Written by Zoe Manoukian
A few incidents that have occured over the last few months have led me to articulate a few frustrations and wishes that have been on my mind in some way or another over for a few years now.
Primarily, I wish that men might prioritize women’s comfort more assertively. I really began to
dwell on this topic after spending two hours collaging with a friend in a coffee shop one Monday night. Soon after we arrived, a 40-something (seeming) year-old man stopped by our table to ask us about our project, and after purchasing a coffee, sat down at our table and watched us work for the next hour. Good-intentioned as he may have been, what he may not have realized is that his actions made us very uncomfortable, and I think fairly. Out of dozens of tables, both empty and full, he not only chose to sit perpendicular to and at arm’s length away from ours, but he also seemed to have his eyes on us for a prolonged period of time. Maybe there was a perfectly fair explanation as to why he chose our specific table, and maybe he only appeared to be looking at us. Nonetheless, we had no way of knowing his intentions, and we walked to our cars when we were finished with keys between our fingers and scanning eyes, not willing to be the foolish girls who weren’t guarded after this interaction.
Of course, I can’t speak on this incident on behalf of all women, or any men who might have been uncomfortable for that matter. But many of the young women with whom I shared this story agreed that they would have been terribly uncomfortable as well.
In this case, the prioritization of our comfort would have manifested itself in him sitting elsewhere, and not forcing a conversation in which we demonstrated little interest. I discussed this with a male friend, and he suggested that I, like his girlfriend, carry Mace with me. To this, I said that carrying Mace may be the right decision for some women, but that it would be nice and doable for me to be able to sit in a café for an hour without feeling the need to form a mental plan in the case that we would have to use it upon leaving.
I am hoping that in the future, men like this one might be able to consider how his decision made us feel, and choose to act differently.
This might sound like I am asking men to inconvenience themselves, or to deny themselves opportunities of interesting conversation, and that’s because I am. Women are taught to sacrifice many comforts in order to live as safely as possible, and I think it would be a nice and considerate gesture for men to recognize this, and to live in such a way that isn’t likely to add more stress to our plates. That means: don’t stare, or appear to be staring, at women for an hour; don’t walk closely behind women at night; don’t sleep less than an arm’s length away from a woman who you don’t know when there are plenty of other sleeping spaces in an airport terminal at 2 in the morning… I would never demand that someone hold the door for me, or follow the golden rule, but I do appreciate when someone does these things. Essentially, a similar spirit, I am asking that they take a few seconds to evaluate whether or not their actions may come off as threatening to women, and if they do, think of how they can change in order to share the space in a way that makes all parties feel as comfortable as possible.