What is it that compels a man to yell at a woman he does not know? This is a question I asked myself a few weeks ago as a man screamed a comment about my body from the backseat of a moving car. Strange men are constantly yelling at me, and I have never been able to figure out why. Mostly they shout the word “hey”. Sometimes they follow a “hey” up with some endearment I have not earned such as sweetheart, baby, and my least favorite: you.
Sometimes they do more than shout the word “hey”. Once while waiting for the bus to take me to an early morning shift a man in a black SUV pulled up in front of me and asked me where I was going. Work, I responded, craning my neck to look for the bus. Get in, the man replied, I’ll give you a ride. I scoffed and politely declined, but the man was adamant about giving me the gift of private transportation. Get in, it’ll be fine, he said. Come on, get in the car, I’m gonna give you a ride to work. I’m being nice here. So let’s go, get in the car. I continued to decline, informing the man that getting into a black SUV with a stranger wasn’t the smartest decision a young woman could make. But he refused to listen to reason and I continued to rebuff him until the bus finally came.
Another time I was walking alone at night when a man pulled up next to me to ask me if I knew where he could buy some rolling papers. I suggested the local WaWa, but he sadly informed me he had already checked there and come up empty. Sorry, I said, I can’t help you. He then asked me if I wanted to get in his car and smoke with him. I thought this odd, since not only was he a complete and total stranger, but he didn’t actually have any rolling papers and thus no way for us to smoke. Again, I politely declined as I was not terribly interested in spending my evening in his car asking random people if they knew where we could purchase drug paraphernalia. But he too was not interested in listening to my refusal. He slowed his car to a crawl and followed me for several blocks his annoyance growing as he urged me to just get in the damn car already. The man without any rolling papers eventually went on his way, cursing me as he peeled off down the road as if I were the one who was doing something wrong.
By far, the worst “hey” encounter I ever had was from the man whose sole hobby, I imagine, is harassing women while masturbating on his Vespa. This happened back in college during a study abroad program. My cell phone plan didn’t have international coverage, so I left it in the states. One night, I was taking a pleasant stroll along the river when I heard the persistent and urgent shout of many “heys!” coming from behind me. With a huffy sigh I turned around and asked, what. At that point the man on the Vespa, with his helmet on and facemask down, began to vigrously masterbate as he looked at me and laughed aloud.
I turned away quickly and continued on my way, but he was not done. Every few blocks he would find me. He would begin to shout hey over and over again. Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey, while, dick in hand, he gleefully masterbated. He was particularly pernicious and I had a difficult time losing him. Finally, my only option was to hunker down in a small stairwell and wait him out. I could hear his Vespa humming up and down the street as, no-doubt limp-dicked, he continued searching for me. Eventually the sound of his VESPA receded into the distance and I was able to climb out of the stairwell as the masked masterbater went in search of another woman walking down the street alone.
I always wonder what goes through their heads when these men stop to yell at me. Do they think I’m a side character in a video game? Do they think I’ll lead them to a mystical river where they can defeat a dragon and earn a reward of some kind? Do they think that I will just happily get in their car and do whatever is asked of me? Does it ever occur to them that maybe I’m walking with a purpose and I have my own places to be, my own things I want to do that don’t include them at all?
It was only a few weeks ago when a man, sitting in the back seat of a boxy car, shouted at me, “you gotta dumpy assbutt.” It took me a full moment to register what he said and by the time I fully understood he was more than a block away and my response window had closed. It’s a sort of progress I supposed. He wasn’t actively trying to pressure me into a vehicle or masturbating in my general direction.
But something haunts me about this last interaction; I’m not sure where to put the emphasis in “dumpy ass butt.” To me it should be read as dumpy-ass butt, where ass would be used colloquially, such as “that’s a sweet-ass ride.” But this gentleman, in the backseat of the ugly, boxy, car, said it more like dumpy ass-butt. This really bothers me, because ass and butt are the same thing and to call something an assbutt is to be redundant and if there’s one place where you have little time for redundancies, it’s when you’re shouting an insult at a random woman out of the backseat of an ugly-ass, boxy car.