It was my first time in the Big Apple.
I arrived late in Manhattan after a long drive across the country. My goal was not to explore the city – I wanted only an overnight visit with a friend, to get some sleep, and then head to Philadelphia to spend a few days with another friend before flying to Dallas for travel school.
It was a clear, bright morning in lower downtown. I left my friend’s apartment early and flagged a cab. Taxis are a dime a dozen in NYC; In case you’ve never visited, cabs are like marbles rolling around – they are everywhere, and it doesn’t matter which one you jump into.
Or, so I thought.
I hopped into a cab and sat in the front seat. I did that because I had all of my belongings with me in four suitcases. Although suitcases on wheels existed, I wasn’t aware of them. So, I carried suitcases with all of my clothes. I was in great shape at twenty-three, so I put two under my arms and carried the other two by their handles. If you had known me then, you’d think I was pretty strong, determined, and invincible. You’d think I could handle any man.
Back in LA, I grew up afraid of some men, though. Some would make comments about certain body parts or my body in general as I walked just about anywhere. It didn’t matter if I was eleven, fifteen, or twenty. It happened, and it was intrusive and bothersome. I fucking hated it. Most of the time, I would ignore it and hope by paying it no mind, it would stop. I prayed the men would not follow me. I told myself they were only “being men,” because that is what my mother taught me: “Men will be men; just ignore it. Just smile.”
I never could just ignore it. The catcalls and attention from much older men made me feel afraid and like an object – something devoid of feelings, aspirations, or humanity, every time. I didn’t know if these men would come after me and try to hurt me. I sure didn’t expect or want the attention. No sane woman does.
In New York City, I hopped into that cab without a second thought. Because I had four suitcases, and since the car was small, I had to put my bags on the back seats. That left nowhere for me to sit but in the front seat, next to the driver.
(Don’t EVER sit in the front seat of a cab!)
I remember the man’s face. He had to be in his mid-forties, his face rough and worn, probably drove a cab every day in a city that yells noise 24/7. His life must have been difficult compared to mine. In my early twenties, I was headed to see a friend in Philly, then to trade school to change the trajectory of my life. I had left what was familiar in LA, traveled across the country – my first time exposed to open land and bright skies, farms, and cows for miles and miles. I had sold everything I owned to start over, except the clothes in my suitcases. Here I was, ready to take on the next chapter of my life. I was a city girl, after all. Everything would be okay.
As soon as I closed the cab door, he grabbed my leg. It was a warm August day in New York City, and I was wearing a mid-length skirt – not that THAT should matter. With one hand on the wheel and turning his head back and forth looking at me and the traffic, he grabbed my knee and told me, in a Korean accent, “You nice legs.” He knew the streets of the city like the back of his hand. It was obvious he had been doing this job for a long time. His hand left my knee and moved up towards my thigh, his head moving back and forth looking at me and the city traffic with his left arm on the steering wheel.
Stunned, I pushed his hand away. He then grabbed my arm, still driving, and told me I had nice arms. Still driving with one hand on the steering wheel and one arm on me, he told me I had a nice body. He repeated, “Nice body…you nice body.”
I froze for a minute, or maybe it was longer – his hands on my legs, my thighs, now my hair, my arms. FUCK.
The freeze, flight, or fight reaction is real. Physiological psychologists have figured this out. When we perceive a threat, the hypothalamus in the brain stimulates the automatic nervous system consisting of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. If the sympathetic system is ignited, we either fight or flee. If the parasympathetic system is triggered, we freeze. This is normal. This is where we remain still and ponder our next move. Some people remain in freeze mode for twenty or thirty minutes and they experience what feels like time slowing down. For whatever reason, I unfroze quickly.
Shaken, I pulled him away, and then my mind raced. I thought about jumping out of the cab – just opening the door and stumbling out and running like a bat out of hell. I then thought about my suitcases in the back. If I made a run for it, I would have to leave all of my clothes, and I didn’t have the money to buy new ones. I needed them for school.
All of these thoughts pounding through my mind as I fought his hands off my legs and arms.
“What the hell is this guy going to do to me?”
He kept mumbling things in Korean and in English. It didn’t matter to me what he said in any language. I knew the outcome of my predicament was not going to be good. Was he going to take me somewhere in the clusterfuck of New York City, rape me, and kill me? Or, does he do this with every woman he picks up? Is this amusing to him?
I quickly realized the answer to those three questions were irrelevant. I knew I needed to fight or flee, not freeze.
I suppose I could have yelled at him, told him to fuck off, or told him to stop. I could have rejected his “advances,” but, that is a scary thing to do. Here is why. And here are more examples of why rejecting a man could get a woman killed. We never know what to do – do we fight back, run away (not always possible), or freeze and think first? It all depends on the situation, the woman, and the type of attack. I’m thankful that I froze because it gave me time to think about how I was going to save myself.
