Sunday, October 23, 2011

Do You See Me?

I'm running down summit or selby avenue in little shorts and a sports bra.  The following things happen as I pass people:
1. Man- occasionally checks me out, but not always.  If he's running the opposite direction, rarely will he wave or acknowledge me.
2. Woman- more than half the time ignores me, even though I wave, nod, or say hello.  A few women who run will wave, but most do not.
3. Man and woman- man ignores me, woman looks at the man to see where his eyes are.
4. Woman and woman- occasionally wave, but usually are too into their own conversation to see me.
5. Man and man- doesn't happen to often, so I don't know.

An average day, I'm walking up selby in jeans and a sweater, carrying my messenger bag:
1. Man- usually ignores me.  Unless he is older (70+), then I usually get a hello.
2. Woman- usually ignores me.  Unless she is older (60+), then I have a 50/50 chance of getting a hello.
3. Man and woman- slight chance they see me, but more often than not, I am still ignored.
4. Woman and woman- they see me, but usually pretend like they don't.
5. Man and man- again, doesn't happen very often.  When it does, I usually go unnoticed.

Last night, I'm walking up selby in huge basketball shorts, and a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled over my head, carrying a six pack of Winter Ale from Solo Vino:
1. Man- looks at me, but doesn't say hi.
2. Woman- looks at me, but doesn't say hi.
3. Man and woman- look at me, and keep talking to each other.
4. Woman and woman- look at me, become silent until I pass, and then continue their conversation.
5. Man and man- I don't think they saw me.
6. Man, woman, and child.  The man noticed me, the woman noticed the child, and the child was engaged with the woman and her shoes.

I got home last night, and was really interested in the number of people that actually noticed me.  I wasn't surprised that no one say hi.... why would they?  It was Saturday night, most folks were dressed up and heading to one of the fine dining establishments in the area.  I was shorts and a hoodie, having just finished a workout at the Y, and made a quick stop for beverages.  

What got me thinking the most, is how people don't often see or acknowledge me when I'm in regular clothes, during daylight hours, minding my business.  I often say hi to people I pass in the street, and will almost always at least try to make eye contact with them.  Usually though, it's like I'm invisible.  Last night, I was not invisible.  Why did people see me last night?  Was it because I was in big baggy clothes?  All one could really see was my chicken legs poking out from my over-sized shorts.  Am I really that threatening?  I'd like to think I'm strong and intimidating, but really.... considering size only, I'm not much of a threat.  

Sometimes being invisible is cool.  I can do what I want (for the most part) and go unnoticed.  People don't bother me, I don't bother them.  Places where I'm used to being very visible is when I go into stores.  I'm noticed before I walk in the door.  I have a better chance of not getting followed, harassed or insulted if I'm dressed in nice clothes (but even then, if it's an upscale place, I often get the look of "you don't belong here.")  I know if I walk into a store wearing baggy shorts and a hoodie, I will be treated differently.  I've had this conversation with a friend, who says that she gets followed because she's overweight.  "Yes, but you can change that," I think to myself, knowing that it's not always that easy for everyone, and that I've been blessed with a reasonably high metabolism.  

I can dress the part...and often times I do.  I want to be seen as a respectable person.  I want to be seen as a smart, creative, caring woman who doesn't walk into your store to steal shit, who doesn't walk in my own neighborhood at night waiting to jump you.  I walk into your store because I want to purchase something, ask questions, or feel part of the community.  I walk in my neighborhood to get from place to place, or to just stay active.  

I pay attention to the clothes I wear.  I know how differently I am treated if I'm wearing sweats as opposed to dress pants and a suit jacket.  I think what hurts the most, is when I'm dressed up and still treated like shit.  I'm reminded of a time last winter when I went to one of those fine dining establishments with a (white) friend of mine.  I was in business casual clothes (dress pants, cashmere sweater).  She was in jeans, a hoodie, and a down vest.  We walked in, and the host was on the phone.  She didn't look up, acknowledge us, nothing.  The phone rang again, and she took that call.  After a minute or two of standing there, she finally said "Oh hi.... (awkward silence), can I help you?"  Table for two we told her.  She seated us in the back corner of the restaurant.  After a few minutes of sitting there feeling rejected, we left.  I don't think the hostess even noticed our departure.  Once we were outside, I asked my friend very honestly, "Do you think we weren't seated because I'm not white, because you're in casual clothes, or because we are two women together?" My friend said she didn't know; it could have been a combination of reasons.  We went somewhere else for lunch.

If the only time people consistently acknowledge me is when they see me as a threat (at night, in baggy clothes), that's unfortunate, and something I'm not sure how to deal with.  Do I make myself known?  Or am I okay under the radar?  I can't change my skin color (and yes, people notice).  I can change my clothes, but should it really change the perception of me as much as it does?  

I'm still just me.

(This is a video I made a month or two ago for Greg Laden.  I like the idea of this video, but I don't like the monologue at the end.  I was on 4 hours of sleep, and both physically and emotionally past the point of exhaustion.  Regardless, it kind of helps articulate some of what I've been thinking about last night/today.)


Greg said...

I love this post. You are writing a lot lately!

I just want you to know: I've never ever had a thought about you ... about what kind of person you are, etc. etc., that did not start with something you said out loud (usually but not always to me directly). Except one, which I told you a long time ago. And that wasn't based on your costume, and I was right.

Anonymous said...

Do you ever smile?

asha shoffner said...

Dear anonymous-- Yes, I do smile. Sometimes. :)

Azalea Path said...

I really enjoyed this post and video. You've nailed it with the discussion on how clothing can define someone in the eyes of a stranger. You also pull of an assortment of looks very well!