Over the course of the past year working on this dance piece, I have often gotten the question: Why are you doing this work? or What has The Window Sex Project done for you? The answer to those questions aren't simple and neat - and when I began the work, I could not have imagined its enormity and how it might affect so many parts (really all) of my life. Today, specifically though, I was very thankful for The Window Sex Project.
Last week, I was on campus at Barnard teaching a dance intensive. Since I have been spending so many hours on campus, I am also eating there. One of the dining hall staff members is a young guy, medium build, handsome and forward. Each day last week that I was in his lunch or dinner line he would flirt with me, progressively more and more. The first couple of days it was just the looks, and a little too much investment in his greeting, "Hey, how you doing?" The next day he asks outright, "Are you a high schooler?" I shake my head no. "A college student?" Again, no. "Oh. What are you?"
Apparently he thought that was permission to continue the conversation. "Oh. What's your name?"
"You don't need to know my name," I said moving on.
"Oh aight. You'll tell me tomorrow." Each day he continued to flirt was another day I plotted in my head how exactly I was going to tell him that his behavior was inappropriate. Greeting the students, faculty and staff he was serving? Sure. Flirting with the many women who come through his line? Absolutely not okay.
Fast forward to late Friday night. I'm walking home arm in arm with one of my best guy friends giggling about one thing or another. Just as we pass the bodega on my corner and are almost to my building's stoop we hear, "Aye yo Bernard's! You work at Bernard's don't you?"
I look back to see that it's the guy from the dining hall standing in front of the bodega. My friend stops and looks at me. "What's Bernard's? That sounds like a strip club. Does he think your a STRIPPER?!"
I roll my eyes. "No. He works at Barnard in the dining hall. He's so inappropriate." My friend guffaws bursting into side splitting laughter. I let myself into my building in a bit of disbelief about the whole situation.
Then today, I'm back on campus. I grab dinner in the dining hall thinking how great some french fries would be. Dining Hall Guy is serving the fries. I retreat from the grill line. I don't want to deal with him.
As I'm standing in a different food line though I realize that this is exactly what the unwanted flirting does. This is what the looks and the comments on the street do. This is what the large, ambiguous category of interaction we've labeled harassment does.
It makes me feel uncomfortable. It prompts me to make different choices which aren't true to my own desires. It makes me want to hide - to be invisible. The moment I made the connection, I realized that it did not have to be that way. I was not going to give him the power to make me feel that way.
I walked over to his line. He looked up at me and I asked for fries. "Oh, that's all you want?" His demeanor was sheepish.
"Okay," he hesitated as he handed me my plate. "I didn't expect to see you over there the other night." He seemed sober. Like maybe seeing me in my home context made him realize I was a real person, not just a privileged woman working at a fancy school that he could holla at. Maybe that thought is just wishful thinking. Regardless, I looked him in the eye and the "this flirting is inappropriate"-speech I had made up in my head disintegrated. Somehow I feel like he won't do it again, at least not to me.
I think I still need to speak to him or his supervisor so he doesn't do it to other women. And maybe the real reason he chilled was because he saw me being escorted by a man. Either way, as trivial as this is about to sound, I think the biggest victory was that I looked him in the eye and got my french fries.