Earlier this afternoon, while walking home from the gym I had an experience which other women can identify with. It doesn’t happen to me very often anymore because I’m older, but I remember how it used to feel and I still work up as much anger now as I did when I was in my twenties. The only difference now is most of the time I get angry on behalf of the young women who currently get the abuse.
I was on Geary Street near Powell on Union Square in San Francisco. A man who was in the mood to have physical contact with a woman approached me as I was throwing a facial tissue into a public trash can. I saw him, knew he was looking directly at me, and tried to move to avoid him. He moved faster.
The man touched the back of my hair and clothing, and immediately I jumped away from him and issued an obscenity-laced order for him to stay away from me. He was so pleased with himself, though, and I was afraid he’d repeat the same assault or do something worse before I could get farther away. I don’t recall the exact wording of what he said, but it was something to suggest I was his girlfriend. He said it loudly enough for others to hear.
I looked around for a police officer, and of course didn’t see one. I saw the reactions on the witnesses’ faces, and they were looking at me, not him. Most of them looked offended, presumably by my language. Seriously. They didn’t appear to be reacting to his behavior at all (even if they didn’t see the assault, they must have heard what he said). Apparently, most of them were adult heterosexual couples, and the women weren’t upset seeing a man treating a woman like raw meat. The men weren’t worried about their wives/girlfriends’ safety, either. They didn’t hurry away from him because they were standing there glaring at me.
I give you my word I didn’t body slam the assailant into the front window of any of those fine shops on Union Square. I am not a Republican running for public office. I have standards.
However, after seeing the way others were reacting, I got angrier. I crossed the street with a bunch of them, making sure they heard more choice words about that man while we shared the crosswalk. I didn’t touch any of them, but got some satisfaction from making misguided people cringe. The bad language never strayed beyond the F word, so this crowd must have been easily flustered.
When we reached the other side, most of them scattered. One couple who said nothing waited to cross again at the same corner where I was waiting. I wasn’t sure if they were part of the crowd with the twisted priorities, so I didn’t want to make them a captive audience to any more graphic language. Still, I took off my jacket and announced, loudly, that after the creep had touched me I wasn’t going to wear that jacket again until it could be washed or burned.
In retrospect, I know I’ll have a heck of a time wearing the jacket if it’s burned. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.
The jacket has been laundered, and it’s in the dryer now. I haven’t decided whether that’s adequate.
The man who assaulted me is free to do the same to someone else. I don’t know if I could have gotten help if I’d called the police from my cell phone, but at the time I was so freaked out all I could do was get revenge on the surrounding losers and arrive home as fast as possible to do laundry. If he’d been caught, he would have been charged with a very minor offense and it’s likely he would have learned my name.
Most of the witnesses were dressed differently from the way we dress in the Bay Area, so it’s almost a sure thing they were on vacation. Maybe they live in places where ladies — especially those pushing sixty — don’t say the things I was yelling at the man who touched me. Still, it’s unfortunate and downright creepy that bad words offended their sense of boundaries more than a man mistreating a woman.
Please, no one say to me, “At least you weren’t hurt.” I was hurt. If you don’t understand the sense of violation after a misfortune like that, be grateful it’s outside your frame of reference. You wouldn’t want to go through the trauma some of have experienced.
Oh, I’m sure everything will work out fine for the bystanders on Union Square. Tonight they’ll be back in their hotel rooms, forgetting that potty mouthed woman, watching Fox News and feeling grateful for the breath of fresh air coming from those sterling commentators.