I will never forget the first time I felt small, like I wanted nothing more than to hide, like I was less of a person, because of the attention of a man.
I was twelve years old walking home from a day at the lake with friends. It was late in the afternoon in the suburbs of Seattle. I don’t remember how I looked or what I was wearing but considering my age and rate of development I imagine I appeared innocent and slightly dorky.
Walking the streets of the town I called home, I experienced what we refer to in my country as “cat calling”. A response I, like all women, have begun to expect when walking alone.
The honking I could tolerate. The indiscernible shouts I ignored. But after walking for nearly three hours on busy streets, sweaty and exhausted, it was the man who stuck his head out of his car window and exaggeratedly blew me a kiss as he whizzed by, that finally collapsed my spirit.
Since then I have been shouted at on streets across the world. I have been followed by men for blocks. I have been begged for sex, companionship, a dance, and conversation.
A stranger stuck his hand up my skirt when I entered a crowded bar in Belize.
In Mexico I stood in an ATM next to a man pleasuring himself.
Walking midday in midtown clad in professional attire, an American whispered words dirtier than the streets of Manhattan into my ear as he rounded the corner.
Yesterday a man stroked my arm as I passed him on the street in Granada. Two teenagers smacked my butt as they rode by on a bicycle.
And somehow it has all felt so disturbingly normal.
I lower my head and divert my gaze.
I try desperately to become invisible.
I tug at my shorts.
I absorb the shame that these men are somehow unable to summon.
I expect police officers to undress me with their eyes.
I barely hear the whistles, the “mami”s, and the “guapa”s these days.
The exaggerated glances, the mumbled “wow”s, and the persistent “hola”s have become a simple nuisance in my navigation of the world.
Day after day I endure it.
All because I am a woman.
Now, in Granada, Nicaragua, where the looks, the whispers, the shouts, the touches are more incessant than any place I have ever been, I just can’t take it anymore.
Let’s try that again.
I refuse to take it anymore.
And you should too.
So, to the men out there who bother, follow, touch, shout at a woman who has the courage to be and walk alone, listen up:
I refuse to accept that a smile or a glance is an invitation for you to stalk me.
I refuse to consider how my attire will affect your libido.
I refuse to travel with a man simply to avoid your overt attention. News flash: I don’t belong to him either!
I refuse to pretend I don’t hear your disgusting remarks. I will respond and it will not be pleasant.
I refuse to listen to your wants and needs and decline them politely hoping to not offend you.
Instead I will tell you exactly what it is that I want.
I want to enjoy my walk, my swim, my coffee, my cocktail, my book
you and your conversation.
Contrary to what you think, I want to be alone. I choose to be alone.
And what do I think about your machismo?
It is not cool.
It is not manly.
And it most definitely is not hot.