You’ve seen it, right? A woman walked around New York secretly recording the things that men said to her on the street,

I would have said I can remember only two times in my life, from my fairly slim and attractive teenage years till my fat sixties, that I have experienced anything like I thought people were talking about. Once I was wolf-whistled at from a passing car when I was 14, and to be honest I liked it because at that time I had little confidence in my attractiveness. The other time I was 30ish, wearing a purple suit, and a guy walking by said something to the effect of “I sure do like a woman in purple.” I don’t remember if I gave any reaction, but I was neither frightened nor offended, and both of us walked on.

It’s possible that there were times when I was simply oblivious. City streets seem noisy to me, and I tend to be more visually than audially (is that a word?) aware of my surroundings. But there have been many times when a man has said, “Good morning” or “Hi there” or “Beautiful day,” etc., and I smiled and nodded or returned the greeting and we both walked on. Until reading some of the conversation about this video, I never thought of any of that as harassment. For myself, I still don’t and never will. I do, however, now realize that some women do so think of it.

I am a person who talks to strangers. Sometimes they talk to me, too–in lines, on elevators, etc. In fact, now that I am a fat old gray-haired broad, both men in my general age group and young men speak to me in a friendly way quite often. I’m comfortable with that. I do, however, now realize that some women aren’t.

Recently I told a small group of friends a story. When I was in my early twenties, in about 1970, reasonably attractive, I lived between Watts and LAX. I worked a few blocks away, in the direction of the airport, and walked to and from my job. Most of the walk was through a neighborhood of older, small, at-the-time inexpensive homes, and then I walked on two sides of a vacant block. Usually I saw no one, either on the sidewalk or in a yard. I never felt in any way unsafe.

One day an older–possibly in his forties–black man stepped up beside me. (At this distance, I don’t remember whether he came out of a house or what.) He started walked along with me and spoke to me, some polite greeting. I returned the greeting, and he began chatting with me. At some point he said goodbye and turned a different way from me.

After that, he showed up periodically, repeating the same behavior, as did I. I thought it was unusual, but I never felt in any way uncomfortable–he gave me no reason to.

When I look back on it, I still have no idea what was going on. It WAS unusual–this was 1970, I was a young white woman, he was a middle-aged black man, and from our conversations it was clear that we had little life experience in common. It seems to me that he was taking a bit of a chance–no, 1970 LA wasn’t 1955 Mississippi, but even so. We were only five years past the Watts riots. It wouldn’t be impossible that a white woman in the situation, a couple miles from Watts, would start running and screaming.
Now I wonder if maybe the neighborhood wasn’t as safe as I thought it was, and he was sending a message to others that I was to be left alone–that he was my “guardian,” so to speak. (Protecting the oblivious white girl.) Or maybe the first day was pure chance, and when I didn’t run screaming he decided to make a boring walk more interesting by talking with someone. I don’t know. I will never know. But like other experiences in my life, it shaped the way I deal with the world.

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