There is, very sadly, not a single woman who doesn’t know the feeling of a man who she may or may not know making her distinctly uncomfortable. But today, it seems as though Jerusalem has an absolute infestation of men who do not find it in their best interests to be, let’s face it, not terrible.
I have personally had a few rather unpleasant experiences the past week alone that highlight how serious this issue is getting. One day, a man commented saying that my wedding ring looks fake. Another day, a small gaggle of men called out after me and made comments on my backside while I was walking my dog.
Worst of all was a man who, after asking directions seemingly innocently, proceeded to follow me into the lobby of my apartment building and ask me increasingly personal and intrusive questions, refusing to leave me even when I asked him very directly. And that’s not to mention the countless honks targeted at me while walking down the sidewalk or crude shouts from drivers passing by.
To those who have not experienced this, it’s difficult to express the exact feeling. I’ve seen women who get aggressive – they shout back, they curse the men off or flip them the middle finger. I’ve seen women who operate methodically – after a man touches her, she holds him there by force while calling the police, or she’ll ask the people around her to bear witness to his misconduct. I, sadly, get a bit nervous and try to ignore it, running away from whoever is causing a problem. I wish I were as brave as the other women mentioned.
But I believe that the feeling behind the reaction is the same: A feeling of going on the defensive, of our privacy (whether physically or verbally) being invaded by someone unwanted. We’ve been told about these kinds of men since we were little girls, but that doesn’t make it more bearable once we encounter it ourselves.
Honestly, at this point it feels unbearable. We walk uncomfortably, cover ourselves with layers of clothes, cave our backs in to hide our bosoms – but it does not matter. Our manner of dressing and holding ourselves does not keep men who wish to express themselves in a vulgar manner from doing so.
I’m sure I speak for so many other women when I say that I love this city and want it to be a home to good people who do good by one another.
I’m sure there are men of varying ages reading this right now and either thinking concerningly of their families or thinking back paranoiacally on every conversation they ever had with a woman, looking for anything that may have been misconstrued. Let me make it very easy for you with two simple steps.
WHILE IT is very nice to start up a conversation with a stranger, there are ways of doing so. “What lovely weather we’re having!” is a gracious and common choice. “Have a good day” is a classic example, as is “You look very well.”
However, I do not recommend complimenting their bodies loudly, nor would I grace your recipient with what I’m sure was intended to be a compliment by means of an elongated whistle. I also don’t recommend a vulgar licking of the lips while staring at the other party’s backside.
In all seriousness, if you have ever begun a conversation with a stranger in the Meuhedet elevator and immediately begun asking them extremely personal questions, perhaps this was not taken very well by the other party. This is something to build up once you already know someone.
If you do have the pleasure of making conversation with a nice stranger, it is best to stand a respectable distance from them. Most people do not take kindly to someone speaking mere inches from their faces, nor do they particularly like strangers who press their bodies against theirs.
THIS BRINGS me to one of the most important necessities yet: consent. It sounds a bit silly to touch a stranger without them showing any signs of feeling comfortable with being touched, doesn’t it? You’re not going to pat a woman you just met on the elevator as you walk past her, that would very easily make her uncomfortable.
Think of it in terms of shmirat negiah. If someone, according to their faith, does not touch a member of the other gender, you wouldn’t force contact nevertheless, would you?
If the above are rules that you easily comply with, congratulations – you’re a really decent character.
However, there are those who are miles past these rules, these red lines. There are men that won’t just whistle – they’ll shout all the horrifying things they wish to do to women as they walk by on the street or, worse still, while riding behind them purposefully slow on an electric scooter.
There are men who won’t just pat a woman’s shoulder – there are those who press against women from behind, forcing them in the corners of elevators, buses, light rails. There are those who not only don’t ask for consent to make even the slightest physical contact. In fact, there are men who enjoy going against the woman after rejecting such consent.
Every single example mentioned here without exception was taken from a real-life situation that happened either to myself or other women right in front of my eyes. Ask the women in your lives and they’ll be sure to have many stories about men whose fleeting faces are etched into their memories because of the vile ways they spoke or behaved.
Sadly, Jerusalem is no exception. Our city today is riddled with men who take no interest in the comfort of their fellow women. In fact, it is riddled with men who take pleasure in making their fellow women feel terrible.
To women who have experienced anything like the stories above, I feel for you. Know that you are not alone; we are an entire gender of strong-willed and powerful people, and despite them trying, no man making crude gestures or rude remarks in the street can take away from your value.
To the men who are worried for their wives and children, you are in the best position to make a difference. Point out your friends’ inappropriate mannerisms if you see them. If you are walking in the street and another man is acting wrongly toward a woman, stand up and shame him. Shame is a powerful thing.
Together, we can make everyone feel truly safe and at home in our wonderful city of Jerusalem. ❖