I then got my break.
Driving with one hand in a very aggressive city, he asked me why I was headed to Grand Central Station. My heart pounding and my face flush, I then saw my opportunity and lied. I could see Grand Central Station in the distance, and I told him I was traveling for business. I then asked him if he could pick me up in two days.
Still driving with one hand on the wheel and his other on my knee and thigh, he stopped trying to grab my hair.
He mumbled something in Korean, then in English, and said he was good with that. I lied again and told him what time to meet me. He nodded his head hard a few times while maneuvering through traffic and pulled up in front of Grand Central Station. I felt a huge sigh of relief.
The traffic was a nightmare with cab and car horns honking one after the other. He let go of my leg and jumped out of the cab to grab my four bags.
He placed my bags on the ground, and I had my money ready and paid him. He repeated the time and day to meet me. I nodded hard and he drove off.
Shaking in front of the stairs at the train station, I grabbed two of my bags and dropped them. I tried again to pick them up and dropped them, again. Finally, I put them under my arms, grabbed the other two and held them by their handles, and stood there. I waited on those steps until the tears stopped flowing.
Fifteen or twenty minutes must have passed. I don’t know.
It felt like a long time.
If you think this is an extreme example of what happens to women, you are not paying attention. Yes, I didn’t get raped or killed. I found my way out of the situation I was in, but I am one of the lucky ones. Maybe the taxi driver just liked touching women, and grabbing my leg and arm was his only intent. Maybe he was horny that day. Maybe he intended to take me somewhere, rape me, and then kill me. How could I know?
Please don’t tell me I got in the wrong cab or I shouldn’t have sat in the front seat.
Please don’t tell me I should not have been wearing a skirt.
Please don’t tell me this only happens with certain types of men.
Please don’t tell me this only happens in certain places.
The problem is this happens too much and it needs to stop.
Women are cat-called, followed, stalked, and murdered. We are raped by our husbands, uncles, grandfathers, fathers, brothers, boyfriends, strangers, and dates. We are beaten, tortured, burned, and discarded like yesterday’s trash, and I could go on. Violence against women and girls happens worldwide. All of this is done by men, by men who disrespect women as autonomous human beings.
Oh, I am aware it’s not all men. I know some men don’t behave this way – I’m married to one – but you know what, it’s #almostallmen. It happens too much. It happens everywhere, and it happens daily, hourly, and minute by minute. In the United States, one out of six women have been victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes, and women are raped every TWO minutes.
The violence has got to stop.
When you mention, “it’s not all men,” you are dismissing women’s experiences. You are bringing the focus back to yourself and ignoring our experiences. We are tired. We want a new world where we don’t have to fear for our lives.
What men can do to help create a safer world for women
Understand misogyny and its origins.
According to Merriam-Webster, misogyny is “a hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women.” Another definition is “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women manifested in various forms such as physical intimidation and abuse, sexual harassment and rape, social shunning, and ostracism, etc., found on Dictionary.com.
Misogyny can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome, although some scholars theorize misogynistic thought began around 3100 B.C. with the rise of patriarchy.
Entire books have been written on the subject, so I will not cover more here. Suffice to say, don’t be the man who exhibits behaviors that indicate you hate women.
Touching any part of my body when I stepped into that cab is the result of generations of misogyny and disrespect for women.
Be the man who rises above this.
Call out bad behavior from other men.
If you hear another man shame or mansplain a woman, tell him that is not cool. Do not participate in that type of behavior.
Respect of women as autonomous, thinking, and feeling beings does not include mansplaining, dismissing, shaming, name-calling, ignoring, implicit or explicit sexual abuse, innuendoes, stalking, raping, murdering, gaslighting, or passive-aggressive behavior.
Help women when they are in trouble – don’t ignore them.
If you see a woman being harassed anywhere, whether on the street, in a bar, a coffee shop, or at work, speak up. Help her. Chances are she could use your help.
Don’t ignore it. Don’t just sit there and pretend nothing is happening.
Believe women when they are not interested – know that “no” means NO.
Don’t be the guy who never quits pursuing a woman. Women are not impressed by this. We want you to leave us alone if we are not interested. I realize this behavior is a result of patriarchy and has been taught as necessary for centuries, but it doesn’t ultimately work. Personally, I am not impressed with a man who constantly pursues me. I think it’s obsessive and psychotic. The last thing I would want is to BE with THAT man, nor would I fall in love with him.
If one of your friends keeps bothering a woman for a date and she has explicitly said she is not interested, explain to him that he needs to stop pursuing her. Don’t be the man who keeps bothering a woman when she said no. Don’t be that guy.
Know that “no” means NO.
Leave women alone when they are in public – we are not out and about to gather attention from men.
There is a disturbing video from 2014 that explains how prevalent street harassment is. The video shows men cat-calling and following a woman walking the streets of the same city in which I was attacked, New York City.
