In my previous post, I wrote about how I prefer to shop at store #2. There’s this whole fancy idea of shopping somewhere because it’s easier, even if it’s not cheaper.
But for all that I love of my favorite grocery store, I’m now afraid to go there at night. I once went out to pick up a box of animal crackers and cookies. I had a huge craving for them, and I can only ever find the right brand at the grocery store. So off I went. I went in easily and came back out rather quickly.
It was late. It was dark. I was a woman and alone. These are how unpleasant movies start. The parking lot had never been particularly well-lit either.
I’ve been rather proud of how quick I’ve gotten at disassembling my chair and putting it in the front seat. My arm strength has gotten a lot stronger, and I can easily maneuver the wheels into the back seat and the frame into the passenger seat.
So while doing this at night, in the dark, in an almost empty parking lot, I noticed some guy standing a few feet away watching me. This wasn’t one of those ‘oh you must be imagining it’ looks or one of the ‘are you sure that he’s watching you’. No, this was one of those, ‘I have eyes only for you and I make stalkers look friendly’ looks. It was creepy as hell. And I admit I was scared. And I’m one of those people, when I get scared, I get pissed.
Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I once got a comment on this blog from someone complaining that I was only complaining and not getting anything done. I didn’t let it through because it was rather nastily written. Here’s the thing, sometimes I do do things. And this was one of those times. I looked up and said, “I’m not here for your entertainment, you know.”
I had hoped that he would flush and go away. I had hoped that he would realize that he was being really creepy, that he was a man staring at a woman in a dark, half-empty parking lot, and that every woman has been taught to stay away from creepy men in the dark.
Oh no. He came closer. He walked over until he was only a few steps away from me.
I remember that at that moment, I had wished dearly for Mace and regretting the fact that my knife was buried in the bottom of my purse. And I wanted him to just GO. AWAY.
“Please go away,” I said.
And he looked at me like I was crazy. Like, I was asking for something horrible. As if I was the impolite one.
“But I admire you,” he had begun.
It was one of the most patronizing tones I had ever heard in my life. And one of the creepiest. And he wasn’t done. He continued on with “I admire you for getting out and doing—“
At that point I had cut him off.
“Go away,” I had said again.
And again, he looked at me like I was being the world’s most unpleasant person. He tried to say something else, I think it began with ‘but’.
“Go away,” I said again. I was stronger that time and nastier. I was getting more and more ticked off by the minute.
He finally threw his hands up in the air (literally!) and left grumbling and muttering to himself. I don’t know what exactly he muttered, by I surmised it wasn’t anything pleasant.
I finished getting my chair in the car and I remember shutting the door and locking it. I then just sat in the car for a few minutes completely panicked and overwhelmed. I remember noticing afterward that there was a woman in a van who had watched our exchange. She didn’t leave until a few minutes after the man had disappeared. I think only another woman can understand how grateful I was that she waited.
That man was a disgusting blend of misogyny and ableism. That man is why I wish people would realize that staring is extremely uncomfortable and that their ‘omg you live life like everyone else?’ comments are ridiculous. Misogyny is why men think it’s perfectly okay to stare at women regardless of whether or not they want the attention. These ideas lead to these situations. And it’s dangerous. It’s not being wishy-washy. It’s not being sensitive. It’s not about needing a thicker skin or a Kevlar vest. It’s about having the right to go through the world without undue fear. It’s about being able to participate in life without worrying about how everyone looks at you.
When someone stares at you, you wonder what’s wrong. You wonder if there’s something on your face, if you’re dressed horribly, or if it’s something more sinister. You wonder if it’s a stalker or a potential rapist. You wonder if it’s a murderer. You wonder if it’s all three. For able-bodied people, they know enough to get nervous at prolonged staring. They know there’s something not right about it.
When it’s us gimp folk? When were out with a cane, crutches, chair, stick, or anything else? It’s a rather constant thing. We can’t assume that everyone staring is an evil horrible person just waiting to murder you without a second thought. But we can’t assume that everyone staring is ‘just curious’ either. This isn’t just unpleasant. This isn’t something we should just have to accept. This is something that can put us in danger. How do we tell who the curious person is over the rapist/murderer? They’re both acting really creepy with their staring.
So the next able-bodied person who tells me to stop being annoyed at people’s stares? You tell me how you feel the next time you’re in a bar and there’s some creepy perv who won’t stop staring at you. The next able-bodied person who tells me that I shouldn’t mind someone pulling me aside to talk because they’re just curious? You tell me how you feel when that strange man pulls you behind a large white van just to talk to you.
I’m tired of being told to accept this. I’m tired of being told that I should just get used to it. And it frightens me when I start telling myself to just get used to these things. Getting used to being peered at creepily and being pulled aside in random places, is not a safe habit. It is dangerous.
Forget thick skin. I’m buying a couple bottles of Mace.