Of the million annoyances I encounter daily through life in the city, I’m old enough and defeated enough to realize 999, 997 have nothing to do with me personally, don’t effect me in any way, and are none of my business. Sure, the number changes if you consider what I bitch about in my head, or to Husband, or even here on the blog, but to cause me to speak up and interact with strangers? Not so much.
New York is always under construction. Buildings going up, coming down, being renovated or refaced, streets being dug up or patched. Interesting if you’re young or new to the city, hours of free entertainment if you’re 3, good news if you’re in contracting/construction. I’ve heard people complain about “how much” construction workers earn. I don’t complain. First of all, the salaries vary widely–union/non-union, public or private project, white/”minority” worker–wrong as it is, last I read white guys earned an average of 20% more (I put minority in quotes because whites are not the majority in nyc), etc. Second, these guys* work incredibly hard, back-breaking work in freezing cold, rain, heat and humidity that has most of us hiding inside, sometimes questionable working conditions, and often breathing in shit that I don’t want to think about. Third, the majority of these jobs/workers are highly skilled, and their work is important. Fourth, the risk of serious injury is high. A few of the assignments on the sites aren’t labor intensive, they’re incredibly boring. Like being assigned to open/close the gates and plastic bumpers for pedestrians to pass through in between cartloads of crap being hauled from the fenced in site to the dumpster in the gutter. Boring, but they can’t blow it off or let their minds wander, because that would be a disaster, a law suit, and an unemployment line waiting to happen. Often while working this mind-numbing task, they’re being berated and cursed by veryimportantpeople on their way to veryimportantmeetings who can’t contain their annoyance at being detained for 7 seconds so they don’t get a steel beam through their skull.
I pass several construction sites daily, multiple times per day, as I take Art Child back and forth to school. The nice part of being a woman of a certain age who’s allowed herself to go gray? I don’t deal with much catcalling anymore. I’ve heard there are a few who find it complimentary. There are also women who like to call their husbands/boyfriends Daddy and greet them at the door with a martini and a smile–but of course that all falls under the annoyances-I-keep-to-myself category, because it’s none of my business. At best catcalling is a background annoyance, often it’s rude and dehumanizing, and at worst it can be frightening. I see a lot of the same guys every day, they smile and say good morning, I respond in kind, and that’s the extent of it.
But the other day I was walking with Art Child and her friend, and one of the workers (who I didn’t recognize, not one of the ones usually on the gate) made a comment to/about my daughter’s friend. Well, of course not so much about her as about her body. My daughter looks younger than her age, her friend does not. Young teenaged girls. Of course she’s attractive. I shook my head, said “no,” and we kept walking. This man–was he drunk?–kept on, calling after us and followed. For the record, he was not a young man. Definitely old enough to know better than to make these types of comments to a girl who could easily have been his daughter. I understand, putting to the side the misogyny of catcalling, when it comes to girls this age, it’s easy to think they’re older, especially if you aren’t looking at their faces. I turned back and said very clearly, “she’s underaged, back off.” Would you believe he kept going, commenting and following a bit more? Of course you believe it, if you’re a female between the ages of oh, say, 10 and 100. Was he delusional? I offered him a couple more words and we kept going. Why did I keep going? Because the girls were creeped out and frightened, and I wasn’t sure if this girl’s mother would be okay hearing about a confrontation afterwards. If I stopped, I was going to get loud. It’s a balance and a judgement call. Sometimes it’s good for young people to see adults doing the right thing, standing up for them and themselves. Other times (when the option is there) it’s better to cool off a bit and deal with situations without young people present.
So I don’t know if this guy was drunk, delusional, or bitter about sweating his balls off in 90° heat. What I do know is that he was confused if he thought this would pass without incident. This morning I had a nice chat with the site manager/foreman, who was responsive, respectful, and took me quite seriously.
a)The word “underaged” holds more than a bit of power. Those 9 letters contain many implications; ethical, moral, and legal.
b) Site workers and managers pay very close attention when you stop and speak. If you’re blocking the pass through, several workers have to stop what they’re doing. Time is money after all.
Women, we don’t have to tolerate predatory behavior, and we shouldn’t.
Moral of the day: Most annoyances can and should be ignored, some should be addressed head on. Oh yeah, and don’t fuck with Mrs Fringe.
*I reference “guys” because while I do/have occasionally seen women working on construction sites, it’s still a field dominated by men–and I’ve yet to hear a female construction worker catcalling.
Wow, the guy was a dick. I think you handled it perfectly.
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Thank you. (and welcome to Mrs Fringe!)
Why do some people think it’s okay to objectify and/or harass other human beings? They show no compassion, no empathy, no respect. Cat-calling is a selfish act, a power play reflecting the bully mindset: I have low self-esteem so I’m going to attack the vulnerable to build myself up.
Your post reminded me of a woman artist who addresses the issue through her powerful street art. I just found an article about her in the Huffington Post:
It’s important to speak up and I’m glad you did, because we all have the right to feel safe in our shared environments. Nobody should have to experience gender-based or sexuality-based harassment. There’s no humanity in that, and we need humanity, especially in the current political climate,
I’m so sorry you and the girls had that experience, Mrs. Fringe. And btw, I agree with you totally–you made the right call.
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Oh, I hadn’t seen her work, thank you for linking! I’m just so over all of this. Except we can’t be, because society isn’t. Instead, yet another generation of trying to explain to our kids just how not okay this is. 😦
I’m so glad you said something both to him and to the foreman. Totally unacceptable, and I agree: some things are to be ignored, and some things absolutely must be confronted.
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Thanks Jen. It was just so shocking for him to not only engage in that behavior but to do so in front of me. Ugh. Also, hi! ❤