Do not say anything to women when they are walking down a street or out in public. Do not approach them. Do not call us names or say anything about our appearance. Do not tell us to smile – just mind your own business. Sane (and I’d say most) women are not in public fishing for compliments or attention from men. We are only walking from point A to B minding our own business. Being cat-called is not a compliment. It is a threat.
Here is the problem. When a man says something to a woman as she is walking down the street, we are put in a no-win situation:
If we smile, they might get the impression that we are interested in a conversation or more. We are not. Once again, we are just trying to get from point A to B.
If we tell men to fuck off, or God forbid, we frown, we could be attacked.
Even if we are out with our boyfriends, men think they are entitled to our attention, and we might get shot.
I cannot stress enough to just leave us alone when we are out and about. Unless we are at a bar or a place to meet other singles, we are not OUT THERE to meet you. Once again, we are there for our purposes that are not your business.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been catcalled or harassed when just walking from A to B. I’ve been told I had a great body, been whistled at, followed, told I need to wear shoes (this happened once when I was running on the beach barefoot), or that I need to smile.
Personally, I have no problem giving someone a quick smile or a nod “hello” when I am walking somewhere in public. This feels less intrusive because it is just making eye contact and acknowledging the other person. But, telling me to smile, commenting on my appearance, catcalling of any sort, or telling me I need to wear shoes is not okay. It’s intrusive, and because a woman cannot know which men are dangerous and which are not, it’s frightening.
I was walking on the streets in Denver two weeks ago one afternoon with a friend my age. We were headed to a museum and stopped on the sidewalk to look at our phone app to make sure we were indeed headed in the right direction. Two men were chatting with each other about 100 yards away from us. I noticed them out of the corner of my eye because, like most women, I am always aware of what is around me at all times. One of the men walked toward us until he was about ten feet away. Here is what he said:
“Hi Ladies, I don’t want to be creepy (Jesus! You already are.), but I wanted to tell you that you both look nice today. Have a blessed day.”
At first thought, you might think, “What a nice compliment. What is wrong with this?” Here is what is wrong with it:
Why did he feel the need to do this? Why did he have to take the time to walk over to us? Why not just mind his own business, keep chatting with his buddy, and just let us BE? Why? How many times do you see women approaching men on the street and telling them they look good or they need to smile?
We didn’t take his actions as a compliment but as an intrusion, and yes, it was creepy. My friend and I were wearing masks, or I’m sure the look on my face might have gotten us … Well, you tell me.
Don’t be THIS guy.
Fight for equal rights for women.
Be the man who supports women. Be the man who fights with women for equal rights on the street, in the workplace, in the home, and everywhere else. Be that man who sees women as human beings and partners, not as objects or property.
Support an egalitarian society, not a patriarchal one. Be respectful. Stop thinking that women are beneath you, not as intelligent, or we are trying to take power from you. We are not. We just want to be respected and treated equally.
As the tired saying goes, be the change you want to see in the world.
Treat women like the human beings they are.
It’s all about a lack of respect – the lack of respect for women that has been implicitly and explicitly taught for ages. Respect for women as autonomous human beings is the precursor to helping women to live in a safer world. Without respect for women as humans like you, you won’t understand or accept anything I mentioned so far, and you certainly won’t do anything to improve societal dynamics. And, you will comment on this article thread diminishing my experience, other women’s experiences, mansplaining, or calling me a name.
It starts with you. Examine your beliefs and behavior involving women. Would you treat your mother or sister like you treat women? Why is it okay to harass a woman who is a stranger and not okay to do that to your mother or daughter? Do you respect your female coworkers and bosses?
Be the man who respects women as your fellow equals.
Become a better man.
Become a man who fully respects women as autonomous human beings. Once again, call out other men when you see subtle and explicit disrespect of women in any form.
On those steps in front of Grand Central Station, I was helped by another man who saw me crying and struggling with my bags. He offered to carry two of the suitcases up the stairs. I let him because I saw no other choice and I couldn’t miss my train.
He was also heading to Philly, so we sat next to each other until we arrived at North Philadelphia Station. Although I did not disclose what just happened, he knew I was upset but didn’t pry and helped me to calm down. We talked and discovered we had things in common, started a friendship, and exchanged addresses to write to each other. (Yes, people used to mail handwritten letters to each other. Imagine that!)
I wrote to him from school in Texas. I kept writing to him from LA after I finished school and moved back home. He was a friend and a pen pal for over a year.
Until I got the letter.
In this letter, he had explained how he wanted to fuck me and what he would do to every part of my body. This came out of left field! We had never written or expressed anything like that before. My heart sank.
I stopped writing to him.
Please stop the madness. Listen to women. Treat us like fellow human beings like you because that is what we are. Make the world safer for women.
(By the way, I visited New York City two more times after my experience and faced my fears. I took a cab again, but I did not sit in the front seat.)