Last week was my second shift at a soup kitchen here. It's held daily in an Episcopal church, which made me feel a little like I was finding home again since leaving Pennsylvania and Community Cafe. Still, of course the experience is different here and the population very different too. While many of the patrons at CC were poor or food insecure, the patrons here are generally homeless or destitute, and overwhelmingly male.
I was assigned to hand out trays at the beginning of the line which means I greeted every one of the 250-300 patrons who came through. About 50% were polite and quiet, while 25% were explicitly thankful and appreciative (an attitude I neither require nor desire, since food is a human right and providing it is fulfilling a moral duty). The remaining 25% or so made what could be called openly harassing comments that another male wouldn't be subjected to ("How you doin baby?" "Damn, girl looking good this morning." "Hey sweetie, are you married?" "What're you doing after you get out of here?" and even the pathetic, "Did it hurt... when you fell out of heaven?").
I stood there wondering whether it would be safe for me to leave the church by myself. It's a nervousness I have felt hundreds of times. I also felt the equally familiar sense of shame and absolute diminishment. I don't think that most men could ever possibly understand that feeling of being utterly objectified for someone else's amusement or pleasure and totally dismissed as a complete human being.
It could be easy to swat away what I experienced as a result of interacting with an impoverished or uneducated population, but that would completely miss the fundamental issue. Our nation has recently been confronted by a billionaire who takes pleasure in sexually objectifying young women, and that puts into glaring relief the fact that this isn't a class problem, but a male culture problem.
I don't think I will ever get over my rage and disappointment at having had to live my entire life, as most women do, feeling that to a greater or lesser degree I will never be listened to or taken as seriously as a man would.
I spoke with the supervisor who was entirely sympathetic. And tomorrow I will go back for my third shift, because even people who aren't well behaved deserve to eat. I continue to believe in the rights of all human beings. But I won't be handing out trays again, because I believe in my own rights too.