I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my teenage experiences with men. It’s something that’s been on the news a lot lately, and I can’t help but flash back to lil ol me at the tender age of sixteen, seventeen. Being young and alone and female in public is a harrowing experience. It sets you up for all kinds of interactions that you’re not necessarily prepared for. I wasn’t prepared for the experiences I had as a teenage woman in public.
Here’s a list of experiences I had with men in public when I was a teenager:
- I used to run cross country at my high school, which was in Richmond on the border of San Pablo. Being on cross country meant running through the neighborhood, which wasn’t too savory. We got to run in one direction every day because every other direction was too risky. One day, I was running with two other boys on the team, and some men in the group rolled down their window and yelled, “Nice ass!” I remember blushing and feeling flustered as I jogged through the streets of Richmond, but my teammate yelled back, “Thank you! I do have a nice ass!” That was the first time I felt like a man stood up for me when I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t a feeling I would ever become familiar with.
- I used to run in my neighborhood, too. One time, I was running through my very nice neighborhood in Albany, California, when a man pulled over and tried to talk to me just outside of my mom’s house. I looked over, puzzled and surprised. He drove off immediately. But I knew what he wanted.
- It was 2004, and the bus stop on San Pablo Avenue was two blocks away from my high school. San Pablo Avenue in Richmond in the early 2000’s is probably not too different what it is today. People would honk at me as I made my walk, and one time a car pulled over. The driver was, as I now know, a pimp. He asked me if I liked to party, told me he sold coke and speed. He asked for my number. Granted, as a 17 year old trying to catch the bus, I was a bit out of my league here. He offered me a ride, I refused. He tried to get me in his car, I said no. He hassled me, creeping alongside me in his car as I continued walking to the bus. He asked me for my phone number. I wound up giving him my best friend’s number (I’ll admit, I was mildly interested in coke), and he left me alone. She became very upset with me when he started calling her every day nonstop.
- I was in high school, and I liked to walk around my neighborhood with a book. One time, a man stopped me to talk to me. I didn’t really want to talk to him – I wanted to read. But he insisted on talking to me, and he kept on talking, and I couldn’t shake him even though I was clearly not interested. He wound up telling me that he had just gotten out of rehab for being addicted to speed. He wasn’t much older than me. He was irate throughout our conversation but wouldn’t let me go. I panicked, and I knew not to go back to my house because I didn’t want him to know where I lived. I wound up walking to the Catholic Church where my family went on Sundays. It was a Saturday, but the doors were open. There was a wedding inside. I went at sat in the back, and he asked me, “Do you know these people?” I said, “No.” He got upset and left. I called my mom and her pick me up. I was really fucking afraid, and telling this story again still causes me anxiety.
- I was 18 and I lived in a warehouse in Ghost Town by the truck stops. I was walking out of the neighborhood to my boyfriend’s house in Temescal because I was broke and it was Sunday, so the bus wasn’t coming any time soon. I walked by one of the parks in the projects, and a man perhaps eight or ten years older than me started to follow me. He hollered at me, and despite the fact that I didn’t stop he still started walking alongside me. We wound up talking about art and poetry, and he also told me that he had just gotten out of jail and had a crack habit. We made it halfway up Telegraph Avenue. At one point, he bummed a roach from a friend that he ran into at the bus stop. I tried to leave him at the bus stop. Eventually, I told him that I was going to my boyfriend’s house, and he left me alone. When I showed up at my boyfriend’s house, I was a mess and frantic and my boyfriend didn’t know what to do.
- When I was 19, I used to take the bus from the Lower Bottoms to Downtown Berkeley for work, transferring from the 12 to the 40. Sometimes I would stop in at the Grocery Outlet to get a box of soup for lunch. I’m not sure how I met this person originally, but there was some guy who worked across the street who recognized me in there one day. He followed me around Grocery Outlet, telling me that we could go into the bathroom for a quicky. I remember telling him that a quicky probably wouldn’t be very satisfying for me, so, no, pass. I don’t think he understood what that meant. This happened a couple times.
- Again when I was 19, I was sitting at a bus stop on University waiting for the 51 to take me to work. A man in a car pulled over. At first he asked me for directions, and when I approached the car to tell him where he was going, his dick was out and he was masturbating. I screamed, he drove off. When I showed up to work, I was shook, but I still had to work.
- “You got a boyfriend?” was a pretty popular cat calling line when I walked around Oakland as a teenager. At first, I said, “No, I got a girlfriend, though,” because I thought that being a lesbian was an obvious put off for straight men. I learned the first time I used that line that my assumption was wrong. Eventually, I realized that saying, “Yeah, I got twelve boyfriends!” was the best response – the men were not expecting that. Sometimes they would say, “Oh, you want another?” To which I would respond, “No, twelve is too many already!” I don’t get cat called very much anymore.