Today I learned about the not so feminist side of New York. Being in the same city where people don’t seem to be afraid to voice their opinions on recent politics has been pretty thrilling. Marches, protests and all sorts of events have emerged in an attempt to support and protect the rights that are threatened by recent reforms. Being a female international student here on a visa has kept me tight in the loop of most recent protests, protecting my rights as a woman, immigrant, student, person etc. However, one of the most frustrating things is that I haven’t been able to take part in any of these demonstrations myself. Before January 20th, myself and many other internationals on F-1 Student Visas were advised on what not to do pre and post-inauguration. One of those tips was to avoid demonstrations, even if they claim to be peaceful. It’s painfully ironic that many international students, who are threatened by President Trump’s executive order on immigration, can’t find a way to fight it, and simply have to hope that the voices of the American people fight for us. It’s quite the difficult situation.
I’ve been struggling to find a way to make my voice heard, more than just talking to friends and reading about what other people have to say. I’ve considered writing many times, and while this blog post turns out to fit the job that wasn’t my original intent of writing this. Rather, today I was faced with a decision of whether or not to voice my opinion when I felt like I was being targeted. Many people know that catcalling is sadly an inevitable extra burden put on women, especially here in New York. I’ve had a handful of experiences since arriving a couple of weeks ago. The typical, “Hey beautiful/gorgeous/sweetheart/why don’t you smile, you’d look prettier”, but today was a different ordeal. Today two young boys compared what it would be like to “feel” me and another girl sitting two seats away from me on the subway. For a minute I sat there with one earphone in, still playing music, I wondered if they would just walk away or stop if I put my meanest face on and ignored them. It didn’t discourage them. Then I tried to think of what to say, how to phrase it and not just curse at them. There’s always a way to get a message across, and I thought that the more polite you do it perhaps the more eloquent it can be? My biggest fear was an out of context video posted as “White girl loses her shit at two young boys”. Instead, I started with a question:
“Is this a pathetic attempt at a reaction video?”
“No, but I’d love to record you!”
I had never been spoken to in such an outwardly misogynistic way in my life, so of course it shocked me. And what was worse was the age of these boys. I asked, and they revealed they were fourteen and fifteen years old.
I cleared my throat and I flushed out of anger. And instead of cursing or flipping them off and moving away, I told them about everything I’d been reading about and watching for the past twelve days. I asked them if they were aware of the current political climate their country was going through. I asked them if they knew what roughly two million people marched for on January 21st and how world changing that demonstration was, only for them to rub some dirt in those powerful actions with their derogatory words. Have you learned nothing about where women’s rights have come from and where behaviour like yours sends it straight back? I suggested that perhaps they should catch up with the news or read a little more about equal rights, or maybe that they should simply go back to school and learn how to respect others. They stood there in silence staring at me, and I asked them if they needed a definition of misogyny. They shook their heads. Would you like a lesson on feminism and maybe some manners too while we’re at it? They shook their heads and turned away. I remained seated and waited for the next station but they got off before I couldn’t stand being in the same car.
I asked the teary-eyed girl next to me if she was all right, she nodded and said thank you. The only other reaction in the full subway car was the woman next to me who smiled and gently clapped her hands together. The rest of the car, which had filled up at Wall Street, stood silently throughout the whole affair. And apparently my words had made them all fear me enough to back away. I’ve never gotten off the train at Penn Station with so much ease.
Sure I’m still a little shaken up by it, and of course I sent an angry text about it to my boyfriend, told the other students about it etc. And I guess I finally got what I wanted, I got to speak up and protect myself (and another girl). Hopefully my words will help others from being harassed by those boys, maybe they’ll tell their friends, or people will read this and tell their friends. It’s unfortunate that it took some bad catcalling me for me to finally find away to make my voice heard. But hey it made this post, and showed myself that New York is definitely the place I get to take a stand.