On Having a Body: Walking Like a Man
Today, while walking on a curved, cobbled sidewalk, I stepped out of the way into the road to give way to a man. He was walking towards me, unwavering, clearly without a thought to move, to angle his body so we wouldn't crash into each other. Right after I got back onto the sidewalk, I stopped.
I was embarrassed.
It's been a while since I was so lost in thought that my body removed itself out of the way of a man. Growing up in New York City, you quickly learn something - men will almost never move out of the way to avoid a collision. They walk forward with momentum, knowing the crowd will part for them. (Try it. Try not moving for a guy walking. See his reaction when you didn’t move. It’s hilarious.)
Women will almost always angle their body or get caught in an awkward momentary shuffle of footsteps - just to be kind enough not to be in the way or collide. I noticed this around my freshman year of high school when every day involved weaving through Columbus Circle to Lincoln Center. Ever since then, if I'm slithering my way through the crowd in the city, or I come upon another on a narrow sidewalk in Prague, I will consciously tell myself not to move out of a man's way. That is if I'm not completely out of it because clearly, then my body betrays me. (What is it about the subconscious reflex of a woman's body to steer clear of a man?) It's a real challenge, the conscious strength of being just as much of an asshole as they are.
I propel my body forward like a knight on a horse with a spear. There is usually eye contact. And the inevitable violent collision with the man (or just his shoulder). The expression on the man's face and the baffled misunderstanding mixing with rising anger is amusing. They're not used to women not giving them the way. But I'm quick with it - a middle finger or a smile or a "WATCH WHERE YOU'RE GOING ASSHOLE".
I've gotten pretty cool bruises from these collisions.
(Try it! It's fun!)
I told my boyfriend this fun fact. "People move so they don't collide. Don't be an asshole," he replied. See, he moves out of the way. He's kind and considerate. His world is filled with butterflies, male business people helping other male business people, and beautiful, gentle ease in everything.
He didn't completely believe me.
Until - we were walking across a considerably empty bridge in Prague, The Goldfinch in my left hand. A 6-foot-tall giant Italian man walking towards me crashed into me so hard, I almost fell. The Goldfinch landed a good 3 meters from me. (Is The Goldfinch good by the way? I've yet to start it). I picked it up and yelled at the man, who had that stupid baffled expression of every man who was expecting a 5-foot-nothing blonde girl in a pink floral dress to cower and move out of the way. Good enough of a demonstration, boyfriend? Thought so.
It's not like I'm trying to accomplish anything by walking like a man. It's not a social statement. Or an experiment. I started doing it out of some kind of innate anger for the unfairness of it at a time that I wasn't even aware of the magnitude of problems between men and women in our society or the power men hold in being stronger, in being able to control with violence and physical strength. I had the luxury of growing up with some of the strongest, most accomplished, no-bullshit women I know. (And you know what - God bless the women who can squat more than man bodybuilders or match men in physical strength).
I once saw a pregnant woman get on a crowded train and see a narrow orange sliver of a spot between two giant men who were sitting with their legs in a 180° angle. (Why? Is it a mating peacock kind of thing?)
The pregnant lady tried "Excuse me" and "Can I please squeeze in?" and then tried to wiggle her way on the seat. One of the men shoved her and said "Fat bitch!". He got up and shoved his way through the 8 am crowd into another car. I guess that's the best you can hope for on the subway. She seemed content.
In India, they have self-defense lessons that include learning how to walk through the street as a woman and trying to avoid being slammed into and groped. No matter how bad New York is, it doesn't even compare to that, so I feel stupid in complaining. It's just funny to bring these things up, especially in a country where many men and women (this is completely baffling to me) think we live in a post-feminist, gender-equal society where "the patriarchy" is a myth. Try to walk through the financial district without moving out of the way of the suit-people. You'll get trampled and groped - guaranteed.