know I’m a “miss”?
- … I take an advanced math class at The Ohio State University and I am one of three females in a class of 30? 40? When I visit MIT and sit in on a similar math class, there are only a couple more female students. And when I visit Harvard, only a quarter of the math department are women.
- … I do not get credit for my project at work, a new and important project that I completed with little help. My boss says it’s great, then takes my words and, at the last minute, says that he’ll use them instead. Two days later, I find out that he’s re-assigned the project to a male co-worker. He doesn’t tell me this. I still don’t get credit.
- … we’re having discussions on personal identity in an MIT class, in pairs, and a classmate comes up to me and declares, “You’re my partner.” After hearing out his response, I say that gender identity is important to me. He begins to explain in detail why male privilege and the gender wage gap are bad. “It’s awful and unfair,” he says at the end of his speech, “but it’s there.” It’s time to switch pairs, and I’ve only said five words in our whole conversation. I receive the same lecture from two more male classmates on their awareness of male privilege the wage gap. “Well, at least you acknowledge it,” I respond. Switch pairs.
There have also been times when I wished to be invisible. Like…
- … that one time a man in a subway station at 10 pm kept calling after me, and I took out my headphones to hear what he was saying: “You dropped something. You dropped something.” Did I? I asked him what I had dropped. He said, “My heart.” And I didn’t know what to say because I wanted to say, “Fuck you!” but I didn’t know if he would make a scene. If he would pursue me after shouting at me for so long. If he would hurt me. And while I was deciding, he said, “What’s your name? Can I have your number?” and held out a hand with a bloody tissue in it. Did he cut his hand in a fight? Was he violent? I turned and left and made the music in my headphones painfully loud so I couldn’t hear what he was yelling at me. I kept saying in my head what I couldn’t say to him directly. “Fuck you! Do you know that you just ruined my day? What were you expecting? Why why why would you talk to me like that?” That night, in my mind, I kept seeing the crumpled stained tissue in his hand and I crossed Park Street Station off the list of places where I could feel safe.
- … one time, when, from a car full of never previously seen young men, I heard “You suck!” And a male friend of mine said later, “It’s ok. They do that to show off in front of their friends. It doesn’t mean anything. Don’t worry about it.” But how could I not worry about it when I got yelled at in the middle of the day and didn’t know why?
- … one time when I was enjoying a walk towards a beautiful sunset and an older man in a car that passed too closely showed me what inappropriate things he wanted me to do him. I had just turned 18, and probably didn’t look like it. I turned away from him, and the sunset, and headed home. Maybe he was “showing off.” But could I risk being sure?
- … that one time I went to a grocery store and the cashier suddenly said I’m his “amor” even though I didn’t know him and I was just being polite when he said he also likes Oreos. I tried to ignore the isolated incident but when I left the store a young homeless man asked me for money, and I responded politely, “Sorry, I don’t have any cash,” because I wanted to be a decent human. And he said, “That’s ok, pretty. What’s your number?” And when I was finally in a subway station a group of men stared at me, even when I got to the other side of the platform. They yelled something at me but I knew for sure that I didn’t drop anything this time.
I wish to be invisible in these times because I am scared. Because I do not know these men’s intents. Because I don’t know who’s just trying to show off and who means it. Because I don’t know where I’m safe.
I am tired, really really tired of scanning my surroundings as soon as the sun sets, staring into darker streets and busier roads, making assumptions about pedestrians that I do not want to make. And despite everything, in the light or in the dark, the creeps always catch me off guard.
There are times when the world is really really good. When I am called “ma’am” instead of “honey” or when a bus driver asks me how my day is as we’re waiting to leave. Because he looks genuinely interested and his tone is not in the least bit condescending. I smile and say that, yes, the weather is nice but maybe a bit too hot and, yes, I guess it will get cold soon. It’s Boston and you can always talk about the weather.