Walk this way
For someone with a traditional desk job, I spend a lot of time on my feet. Every day, I make it a point to move while I'm at work, whether that's asking the question in person instead of over the internet, or using my lunch break to do a lap around the neighborhood. As soon as I'm done with work each day, as well as on the weekends, I head to the gym for cardio or take a 90-minute walk outside. Whenever possible, I like to walk to activities with friends (and hop a cab home, obviously). Even in my house, I often opt to stand while doing things like playing a video game, reading a book or watching a movie. I do these things because it feels good to be active, and living in the city makes using your feet more possible - not to mention cheaper and sometimes faster.
Walking has tons of advantages aside from avoiding parking fees and staying healthy. For one thing, I live in a gorgeous city that's fun to look at. This is easier and more effectively done from the sidewalk than from the road. On all of these walks, I have ample time to listen to the long list of podcasts I'm addicted to, and at this point, I don't even notice if people think I'm weird for laughing (and sometimes crying) to myself as I walk along. I can talk on the phone, or listen to a book, or blast *cool music of the moment* through your *headphones of choice*. Walking is self-care.
There's a feeling of freedom, of grown-up-ness, of belonging somewhere, as I stroll down familiar streets and turn on congested boulevards. The entire experience is an adventure, because I'm out there in the world, using all of my five senses to take in aromas, conversations, the feeling of rain/sun/wind on my cheeks. It makes me feel incredibly alive.
Of course, there is no pleasure in this world that doesn't come with a degree of pain. For me, all too often, that pain comes in the form of a man, moving toward me, striding confidently down the middle of the sidewalk, maybe even a little bit into my lane. Maybe he's talking on his phone, maybe he's chatting with the friend at his side. Maybe he's just an oblivious asshole who doesn't notice me or anyone else in his path. No matter his motivation, every time I see a man walking toward me, I brace myself, because it almost always goes down like this:
Dude is walking my way. I hesitate, thinking surely once he's close enough, he'll scoot to the side to make room for me, since I'm only taking up my due half of the sidewalk. He's the one in the wrong here! He's the one taking up more than his share of space! He's only five paces away now, with no sign of any adjustments to his stride, and so I cave. I take a step or two to the right to make room for him, even when that means stepping off the pathway, even if he still knocks me a bit (or a lot) with his shoulder or elbow or entire side. I feel something start to flame deep down in my core, a silent fury at my submission. I promise myself I won't make space for the next dude. But a few moments later, I do.
I started to notice this more this year as the weather got warmer and more people joined me on the sidewalks several evenings a week. At first I thought maybe I wasn't being fair - maybe women did this, too (a few do, yes), or maybe I'm assuming the worst about people. But no. It's a thing. It happens ALL THE TIME. And it's super obviously more the men shoving me off the sidewalk than the women.
I have wondered if it's something they even think about. (Do you, guys? DO YOU?) I'd imagine most men probably don't? Right? But what about the ones who do? What about YOU guys? Are you seriously looking at me and intending to plow by me? Do you ever stop to think that it might hurt? That you might bruise my skin, or cause further damage to my confidence? Is this a power trip? Are you trying to piss me off? To scare me?
Well, it's working.
And before you assume that I'm exaggerating or generalizing or being too sensitive or whatever, I'm not. Once I'd started to pay attention I realized it's absolutely everywhere. And it's pretty fucking creepy to walk around knowing that most of the dudes I encounter do not give a shit about me, even in a sort of generic sense, or don't even realize they're treating me like shit.
It's taken me a very long time to pinpoint exactly why this bothers me so much, this complete lack of consideration for my body by men moving through the world. The truth is, there are a hundred thousand reasons why it bothers me, but none more than this: men get away with treating women like shit on a daily basis. Even when we're minding our own business. And I'm sick of it. When's the last time you heard a woman catcalling a man outside a strip club? When have you ever seen a woman muscling a man off the sidewalk as she glides past? Almost never.
And right now, living in a country that seems to have abandoned whatever minuscule care and concern it once had entirely where women are concerned (must I remind us all, our president brags openly about stuff like "grabbing women by the pussy"), it's even harder to swallow this bullshit. I think I speak for almost all women when I say that we're one "Hey, baby" or unsolicited dick pic away from cracking some skulls.
So. I've made a decision. I'm not stepping aside anymore. Not for men, not for other women, not for ANYONE who thinks it's okay to threaten, intimidate, shove or bully my body with theirs. And also for the multitudes of men who do this without even thinking about it, who are probably reading this going, "Hey, I never noticed I was doing that" (really, dudes?). Nuh-uh. I'm standing my ground, I'm walking the line. When I see a couple of bros approaching me on a sidewalk, taking up the entire walkway between the two of them, I don't step aside now. I just keep walking, taking up 1/2 of the sidewalk, as is fair, since people in parties of two or more should shift to single-file when they approach oncoming foot traffic. I maintain my half of the path, and wait to see what will happen.
At least 70% of the time, there's impact. One dude's shoulder crashes into my arm as he tries at the veeerylastpossiblesecond to adjust his body to avoid mine and fails. Another doesn't even bother and full-on shoves me as he goes past, pushing me off the curb, into a building, without even so much as a glance, let alone an apology. I'll curse his name later when I inspect the bruises he leaves in the mirror.
It's amazing, really, finding out you're right - that these guys really don't give one single fuck about you, your body, or your right to personal space. That most of them aren't even aware of what they're doing, because they've spent their entire lives in a world where they're encouraged to confidently take whatever it is they want, even if that's the entirety of a sidewalk.
But there's some satisfaction in refusing to budge. For one thing, it makes it quite clear who the asshole is on this particular stretch of cement. But if nothing else, it's a tiny victory. It's me refusing to give up what I'm owed, which is a pleasant journey from point A to point B - whether that's the walk I'm taking, my career, my ambitions, my life - with zero stops to take care of the self-entitled men who stand in my way.
You can push me, you can shove me, you can bruise me and step on me, but I'm not going to make it easier for you. Not anymore. You want the entire sidewalk? You'll have to get past me first.