In 1997, at almost 32, I took a trip, alone, to Istanbul. Before I left, a male acquaintance suggested it was naive of me to think I’d be safe traveling in that part of the world–or anywhere, really–by myself. There was a condescension in his tone that annoyed me when he said it, but incited rage in me later when I found myself being groped in broad daylight by two young men as I crossed the Galata Bridge on foot. I was angry at my acquaintance for being right, angrier at the men who grabbed me for feeling entitled to do so, but also angry with myself for being so bold–my only regrettable anger of the three. In the New Yorker, memoirist Mary Karr recounts a recent, similar casual sexual assault by a “crotchgrabber” on a street in Manhattan.
Underlying all these actions exists the apparently unshakable tenet that any expression of male sexuality is somehow normal and every man’s right, whether or not a woman on the receiving end is repulsed or upset by it. All of us—male and female—envision all manner of erotic encounters without acting them out. But many of my male friends brush aside the behaviors that women find truly scary, the kind we know from experience can be the prelude to a nasty or even dangerous run-in. And something in the repetition of these behaviors—and in the culture’s blindness to the insult—wires itself into your body fibers and instills a debilitating sense that you’re not quite safe walking around.