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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Invisible on the sidewalk

<lways seem to think I am invisible on the sidewalk.

Actually, it’s not even that. They don’t think I’m invisible, because they don’t think about me at all. I simply am invisible to them. In public spaces, they act as if I am not here. They don’t even look at me. I’ve noticed this trend wherever I go. I’ve tested it in high school, in college, in Maryland, Minnesota, and New York. It has happened on busy streets and on almost empty ones. It has happened to me in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.

I’ll be walking down my side of the sidewalk, perfectly reasonably, taking up a normal amount of space. Along comes a group of men in the opposite direction, taking up the entire width of the sidewalk. They make no move to allow me space to pass beside them. I wait and I wait, until we are about to collide, but they don’t move. Ultimately, I am forced to move aside or run into them. It’s like they expect my body to stop existing while they pass and recommence existence only once they’ve barged through.

In general I try to resist generalizations. But, in general, people who aren’t cis men don’t act like they are entitled to all of the space around them; they don’t push, grab, collide, ignore. It’s pretty clear why. Groups of men don’t feel that they have to afford me the same public space that they, consciously or not, feel that they deserve.

From sidewalk collisions and subway manspreading to disproportionate participation and misattributed credit for ideas in classes and meetings, this space-occupying behavior is everywhere. I can’t fathom having the arrogance required to elbow my way through crowds or to have selective vision of other people while walking down the street.

Indeed, as a woman, I simply cannot have this ability. If I ignore men the way men ignore me, we collide like bumper cars. All of the responsibility is put onto me, the woman in the situation. Men give me funny looks if I don’t let them pass, as if I was the one on the wrong side of the sidewalk in the first place. They give me funny looks if I even give them a funny look for almost knocking me completely off of the path.

What does this behavior reveal? What does it repeat? As a woman in the twenty-first century, it shouldn’t be shocking that I could walk outside in public by myself. Walking in public, leaving the private sphere, is required for almost every professional or educational experience. But as the #metoo movement reminds us, the presence of women in the public sphere is still up for debate among powerful men. Women can’t be professional, can’t be educated, without enduring absurd behavior by the men who are the gatekeepers of practically every industry and institution of higher education.

This behavior starts early. It starts with the sidewalk. If men aren’t going to play fair, I’m going to keep running into them like a bumper car, demanding that they let me pass, demanding that they let me play by the same rules. And it won’t be my fault.

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