by Zyria Rodgers

Alright so, really embarrassing moment. 

I was at a Halloween party, lit off mini Kit Kats with my friends, dancing. I was so cute that night, dress sparkly, bawdy serving. But of course, the dress was dumb short, and the amount of ass-shaking was minimal— iykyk. So, one of my good friends and I settled for a good ol’ classic wine throughout the night. Now, there were a couple guys there that weren’t people I knew within the small black community. Maybe from another school? Probably grad students. 

I remember my friend and I were on the wall, doing our little wine and twist, maybe or maybe not looking ridiculous. One guy walked past, stopped, looked me up and down for an entire 5 seconds and laughed. He literally chuckled. I could feel every opinion he had of me bounce off of that chuckle. And just like that, my night went to shit. The short dialogue with my other friend in the aftermath of it all was weird. We, as most do when random strangers make themselves unnecessarily present, shortly side-eyed him for being invasive and tried to move on. But I’d be lying if I said it took everything in me not to cry for the rest of the night. 

That night the pervasiveness, the invasiveness of the male gaze became acutely present to me. Every moment that it had ever inserted itself and ruined moments of my life emerged from deep in the folds of my brain. It was a traumatizing slideshow, flick by ugly flick to the dying calypso in the background. Faceless men tower over every corner and edge of the room, the dance floor. All of them feeling and looking like looming watchmen, mouths wet and hungry, big and merciless as they cower over every single body in sight. 

They slide past, “my fault” you and your homegirls to death, sweaty hand on the small of your back just for the sake of getting by. If you’re watching close enough, in this murky dark room, you can see the swimming pupils on milky white glance over every face in the clique, every curve of her figure, how her wine works, what he wants to do with her, on her. He scans for that something that makes his dick rise or he moves on, pushing, thrusting, sliding, finessing through these bodies without a thought in his meaty head. Or, if he does find that thing, he, and the 3 or 4 like him, will post up right behind y’all. And watch for the moment where he can finally put this pulsing, prying urge to rest. 

My whole night was now dedicated to replaying the scene, tensing up when I got near that same nigga, sizing him up and identifying every last one of his insecurities and shortcomings in less than 6 seconds (some true toxic Virgo shit). It was amazing to me how much work I immediately began doing, trying to compensate for all of the not-enough that I felt, a weight that I didn’t even ask, want or care to bear. 

Ultimately I’m embarrassed writing this. Embarrassed that I care so much, embarrassed that I’m sharing it, embarrassed because I was just enjoying a moment and someone else’s opinion took my joy away and turned me back into a self-conscious little baby girl with crippling social anxiety. I’ve worked so hard to build and nurture the self-esteem I have and out of nowhere someone tampers with that little pot of soil. Whether the shit is growing or not, it’s nobody’s right to fuck with my dirt. 

But regardless of whether I’ve been tending to a raging forest of confidence or depleted granules of earth, or if anybody actually has the power to mess with my dirt anyway, it ain’t fun to be surveilled. Party culture is widely characterized by men taking up and dictating the space in a way that is solely for their own satisfaction: only allowing women into parties just so there’s more girls to flirt with, men not allowing big girls into the club, men literally pushing their pelvises against a woman’s ass just to move through the crowd. Nowhere in these scenarios are women’s basic boundaries considered. And as much as I would love to end this with a sweet call-to-action, I won’t. Y’all should know better. If you didn’t, now you do. So, get right.

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