“I can’t see. My eyes are too busy praying to my feet hoping you don’t mistake eye contact for wanting physical contact. Half my life I have been zippin' up my smile hoping you don’t think I want to unzip your jeans.”
This line comes from Ashley Judd’s speech about “what it means to be a nasty woman,” from the Women’s March on Washington that took place on Jan 21, 2017. You can watch the whole speech here, but this particular phrase shook me to my core.
My whole life, I have smiled at strangers. I was taught from a young age that it was just something that friendly people do.
I thought the worst that could come out of it was that someone wouldn't smile back at you.
As I have grown, smiling is not my first instinct anymore. In fact, looking up isn't even my first instinct. If I am alone, or if it is after nightfall or if I feel even slightly threatened, I try to not make eye contact. And if I do, I do not smile and I look away as quickly as possible.
Because I am scared.
There have been too many instances when I have smiled at a stranger and they have taken that smile as an invitation.
At my job, while closing the store I work at, a man walked past. I happened to be looking up and smiled out of habit. He stopped and although the door was locked, he stood in front of it, waiting for me to come outside.
Walking down the street, I came across a man hanging around a building. He saw me looking up and proceeded to cat-call at me. Then, he was offended when I did not respond the way he wanted me to.
I am extremely fortunate because these situations did not turn violent. However, I know women who have not been so lucky.
It disgusts me that I have subconsciously changed my habits out of fear.
You may call me paranoid but I have the statistics on my side.
This is just one of the so many issues that the "nasty women" marching all around the world were representing. I stand with the women who stood up for the protection of our rights and I will continue to stand with them in the face of adversity.