As I’ve written many times lately, I absolutely love XOJane. In fact, I’m a little obsessed. Today, the story that caught my attention was “The Time I Almost Broke a Bottle Over a Groper’s Head on the Train.” The title should be pretty self-explanatory. But there was one part in particular that got me thinking:
Reading all of these stories about women going dead-possum in the face of harassment, and of women waiting for their attackers to just go away, makes me nearly as angry as when I witness these things in person. They will never just go away if you sit there. Scream. Flail. Act like a fucking lunatic until someone sees you. Go for the eyes, for the balls, for the throat. If you won’t, I will, and one day I will probably get hurt doing it.
I started thinking about this, and wondering which end of the spectrum I fall on. At first I thought I’d never really had an experience that would test my fight or flight response… but the more I “thunk on it” the more I realized I was wrong. I often find myself reading about the creepy/scary/terrifying experiences women have and how they react, and I find myself saying, “This stuff doesn’t happen to me.” And I’m only kind of right about that…
The truth is, my fight response is far more developed than my flight response–and I’d like to thank my mom for that. When I was about 4 or 5 I was at the beach with my mom and my future stepdad. Mom and I were walking up the road after getting me an ice cream and as we returned to the beach bar where we spent many summer days (that’s a story for a different day) she walked through the door in front of me and some dude grabbed her ass. (Mom was young and hot.) She spun on her heel and punched him square in the nose. Later she would tell me that all she could think was that her daughter was behind her and she just couldn’t do nothing.
I have yet to punch anyone for grabbing my ass though I have cursed them out and thrown a drink or two. If I was my mother–in a bar filled with guys I knew and with my 6’4″ boyfriend nearby–I might feel secure enough to haul off and hit a strange man, though I don’t recommend it unless you’ve got backup. If he’s not above groping a strange woman he’s also probably not above hitting one — and if your daughter isn’t there to learn a valuable lesson, it’s better to err on the side of caution.
But why haven’t the creepy dudes I’ve encountered in my life made more of an impression on me? Why didn’t the P.O.S who brushed his hand across my rear-end at a Talib Kweli concert not scar me for life? Once some weird Borat-esque dude sat next to me on a train, eventually touching my leg to “brush something off” (they were bleach stains on my yoga pants) and got his hand smacked and was instructed to keep his hands to himself. As I walked from the train to my car, some dude begging for money at a gas station started to approach me. At the same time some guy in an old Honda pulled up along the sidewalk to ask if I needed a ride (I suspect to be helpful, since I was being approached by some sort of crack head) and as they both started to talk to me I just yelled “NO!” at the top of my lungs and both of them retreated. I don’t tell this story in an “OMG I was so scared” way, but in a “OMG this was so weird” way. And I think what makes the difference in the way I remember these stories is that I never feel like a victim. I feel like some who encountered some crappy people and stood up for myself.
But when I think about all the times I’ve walked home alone at dark, or made my way through Port Authority at 1 a.m. it’s frankly a miracle that something more traumatic hasn’t happened to me. But I attribute that to my Fight Face. I have a naturally angry look. When I’m not smiling or being silly I just kind of look like I might kick your ass at any minute. Really, I’m not that volatile, it’s just how my face looks.
Honestly would you mess with this girl?
No, you wouldn’t mess with this girl. You’d go bother some poor frail thing who was curled into herself, trying to take up as little space as possible and not look anyone in the eye. Why? Because that girl looks like prey. When the dog is bothering my cat, the cat doesn’t run — she makes herself look as big and scary as possible… and she always wins.
Every time some stranger tells me to smile while I’m just walking down the street, minding my own business, I want to lecture them on how my naturally angry face is what keeps complete weirdos from messing with me. I have to throw fewer drinks thanks to this face. So ladies, if you’re sick of dudes bothering you, I highly suggest practicing your fight face in the mirror — and if you can’t do that, learn how to to get your hair to stand on its end and make yourself look twice as big as you really are.
5 thoughts on “Put Your Fight Face On”
Interesting piece. Everyone is going to respond differently when faced with harassment or sexual violence, and there has been research on whether fighting back is safer (I believe Sarah E. Ullman’s work covers this area). I’ve thought about the responses I’ve had in the past when faced with sexual harassment and how I might respond to more violent scenarios, and I think my behavior will vary depending on the circumstances of each situation.
I often have angry face when I’m in public – according to my other half he thought it was sultry. I’m glad he misread that, but it does seem to keep most men away from me! I’ve never been touched by a random guy, I think that’s due in part to the fact that I’m 5’10 and not small. My mum always taught me to scream as loud as I can (my friends say it sounds like I’m not human), and knee them in the balls if I’m really stuck.
I was with a friend – a guy physically much bigger than me – when we saw a very young woman being essentially groped. My friend sat down next to the guy and ran his hands all over him in exactly the same perverted way. Never seen a middle-aged businessman move so fast.
There is an obligation for everyone to confront this kind of behavior I think. Obviously situations vary, but in the case of the story you linked to, the guy in the suit, assuming he was aware of what was happening, should have intervened. I don;t mean in a macho, all-guns-blazing I’m gonna beat you up kind of way, but standing closer to make the pervert uncomfortable, or some words to shame the pervert into moving away.
Obviously, of course, I wasn’t on the train, so it’s a lot easier for me to type this. And he genuinely may not have noticed. I don’t think men at least are aware of how widespread it is. The more people become aware of how big a problem street harassment is, the greater the opportunity to confront it and stop it.
Anyway, great post, thanks for it and the link.
That’s some mighty mean-mugging. Perhaps some gold teeth next?