Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I am crossing the road, walking home from lunch with my boyfriend during his break from school. Lunchtime traffic runs steady through the arteries of the neighborhood, streets that are normally quiet. I wait for minutes before I can get across the main road onto my own street, and when I do get a break it is only a short one and I have to hoof it. The car in the far lane, a sleek late-model import, has to slow down for me a little. It flashes its headlights at me in what I assume is irritation, but I am safe already.

The car slows further and turns onto the side street with me, crowding me onto the curb. The driver is a man, alone. He is looking at me. I put my hands in my pockets, make my walk unfriendly. He pulls past me and away. Up ahead at the stop sign he pulls a U-turn and comes back, slows down again. His fingers lift from the steering wheel in a little wave. The car nudges towards me to an almost stop.

I make my face a mask of hostility. I meet his eyes, and my eyes say, No. Go away. He shows me his teeth in a smile. A man in the sagging of his middle years. Eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses do not look sinister, do not look like anything. Face so forgettable it hardly is a face, but I know it now and will know if I see it again.

I used not to know what this was, this kind of encounter. I thought prostitutes wore feather boas and boots and hung out on neon strips with rows of other hookers, smoking cigarettes. It never occurred to me that I'd be mistaken for one, a regular girl just trying to walk home from work in a sweaty T-shirt and jeans rolled up my calves. I didn't realize that most prostitutes look like regular girls, because they are regular girls, who will also have sex with you for money.

I don't know when I figured it out exactly. Some time after I'd seen how the mostly regular girls in their mostly regular clothes linger around certain corners not too far down the street I just crossed. Sometimes just one of them, or maybe two or three, but somehow always circulating alone, never seeming to have anything particular to do: waiting. Some time when I caught the expression on one of the almost faceless drivers of the anonymous cars -- some combination of hesitation and hope -- and I realized he was waiting on me. I was the one who was supposed to do or say the thing that would set this transaction in motion. Ah.

After a while I taught myself a kind of rolling swagger that I thought looked tough. I wore men's jackets and hoped I looked like a boy from behind. I made my face like stone -- I don't see you, you're not there -- and kept walking. And the cars would pull past me and drive away, fast. And my heart would slow down and I'd be left with just a little lingering lick of anger.

They're not bad men, probably, so I don't know why I dislike them like I do. I don't ignore them anymore. I wait for them to pull up by me so I can meet their eyes with my full coldness and my full contempt. They don't look like bad men. They just want their dicks sucked by a mostly regular girl walking down the street on a mostly regular day who for a sum of money will get into the car.

I don't know why I dislike them like I do, why I want my look to sting them, why I want to see their faces fall. They aren't hurting me. The girls up the street want their business, and that's fine with me. I just want to walk home from lunch in peace. But I do dislike them. I dislike their soft bodies inside the shells of their cars. I dislike the expectation on their faces.

This guy ducks his head a little to get a better look at me. I meet his eyes. Don't roll your window down. I'll spit on you. Is every woman a possible trick to you, or is it only in my part of town? His smile falters and he looks away. The car speeds up to the end of side street, turns out onto the main artery again. He's gone. Maybe he'll get his blowjob and maybe he won't. Better hurry. Lunchtime is almost over.


i_muse said...

I usually just say, "I got nothin' for ya' man, move along now" and shoo them like flies.

Flies don't mean to be bugs either, they just are.

Shoo fly, Shoo!

Barb M said...

Is that just an American thing? I can honestly say I've never heard of that happening here in Canada. But maybe I'm really sheltered, or they don't do it to a bolind chick. Either way, good on ya for staying tough, and I don't think that there's a thing wrong with you.

cosmiccowgirl said...

This happened to me once in Denver. I was in town on business and had missed dinner. Apparently East Colfax is not a street to walk down looking for a hot meal. Men approached me the same way. It makes you feel very threatened. It is much different than say, the look of a man at a club who obviously finds you attractive. It is something sicker, and darker, and makes a woman feel like a hunk of meat in a butcher shop, there only for the perusal and consumption of man, not because of what he can give you but because of what you can give him. I understand. I don't like 'em either.
Luckily in the suburbs here we don't get that a lot. :)

Grace said...

