One thing I already knew: I’m sort of a feminist. Well, not just sort of, but kinda really. I tend to get pretty gung-ho about it, and about what it represents. Equality. Among everyone. I know, what nerve I have, right?
One thing I wasn’t completely cognizant of: I’m pretty soft spoken. Literally. I have a very soft voice and it takes quite a bit of effort to reach any sort of volume. People have suggested this in a subtle way my entire life, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized my voice not only helps me come across as the kind and understanding person I am about 40 percent of the time, but it also makes it difficult to take me seriously. For instance, it’s come to my attention that when I get worked up about something and use choice swear words, that it sounds like Mickey Mouse with Tourette syndrome.
You can imagine this can be problematic as a kinda really gung-ho feminist journalist who has things to do and people to talk to.
One thing you should know: I and my work-colleague-slash-work-friend run a health and fitness initiative at our newspaper, and just ended a summer of fitness classes held once a week. She has a soft and squeaky voice, too. We commiserate.
A story you definitely do not know, and I’m now telling you: A couple weeks ago, we held our second-to-last class in the city square. It was a wonderful concept; we were going to hold a yoga class with our usual attendees and attract passersby who normally wouldn’t be able to make it to the newspaper building to participate in the square.
Looking back, I have to admit. That was a pretty idyllic concept that considered no consequences or assholes.
Because that’s what happened. Assholes. They happened.
Maybe I’m naive. Actually, as jaded as I can be most of the time, there’s still a large portion of me who’s naive and likes to think that everyone at Starbucks will just give you the drink if you don’t have the 50 cents to complete the purchase.
Anyway, to no one’s surprise but our own, it wasn’t long before the all-female group of yogis was receiving cat calls and honks and stares from not only males but females as well.
My partner and I were immediately enraged. She had taken the time to get a permit for the time we were there, and we felt that if this were a bunch of men practicing yoga, the reaction would not be nearly as crazy. But beyond that, we just wanted to allow people to do some yoga in the space we’d paid for in peace, dammit.
Another thing you don’t know: The city square is surrounded by benches.
These benches, no surprise, are public just as the square is public. So people were occupying these benches while we were occupying the square.
But I’ll be real with you, it was men who were occupying these benches, and they were mostly smoking, and staring at the yogis.
For the most part, they didn’t stay longer than a cigarette before they moved on, and while it annoyed the ever loving out of me and my partner, we let it slide. Because, ya know, we had to – we were in a public space.
And then this guy comes over; he was unkempt, he was stumbling and he had a sandwich and plastic cup filled with what I hope in my naive heart of hearts was simply water.
I completely understand that it sounds like I was profiling this man. But that’s only because he made it all too easy when he sat on the bench directly behind the group of yogis and began checking out their profile during their downward dog.
My partner saw this and said something to the effect of, “Do you think he’s doing that on purpose?”
To which I responded something to the effect of, “Yeah.”
One thing you should know: I’ve struggled with confrontation my whole life. I don’t like it, and when I finally muster up the courage to make a confrontation, it’s usually the result of pent up frustration, blown out of proportion and I end up telling myself something to the effect of, “Well, I’m never doing that again.”
This instance, to my terror, was not like that.
This instance was completely justified. We watched, for about 10 minutes, as this man gnawed on his sandwich in a teetered position on the bench, as if trying to take in the full scope of the yogis and their yoga efforts.
The mood to that point among the yogis was that of slight amusement and of an eye-rolling, high-road mentality. It was impressive, as I could not imagine taking the high road as a jerk burned a hole through my bum while I was in the warrior pose.
My partner said something like, “I want to say something to him. We have a permit to be here, and he’s kind of disturbing that.”
And I said something like, “Yeah.”
I may have used a swear word, as she got the impression that I felt pretty strongly about this.
“Do you want to say something?” She asked.
I looked at the permit, not entirely sure that just because we had this in our possession that it meant we had full reign over the entire – public – square. And then I looked at the grody guy on the bench who continued leering at the yogis as he mashed that sandwich in his mouth.
I took the permit, took in a breath and said something like, “Yup.”
So I walked over, observing this guy a little more. He had ear buds in, so I was probably going to have to speak up.
“Excuse me,” I probably said. “We have a permit-”
“What?” He kind of yelled.
“We have a permit and-”
“Oh, no, I’m allowed to sit here. I’m not moving,” he said.
OK, I thought. He’s in a public space. But…
“You’re making my people uncomfortable,” I said. I used the word “people,” mostly because I was flustered and had no idea how else to refer to them, but also because I felt they were my people. My people are those who expect to be able to do things in life without being objectified or made to feel inferior. So there.
“I’m just looking. I’m allowed to look. This is a public space,” he said.
OK, I thought. He’s right. But…
“Listen,” I said. Keep in mind my squeak. “We paid for our time to be here, and you’re making my people uncomfortable. You need to respect them.”
He rolled his eyes and kind of snarled in disgust. I could see some of his sandwich. And lack of teeth.
“Go away,” he said.
OK, I said to myself. You lose. Go away.
I almost did, and then the pent up frustration happened. I completely forgot that I was representing the company I worked for, and that I was a leader who was supposed to do things like be respectful and take the high road. I was mad, and that was all.
“Just respect my f—ing people,” I said. And then I walked away with my heart in my throat.
He left a little bit later.
One thing you should know: I didn’t tell my partner I said that. I didn’t tell anyone I said that. I was – and am – terrified that I made a poor decision in that instance.
Nonetheless, I stand by it.
What I now know: As a leader, and as a human, I believe it’s important to hold others to the standard I hold myself. And that’s to respect others. That’s it. And I believe both myself and the yogis were being not only disrespected, but also objectified and treated as inferior during the time we were in that city square.
And you don’t do that. Just don’t.