I walk with a purposeful stride, headphone music setting the pace for my steps. Through peripheral vision I detect a car slowing to my side. It slows to a stop and I pass it, vision pressed forward but nonetheless I am aware of its path. It begins to accelerate, approximately to the speed I am walking. This is not a coincidence. In addition to cat calls and staring when I pass by on Istanbul sidewalks, men in cars pull over to proposition me. They speed away when I make it understood with a gesture of the hand or a lewd word that I don’t seek such attention. But this behavior perplexes me. I do not make eye contact. I dress modestly. And still, I am a walking pin-up in a junior high school boys’ locker room.
Is it because I am foreign? Because it’s a macho culture? Or perhaps it’s all a slimy byproduct of socially imposed sexual repression?
When I grew tired of reacting to each and every gawk, I learned a new kind of vision, seeing people and seeing beyond them at the same time. Not observing and not acknowledging attention seemed to be working. The men want attention, I don’t give it, and so they learn that looks and words don’t work.
As I descended a set of stairs one day I saw a group of men below. A tiny stream of adrenaline leaked within as I prepared myself to walk by without seeming disturbed by their presence. One of the men uttered something. I ignored it.
He touched my head.
I jerked out of the way and left a trail of obscenities as I walked away. He too made offensive gestures as his friends looked on and laughed.
After the shock from a stranger actually touching me subsided, I remained only disappointed that I reacted. But it is not easy to be perpetually aware of mental molestation by most male eyes day in and day out and not react.
I prefer not to react, although I suspect this preference is motivated by a passive sort of vengeance. There is admittedly a sadistic satisfaction knowing that it might emasculate the men that I choose to ignore.
And yet I ask myself, when I choose to look forward staunchly in the presence of an intense stare, does the vision of their shrinking self images fill me with a karmic toxin?
If I am as adversely affected by silence as I am by rebellion, it is hard to see the value of practicing non-reaction. Not reacting, as I presently know it, is simply turning the knife blade from facing outward to inward.