I’ve started this piece quite a few times over the last six weeks or so and there has been much internal struggle in whether to share and if so, how exactly to do it. For one, I’m embarrassed at my own behavior and that this is not a one-time reaction on my part. It is contrarily a coping mechanism I use more regularly than I should or should even have to. My second contention was that it didn’t seem extraordinary to me. After a similar more recent event, the latter has encouraged me to speak out because the more catcalling and aggressive confrontations that we don’t talk about, the more we passively condone it in a bystander effect situation. It should not be normal. It is a degradation that should not be something we don’t consider out of the ordinary. I also want to give credit to strangers who step in and encourage others to do the same when possible because even if we don’t need it, we do appreciate it. Forgive the scattered storytelling, it's hard to get it all across in words. So here it goes…
I thankfully live in a portion of Manhattan that attracts far less tourists than the norm around the rest of the island. That said, there are three main attractions that the double decker buses do drive by in my neighborhood and drop of visitors to explore. On of those plazas just happens to lie between my home and the park. So I was taking the pup to the park on a regular afternoon. I’m dressed in the standard New Yorker garb of dark sunglasses, headphones in, resting bitch face strong and visibly on a mission to get to the park with the crazy one (not that any of that really matters). Three men, quite obviously tourists, start whistling and cat calling, yelling rather obscene “compliments” my way. Some so inappropriate I’m not even going to write about them but to give you an idea, “got a pussy as pretty as that pup you got there?” Needless to say I already felt I needed to take a shower to wash off the grime.
I ignore them and continue my short walk across the plaza, on a mission to get to the park without punching an obnoxious tourist (a daily goal in my book). They continue and begin to approach me, changing their verbal assault from lewd “compliments” to defensive personal and character attacks, “hey bitch, we’re talking to you!” and, “think you’re too good for us?” and my personal favorite was another too lewd to mention statement on New York women.
At this point they were about three feet away and blocking my path. The dog had sat down next to me in defensive mode. Insert my embarrassing go to reaction, not speaking English. I start speaking German and try to go around them. Thankfully my dog knows her commands in both English and German. Then the situation changed completely.
The all too common aggressive catcall scenario quickly turned into an even more heated confrontation about immigrants and learn English if you live in our country and go home. They made Nazi and Hitler comments. They told me I shouldn't be ignoring a means to a green card. It was a very small glimpse into what actual immigrants experience and must feel far too often, especially in today’s ethnic climate. But I was a fraud. In my attempt to slip out of a difficult and potentially dangerous situation, I became an imposter in an increasingly larger confrontation and societal problem. Embarrassment suddenly turned more into guilt and shame.
There was one positive to come out of all of this. A bystander came to my rescue even though I really didn’t need it. He was a stranger. He was also a tourist. He was former military with a stint in Germany. In broken German, he asked if I needed help and I explained to him in German that I was indeed American, knew what they were saying and spoke English just fine. He kept up my ruse, speaking only in German as he walked me across the plaza and the street and left me to go on my way to the park. I don’t know who he was. We never exchanged names. I’m not looking to track him down in some sort of Cinderella story. I thanked him before parting ways and his simple response was that he hoped that someone would step in for his sister or daughter or mother in the same scenario.
There is so much in this whole tale to disseminate and analyze and condemn, my own actions included. There are so many things to consider in our own behaviors and that of others, how we treat other people and how we normalize things that should not be normalized. It’s also a testament that there are still good people that are willing to step in when things get dicey and I cannot be more appreciative for those people.
I’m turning the comments off on this one because this isn’t really meant to start a debate. It is meant to simply be an anecdote as to the social climate that we have cultivated and currently live in. The virulent comments and circular arguments exist in just about every other forum.
So this is my story and a thank you to all of those who intervene rather than stand by and watch.