Happy Valentine’s Day

shutterstock_93326353

To those who want to “make America great again”, or those who think our predecessors had it easier in any regard; to those who assume we as humans all exist on a leveled playing field; to those who believe in the “American Dream” and the idea that we all have the same opportunity to achieve it; to those who don’t realize their own privilege, don’t notice their relative ease of life, or perhaps take advantage of their freedom to live uninhibited and safely in this world; to those who may sometimes forget that we each, as individuals, have unique struggles that we face every day; to those who forget compassion and patience when someone may be having a bad day and seem over-sensitive, or may seem to be acting out in an aggressive way; to those who write off these individuals as “crazy”, “psycho”, “angry”, “whiny”, “ungrateful” or even “lazy” – without knowing what they went through that led them to this disposition;

I would like to challenge you to reconsider your assumptions about others, throw out your stubborn opinions, ponder the possibilities of alternate realities, and listen up to other’s experiences and struggles. Be more open, more understanding, and more aware. Help continue the progress that we as a society have made steadily over the past thousands of years that we have existed. Eventually, I challenge you to take this concept and understanding and apply it to the broader way we interact and treat each other. I hope you show your neighbor a little more love.

To those people who think that women have equal rights to men in this country; to those who mistakenly think women have an advantage in getting jobs or work; to those who think it is “unfair” when a woman gets acknowledged over a man; to those who think a woman must have received a raise, a deal, or a gig for being attractive, sleeping around, or manipulating, rather than for her skill, talent, intellect, creativity, or hard work; and to those who don’t think being the best at what she does “for a woman” isn’t an amazing accomplishment in itself, given the incapacitating hurdles she has faced her whole life to reach that point:

To those people who think that some women over-react to cat-calling, or that some women are too defensive, or complain too much; to those who think a strong woman, or a woman who asserts herself is a bitch; to those who have ever told a woman to “smile”, “lighten up”, or that she’s “too serious”; to those who expect a woman to acknowledge their own presence in a friendly and open way automatically, or give them the benefit of the doubt that they are a nice, trustworthy, and love-filled person without first establishing a relationship and building trust; to those who think “blessing” a woman on the street is a “nice” thing to do; to those who think it’s ok to violate another person’s space or privacy for their own pleasure, benefit, or gain; to those who think treating a woman with respect means offering his help by belittling her, or treating her as if she cannot do things without his help; to those who think a woman needs a man’s approval to feel validated, or that a woman lives her life to please men; to those who think a woman is waiting to hear that a man thinks she is attractive or thinks she is good at what she does, before she can feel at ease, beautiful, or accomplished – or that hearing these “compliments” will make her grateful:

I would like to tell you that women live a different reality than men do, every day. And I’d like you to consider what that may feel like, and how that may affect a woman in far-reaching, subversive, intense, and lasting ways. We each, as humans, live a different reality than the next human, every day. Each person’s existence is unique, and you cannot imagine or comprehend what any other person’s life feels like to live. But in this particular moment, I am going to focus in on one particular disadvantage: being a woman. And I ask you to try to be open to hearing an experience that you may or may have not experienced yourself, and imagine what the effect of this experience would have on someone. Imagine the implications of living this reality on an every-day basis. I want you to imagine what it would feel like to have this, or something similar, happen to you, regularly, since you were 10 years old. Imagine how that would shape who you are.

Here is my story for the day:

I am currently playing in an Off-Broadway show in NYC. I play the show 8 times a week, so I have my commute down. For the show, and beyond, I use the MTA for my daily travel within the city, with much regularity, ease, and comfort. During the walk through my neighborhood, and the train rides that I take to get anywhere, I am usually reading, listening to music, or texting someone. But I am always aware and always have my guard up. I am often a little apprehensive – and sometimes frightened – by passerby.

On my way to the show today, I am walking to the south end of the subway platform at my closest subway stop, waiting for the train. It is a Saturday afternoon, and there are plenty of other passengers. I go to the end of the platform,  strategically standing evenly spaced between people waiting, and in between two columns, facing the tracks. I notice a man walks up with his phone held up in front of his face, speaking quite loudly in another language. He stands on the same side of the column as me, facing me, and is extremely close to me, without it being that crowded around us.

I figured at first he’s on the phone with someone, face-timing, or using speaker phone, and find it annoying that he’s so close to me, speaking so loudly, and facing me, so I walk back in the opposite direction where I came from a little ways, to get away from his loud talking. Then as I stop again, I realize he’s following me and see that he’s very close to me again, and facing me, talking with his phone up once again, so I walk away again, slightly more annoyed, back to the end of the platform. At this point, I’m finding it all a little suspicious. And it seems he is still following me.

Then, a second man walks up and asks if the first man had been bothering me, and I look to find that the first guy is quickly walking away. I am confused and paranoid at this point, and worried the second man is either “in on it”, or now a second harasser. I say no, thank you, but I was only trying to escape his rude talking, and that he was getting close to me. Then the second guy says he saw a picture of me on the first guy’s phone, so I realize he had been holding the phone up to take pictures of me. Second guy says he saw first guy following me from all the way down the platform, and at first he thought we were traveling together, until he saw my reaction, trying to get away from him.

I see first guy is nowhere in sight at this point, and say “thank you” to second guy for looking out. He says, “I have a sister”, and  “I guess I’ve done my good for the day”. But he continues to talk to me a little bit, so I’m still on edge.

This is all scary, and I don’t even fully realize what’s going on. The train arrives, and I get on it, presumably safe. The second man ends up on the same car as me, but we part ways. I say “have a nice day” as my typical way of trying to end the conversation.

I cry a little bit under my sunglasses, and see that the second guy exits the train at the following station, which makes me paranoid, too – why was he only traveling 5 blocks, but using the train? Were they working together? Did they take something from me?

I am paranoid all the way downtown, off the train, into the theater. I get into the dressing room, still feeling like someone followed me there. I burst into tears. I realize – this random man was following me, aggressively. Taking pictures of me. He violated me.

In the end, I think the second guy really was a nice guy, and trying to help me. And I’m appreciative, because looking back on the situation, I think the first man only left – and left me alone – because the second man came right up to me and started talking to me.

But it makes me realize I always have to be so on guard – even in the middle of a Saturday on my normal, every-day commute, with hundreds of people around. How can I ever know who to trust? What would have happened if I hadn’t been paying attention, or there wasn’t a “nice man” nearby?

I feared he would get out at the same stop as me when I left the train, and follow me. I still fear he will come back to my home station some other time, and find me again; and if he does, how will I recognize him? Also, this man will always have a photo of me.

As I take the train back home after the show, I’m paranoid of all the other men on the train. I still feel scared until I arrive home, safely.

I feel incredibly helpless and violated because of this incident. Where is this man’s humanity?  He took away my sense of security, independence, and freedom in the course of one minute.

How can I, or any woman, show up to the work place confident and ready to give 100%, when faced with this type of scenario?

This is not the first time a man has followed me. This is not the first time a man has taken pictures of me without my permission. This is not the worst case I have experienced of a violation of my privacy. This is not the worst emotional trauma I have experienced. This is not the worst physical threat or abuse I have received. This is not the worst threat of possible danger I have experienced. In a lot of ways, it “wasn’t that bad”. He didn’t actually touch me, or speak directly to me. Yet, I am very rattled. I am weary of every male traveler riding the MTA. I am traumatized. And I’m angry.

And, perhaps if you hear about and imagine this incident, you will become angry, too. And perhaps that anger about the situation will lead to feeling some form of empathy, compassion, and love towards women – and maybe even an understanding for what it means to be a woman in our society.

Maybe these lyrics will give you an idea:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: