I should have the right to stand on a streetcorner

Last Friday night, a friend from high school and I agreed to grab drinks at the Refinery Rooftop in midtown. I hadn’t gone out in a minute in lieu of saving a few dollars, and was eager to try out a new place — I’ve only been 21 for a few months, and the literal endless list of now-available bars is still dizzying.

Once situated and sipping on my drink, I caught the eye of a group of guys standing on the other side of the room. My friend caught them, too, and asked if I would wingwoman. Sure, I thought. 

They came over eventually, and our conversation was nothing more than “I grew up in New York…I got to Columbia Law school…I want to be a lawyer…” and the like. But then one of them placed his hand on my back, too low to be casual, and I immediately stepped out of his reach. He tried again and again moved. He didn’t seem to be picking up what I was putting down, and asked me why my drink was still half full.

“You don’t drink?”

“Not as much as I used to. My boyfriend doesn’t drink, and I’m catching on.”

I have never seen a group of men retreat faster. At least my friend got one of their numbers, and he ended up texting her the next morning.

She told me this over text whilst I was standing on the corner of Astor Place and Broadway in the shade of the Vitamin Shoppe’s awning. On my way to work and running late, I had stopped to check the subway schedule for delays.

“Excuse me, where is Third Avenue?” A guy was standing in front of me. I had neither seen nor heard him approach, and my face  must have read my surprise because followed up with “Woah I’m not going to hurt you.”

I pointed him in the right direction and went back to my phone. He lingered.

“Do you need help with something?” I asked.

“Are you waiting for your friends? Are you alone…or are you free for lunch?”

I was suddenly very aware of the tightness of my t-shirt and the fact that I was in a miniskirt. I also was extra aware of the fact that the temperature was reaching 90 degrees.

I moved away from as fast as I could and made my way to the subway.

I understand that, when standing at a bar,  I run the risk of being hit on. I am a female, and that is what happens to most females in most bars. But when did it become okay for me to no longer feel comfortable simply standing on a corner? When did simply existing become a cue for men to approach?

For a second I thought that maybe I had done something to attract him. Maybe I had glanced his direction before looking at my phone and held eye contact for too long without noticing. But then I realized how insane I sounded. I had done nothing to elicit his leer. I was simply a person standing a place in a city on my way to do something, alone.

I am constantly faced with the question of ‘will men notice me in this outfit?” When heading to a bar on a Friday evening for drinks, I think about it less. This might seem ironic, but hear me out. Having had a boyfriend for over a year and a half, I’ve gotten good at thwarting off weird men in public spaces: parties, bars, and the like. What I haven’t quite gotten the hang of, though, is making my way to work each morning without getting yelled at from car windows, eyed by passerby, or jeered at by fellow subway riders.

If I sound like an  angry feminist, it’s because I am. I should be allowed to simply stand somewhere on a Saturday morning without running the risk of being approached by sketchy men. I’m clearly not, but I should be.

Also, just a note to all the men out there: has approaching an unwilling and un-engaged  girl and asking her to get food / drinks ever actually worked for you? If not, take the hint.

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