Prostitution is legal in Canada, right? I imagine that might explain it. Men who want a prostitute can go to a brothel, rather than cruise poor neighborhoods soliciting any woman who looks, to their minds, like a prospect.

not a doktor said...

You probably hate them because they're weak little grubs seeking validation that's beyond their reach. They're called men, but they're something lower than that.

Anonymous said...

Prostitution isn't illegal in Canada, in general, but there are laws against most of what prostitutes do.

Anonymous said...

Prostitution is NOT legal in Canada. BTW I don't like them either,

Jordan Parker said...

I got mistaken for a prostitute in Paris a few years ago when I was with my boyfriend and we were driving around looking for a place where we could have sex in our car. We never got to that point. Cars started to linger around our car waiting for me to take the money and get into their car! It was pretty funny. Just seeing a female in a car in that neighborhood meant she was a prostitute. Or at least they hoped.

I think you don't like these guys because they mistake you for a whore. And you're insulted. You, like everyone else, seem to be extremely judgmental of women who sell sex ("whores"). The stereotype, and unfortunately what we see on the streets, is the disheveled, ratty, uneducated desperate whore. You don't want to be seen as that type of girl.

But aren't we ALL whores in some way? Don't we ALL have a almost every situation? I just wrote a blog about this very topic. Although I haven't performed a sex act for money, I absolutely sold part of my soul for years and years as a stripper. Which is worse? And I can't say that if I could make 100K from sucking some guy off or having a one-night tryst that I wouldn't take it. I think I probably would. I was willing to make out with a dude in a champagne room for money...I was willing to let countless other guys feel my tits for money...and I've given blow jobs to men who I've dated (for free, because sex is always valid and good if you give it away for free) who I think are absolute losers right now.

There is really no clear way to slice this piece of fruit...but it IS interesting to try....

Grace said...

^ I think you mistake me a little bit. I have no problem with prostitution or prostitutes. Some of my best friends, etc. I don't have a problem with most johns, either. My opinions on guys who troll Craigslist, call escorts, or visit brothels are mild to non-existent. I believe people ought to be in control of their own bodies, whether that means selling it or having sex with a professional,or whatever.

A large part of what I dislike is pretty specific: being solicited for sex when I'm walking in my own neighborhood in broad daylight. I accepted being ogled and solicited in the club because my dress and behavior invited it. I don't accept it outside the club, in my street clothes, on MY street. I dislike the assumption that any woman alone on that street (or any other street) is a prostitute until proven otherwise.

I also feel a particular antipathy for the men that I can't logically justify. It's fear mixed with contempt, I think. They seem like predators, and also somehow like cowards. Again, I don't feel this way about the Craigslist guys, brothel patrons, etc. Just the street warriors.

I'm still not getting at it exactly. It's hard to put my finger on where the hostility comes from. Maybe they still scare me a little bit. But no, I don't feel any judgement of the girls who DO get into the cars. They're making their choice, and I don't have nearly enough information about them to conjecture if it's a good choice or a bad one.

Jazzy said...

I think it is a common occurance, dependent on the neighborhood and situation. It has happened to me once, and I just ignored them and just kept walking.

Becky said...

Sexual objectification is objectification of a person. It occurs when a person is seen as a sexual object when their sexual attributes and physical attractiveness are separated from the rest of their personality and existence as an individual, and reduced to instruments of pleasure for another person.[1][2]

Definition from Wikipedia

I don't like them because I'm not some thing. I find a curt Fuck Off! in loud voice works well towards discouragement.

Lauri Shaw said...

I agree. There's something that just feels threatening about this when you don't expect it and aren't "dressed for it."

Anyone who has ever worked in a strip club will be used to controlling the transaction. The guys come into the club and they're on your turf.

In the club, there are rules, even if they're malleable for a certain amount of money. The rules make you feel safe.

On a lonely stretch of road, you're walking and he's in a car... the club rules don't exist. It's a free-for-all. Anything can happen here and both of you know it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, Grace, I think you're being quite apt about why you don't like it. It makes perfect sense to me and seems like a completely valid reason. You don't like it for the same reason I imagine I wouldn't like it in your situation.

