Walking Single Face: I’m Not Angry, I’m Just Unwed & Commuting
A new series that explores what it's really like to be single in your 30s and NGAF.
“Don’t you tell me to smile.” - Beastie Boys, “Intergalactic”, 1998
But oh, the second my single ass gets off the subway and begins to traverse New York City’s streets people get chatty alright — specifically male people, specifically dicks. My reality is that the only attention I get is unwanted.
I endure catcalling, or cat-eye-fucking, every time I leave the house. Some people are not bothered by it, but I am. I am bothered by the “hey beautifuls” and the “smile babys” and the grease-stained stares that follow me as I pass by men with their pockets full of entitlement. I am bothered by the words, but even morso the heads that turn and follow, sticking to me like spider webs, and covering me in unwashable slop.
To combat this, I’ve developed something I call Walking Single Face. It’s my defense against what happens to me when I leave the house. You might think it’s Resting Bitch Face, that old sexist chestnut, but it’s not. I’m not angry, or mean, or dealing with a terribly uncomfortable underwire — I’m just trying to get from one place to another without allowing the onslaught of unwanted comments from total strangers to whittle away at me.
I walk everywhere, it’s my primary and favourite mode of transportation. I get off the subway 10 stops early if time allows, that’s how much I love to use my feet. But in order to simply move, I must steel myself against the male eyes and mouths that won’t just leave me alone, that use me as if I am theirs to do with as they please. As if that sidewalk was placed there to carry me to them, as opposed to the drugstore for a new bottle of Elnett.
“But Shani, we know all about catcalling. It happens to everyone. This has been covered.” Has it? Have we discussed the disproportionate amount of streetside bullshit that single women have to deal with compared to partnered women? I think I’ve established that I’m single. What I am is not even single anymore, that's how long it's been since I’ve had consistent male company. Have you ever been so single you're sangle? That's me. So I feel that I have standing to make a pretty strong statement on this topic. Has it ever been said in digital ink that partnered women get a break from it at some point and that 100% of the time I and other single women do not? Has that been covered, Karen? Because imma cover it.
Partnered women logistically get catcalled less than single women because at least some of the time partnered women are walking with — wait for it — their partner. Single women do not have a partner to walk with ever and therefore deal with more catcalling than the wifed. I’m not saying it should be even, I am saying it should stop entirely, and until it does, give your single friend a fucking hug.
What is it about women walking with men that makes other men behave themselves? I like to think it’s fear. It could be respect, but let’s not give pond algae that much credit. “I better not look at that one. If I try to play with another boy’s toys he’ll punch me. But I can play with the single ones, nobody cares what you say to them. I mean, she cares, but she doesn’t matter, she’s alone.”
If it’s fear that keeps catcallers quiet around other men, it’s fear that keeps me quiet around catcallers, too.
I find myself scowling (more) at couples on the street with each passing day. Not just because they walk hand in hand and command a proportion of sidewalk that squeezes me out into the bike lane like a peasant, but more because nobody’s saying anything to them. There aren’t catcallers saying “mmm, yeah I’d like to threesome that shit” as they walk by, it simply doesn’t happen. You get company and respect? I actually hate you.
If it’s fear that keeps catcallers quiet around other men, it’s fear that keeps me quiet around catcallers, too. I could get verbally abusive or violent with a catcaller. I have that inside of me, bet your mortgage money. But there’s the fear that physically, whatever I’d do to him, he’d do worse to me. My mental health always takes the hit for my physical well being, ain’t that the tits?
So I stay silent, I blast Lily Allen in my AirPods and stare straight ahead, never veering off visual course, lest they slice away at me even more by a revolting moment of eye contact that, regardless of my expression, they’ll take as encouragement. So now when I walk around I look like I will kill your whole family and then go get an iced coffee or perhaps a blueberry scone.
I’ve learned that a tough outward appearance, if not a preventative measure for catcalling, at least makes me feel strong, tough enough to take incoming fire. Honestly I’m willing to try anything to stay sane, least of which is looking like a rabid bitch.
“But Shani, if you walk around like you’ve been hired as muscle for a gangster in a terribly predictable ‘90s movie, aren’t you worried that while you’re trying to put off the men you don’t want, you’re putting off the men you do want, too?”
Now you’re paying attention.
Yes, I am worried about that, thank you for asking. It is exhausting. The constant mental calculation assessing how much I’m willing to put up with. Because I want to attract men, but only some men, and I can’t filter the world. But I never get the thing I want anyway, even if I constantly smile. So why bother caring about my appearance if all it’s going to net me is another entitled asshole licking his lips as I walk by?
Should I just exist in baggy sweats and early generation Hermione hair? I don’t want to! I want to be proud of my appearance. But then I have to compensate for that in another way. If I’m wearing makeup, I want a coat with a hood. If I’m wearing heels, I’ll wear long pants. If I’m showing skin of any kind, I take a Lyft. I was never shy before. But years of catcalling without reprieve have made me afraid to be noticed. Even by the attention I’ve spent a decade seeking out.
My face is not resting, it is on the clock. Long ago I made the decision to give up on attracting some men because I was visible to all men. Because I never know when I’ll encounter one. And since that last sentence could be said both about men I’d like to meet and men I’d like to put through a paper shredder, if I’m walking somewhere, my battle face is, too. So that when catcalling trash see me and decide they’re entitled to do and say anything they want to the single woman passing by, I am never alone. My Walking Single Face is with me, and she’ll kick your ass if you mess with her girl.