To the man at the lights.

And to those who might ask…no, I wasn’t wearing anything revealing. Not that it matters. On a warm spring day with summer COVID- normal blooming ahead, emerging from the smoke and fire embers from last year, from this year, my pink skirt swaying and tight and brushing my ankles.

To the man who thought it was okay to ask. To the men. It’s not all of you, but you don’t know how it feels.

Neither did I. I thought that my privilege would keep me sheltered for many more days, months, years. I thought my education and my community, my volunteering and my interest in music, the arts, in science, my ability to articulate and speak and my caution to keep myself safe and away from precarious situations, I thought it would all be enough.

How naive. But also, what a shame.

To the man at the lights who waited for me to cross, on my way home, a block from home in fact.

I was late for a meeting to discuss how best to empower and educate our junior kids in our youth movement. I was power walking, power playing with my mask to keep me safe and my music to keep me bobbing above this swell of a year. I saw you in the sunlight, with your dog and Pink Floyd t-shirt.

To the man at the lights who wore no mask, when masks were mandatory.

No mask needed because you are what -— safe? Immune? In some sense, for sure. We’ll sort it out. We’ll keep it away for you.

To the man at the lights who waited for me to cross.

I thought you needed directions, I thought you were lost, that’s why I paused when you said “hey”. That’s why I stopped despite your lack of care for our communal protection, that’s why I looked down at your dog. Could I help in some way?

“Hey. I know this is a stretch, but – “

To all those who think the lights are a place for meeting someone new – are you kidding? I told my friend and she thought it was pretty funny. What a joke. We all have stories. If you ask, or just shut your mouth and listen.

“Well, you look pretty cute and –”

Pretty cute. Huh. As another friend pointed out that evening, he couldn’t even see my face. Just my skirt and my flower power mask my mum made me. I look pretty cute. Is that supposed to be a compliment? I successfully dress according to social norms and gender codes, I can check the box that yes, I fit well for the male gaze. Yes, I look like something that you want.

So young and ignorant. Twenty years young. Who would have thought it would take this long? Who would have thought that just as I start to feel like I know who I am, I realise that none of it matters to the man on the street and the men in the streets who just like my long legs and my figure.

“I was wondering if, maybe –“

“No thanks.”

I didn’t want to know what he wanted. It could have been worse than I imagined, it could have been the same. Keep walking, you are safe. I didn’t turn back to see how he reacted, or didn’t.

To the man at the lights who thought asking a girl about half his age to…whatever, would be an act of vulnerability and romance. Couldn’t hurt, worth a try. What a shame. That this patriarchy we’ve all grown up in has conditioned you to a path of entitlement and unknowing power moves. Stuck in a world where it’s okay to ask what you want to young women who can’t look after themselves, no matter how hard they try. What a shame that you weren’t the first that day to see how it would go down.

I walked away furious at the world we live in. But proud that I knew how to handle myself, and proud that I expressed myself how I wanted to – clearly, and to the point. You look pretty cute. Ringing in my ears. For who? You really think I wore this skirt for you?

A moment came back to me from year 9 or maybe 10, when I had a few friends over for a swim. I’d just received new bathers for my birthday. I was trying to choose between my one piece and bikinis, pretty exciting, two different patterns, asking a friend what she thought. This guy turned to us with a revelation: you know, guys don’t really care which ones you wear.

At the time I was kind of intrigued. I couldn’t work out why it sat with me funny. I couldn’t tell why it was sort of jarring but also a bit interesting as an idea. Couldn’t articulate what I struggle even to explain now, because girls shouldn’t have to grow up being trained how to explain feminism, girls shouldn’t be conditioned to pick up the pieces of male fragility that shatter each time we try to smash the patriarchy, breaking ourselves from the force.

And yet, here we are. A young woman uncomfortable with the fact that this is so intrinsic to who I am, because it shouldn’t matter. A young person passionate about arts and music and science, writing, social justice, trees and flowers and water and dancing and the sky.

“But you look pretty cute. Do you want to…”

“No thanks.”

Article by Author/s
Noa Abrahams
Noa Abrahams is completing a Science degree at the University of Melbourne. Noa began her writing at Express Media, writing regularly for the Signal Express. Noa's short story 'Camp Letters: Patrios Lundusism' was selected for publication in 'My First Lesson', an anthology of writing from young authors edited by Alice Pung, which was launched at the Melbourne Writers Festival in 2016. Her piece 'Embracing Scoliosis' was recently shortlisted for the John Marsden and Hachette Australia Prize, and can be read on JWOW now!

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