Personally I feel prostitution should be 100% legal so that the girls don't have to crawl the streets and get into vehicles with men they don't know who could be very, very dangerous (and many take advantage of this fact, not to mention the fact that if a prostitute goes to the police to explain she was raped, she faces the reality that she might be a) charged with a crime herself or b) insulted and told she asked for it because she's a prostitute, while the guy goes on and does it again)


davka said...

Very interesting. Being sex-positive, you want to feel a certain type of respect for customers, but, honestly, I feel a bit of contempt for all men who rent women in any way. I know, I know- how sex negative. I'm just saying. This is something inside myself that I am exploring and questioning. I would never be intimate with a man who frequented clubs or paid for sex regularly. I can't explain why, yet.

The men on the streets are particularly troubling to me mainly because of the class component. Women working on the streets are often vulnerable, poor-class, and drug-addicted. Maybe these are stereotypes pushed by sex-negative outreaches, but this is the statistical information and personal experience I have had. Girls with more options tend to work within a network and coverage, even if that's craigslist or incall or brothel. Working the streets is fucking dangerous and the women risking it are very often in a dangerzone in their lives. I don't like any man who would pick up these women. I see it as almost always exploitative and predatory. I would never be comfortable with a sexual interaction that wasn't consensual- and the presence of addiction and economic desperation really calls the free-choice of the sex-worker into question. Men that think that is hot are fucking gross to me.

And damn right you shouldn't be harassed on your own fucking street.

Brilliant piece and great conversation in the comments.

Grace said...

^Yes, Davka. Absolutely. We want to be sex-positive, but I don't think that should lure us into ignoring the sometimes ugly realities of sex work. Street-walking is just about the most dangerous and worst paid of any form of prostitution. A study comparing street-walkers to brothel-workers in Nevada found street walkers were highly unlikely to use protection, and far more likely to be diagnosed with STD, and to have experienced violence, including theft and rape, from their patrons.

A lot of the stereotypes about sex workers are based on this population, probably because of their visibility. You won't see the inside of a brothel or talk to an escort unless you make an effort, but everybody at some point will pass a prostitute on the street. The stereotypes are cruel -- desperate, uneducated, victimized, without options -- and as sex workers we all get tired of being tarred with that particular brush, but that doesn't mean there isn't some truth in there somewhere.

From what I've seen, at least, street prostitution is rarely an empowered choice. I don't condemn anyone who is driven to resort to it, but I'd feel like an idiot championing it. And I think the consumer of the service is, for lack of a better way to conceptualize it, accruing a lot of karma.

blogs said...

Prostitution is legal in Canada, solicitation for same is not and if a women is walking by herself in an area where there are street walkers the same thing happens

stephanie said...

My friend was coming out of a yoga class once and she had forgotten to bring a change of shoes. So she was walking down the street in shorts and a t-shirt and dressy shoes. She said a car pulled up and the guy smiled at her. Isn't that so bizarre? Like, I'm just walking out of yoga and I forgot my shoes. Now this guy thinks I'm a hooker.

Anonymous said...

But Grace, you are a whore...

Me said...

I'm from South America, and that kind of sexual harassment is a very common thing in the streets of Latin countries.
You have no idea what it is to walk in a street with not only one car, but several trying to get you. Or, to have a car driving by slow, making all kind of comments about your body.
Here in the USA happened to me one time, and guess who was in the car?
Two Spanish males. It's sucks!!! I hate it. Specially (like you) if I’m coming out of a special occasion that I’m feeling great and an idiot breaks that magic moment.


Anonymous said...

I live in the downtown area of Toronto near a couple of corners where street prostitution is common, I am also middle aged, bald and paunchy. Whenever I walk through these areas I get propositioned by some of these ladies. I try not to take it personally.

Audrey said...

I hate men like that because I feel like they are imposing on me. I am trying to enjoy my walk, or just get to wherever I am going, and they are just there- expecting me to be there for them.

I have other things to do than stroke your ego. And out here, whether they think you're a prostitute or not, they'll follow you for several blocks, trying to talk to you, and then when you don't answer, they yell, "No one was talkin' to you anyway, fuckin' bitch!" and speed off.