Why I still smile at street harassers

I was also aware, in that moment, that men who ask me for things are not just making me feel my gender. They are having a gendered experience of their own. Somewhere along the way, they have come to believe that whatever afflicts them can be cured by a woman’s tenderness. And all too often, it seems to me, men have learned that the only way to get tenderness is through sex.

This is the world my body lives in, and I have no choice but to inhabit it. The idea that I am alone in living a gendered life — in the daily dance of obedience and rebellion that is life in a gender role — is, simply, wrong. A man who harasses me on the street is experiencing his gender role as unavoidably as I am in that moment, as is a man who hears about it afterwards.

So I smile if I feel like it. I say hello. I hug. I make contact. I make a decision to touch or be touched for half a moment, and trust that this decision will not lead to something terrible. I trust men to understand this, because it’s the truth. And if I don’t trust that a man will see this, if I don’t feel secure, if I don’t feel willing to look up or smile or say hello, then I keep moving, because that is my decision to make.