I was still deciding whether to order a grande or a venti tea yesterday at Starbucks when a man cut in front of me. “Can I help you?” the female barista asked him. “Oh you can help me, you have eeeeverything I need,” he told her, practically drooling. I snapped out of my internal tea debate (of course I was going to order a venti) to assess if the employee knew this man. “You are FINE,” he added, before exiting the store. She became visibly uncomfortable. Of course she didn’t know him.
She and I locked eyes. I rolled mine in a show of solidarity, giving her that headshake women give each other when we witness someone receiving unwanted sexual attention from a man. A headshake, eye-roll combo that really means, "Ugh, not this again."
The men behind the counter either didn’t notice the exchange, or perhaps they dismissed it as a random interruption by one creepy guy. But the barista and I knew better. It wasn't random; this incident was no outlier. Women with bodies in public spaces come to expect, and even accept, these kind of interactions on a daily basis: while running errands, grabbing coffee, getting a drink at a bar and even in our places of work. We recognize it immediately, and we learn to let it go.
I took a sip of my venti, opened Twitter on my phone and the very first thing I saw was this Tweet by my (very lovely and smart) coworker, Alanna:
I responded to Alanna giving her a short summary of what had just happened at Starbucks and called for a ban on all men as ~lady~ editors are wont to do. My (equally lovely and smart) coworker Jenavieve chimed in:
After I invited Jenavieve into the club, I thought about how mundane the experience of having one's space constantly invaded feels to women. That experience is filtered through our different identities -- through race, gender identity, sexual orientation, location -- but there's a universality to it that isn't inherently familiar to (straight, white) men.
The men in our lives don't witness the onslaught of seemingly minor advances we're on the other end of -- the glance on the street, the "hey baby" on the subway, the "suck my ***" on Twitter.
Our male friends don't read our Twitter mentions. And the catcalls don't come when we're with them, because the men who disrespect women enough to call out to us on the street do respect the men we're with enough not to infringe on their "property." And sure, we still feel The Eyes, but the men we love don't know about The Eyes.
They don't know what it feels like to have your body scanned by a person who passes by you, prompting you to close your sweater and cross your arms.
They don't know that that happens more often than it doesn't, and that the sum of each tiny eye-scan means women feel like we're under constant surveillance, always reminded that our ultimate worth still lies in the perceived attractiveness of our bodies.
It's why, when a journalist and mentor of mine, Lisa Belkin, wrote an article describing an inappropriate pass Donald Trump made at her in the '80s, men challenged her story, calling the incident insignificant and no big deal.
"I can't believe that you could hang on to that one moment all of these years," one commenter wrote on Lisa's own Facebook wall. "It was obviously non-threatening, and just a throwaway from a powerful man that likes to chase women," he mansplained.
Male commenters (and yes, some women, too) dissected and dismissed the seriousness of Lisa's story, as if it existed in a vacuum. The same way they did when Amy Schumer wrote about a male fan who harassed her when she didn't want to pose for a photo. The way audience members laughed when Adrien Brody grabbed and kissed Halle Berry without her permission at the 2003 Academy Awards.
None of these incidents are the worst things that have ever happened, by any means. But put together, they're indicative of a culture that allows men to feel entitled to women's bodies. One that leads to men attacking, and even killing women for rejecting them.
Here's the thing: Women know with no uncertainty that a pass from a powerful man is never just that, a direction to "smile" from a stranger is never just that, and that eyes following us down a sidewalk could become more than just that in a moment. Starbucks man was no exception. He was the rule.