Even if I were willing to overlook and brave the multitudes of stray dogs that roam the streets of Los Angeles day and night, added to the growing number of “cracked and coked out” zombies that do the same, and the possibility of being mugged, I am simply not willing to subject myself to what I refer to as the “T&A Tax,” the price of being female on the streets of South Los Angeles.
City officials and ad agency executives glamorizing the usage of public transportation have obviously never tried walking a block in my neighborhood. In my neighborhood, the “T&A Tax” is paid everyday by females, who unlike me, don’t have a choice on whether or not to leave their car at home. Where I live, women of all ages, races, and sizes-mothers, sisters, and daughters are considered fair game, forcing us to walk quickly and quietly with our heads down in hopes of not attracting unwanted attention. You know, the kind of attention that usually starts with a “hey baby, where’s yo’ man?,” or “can I get’cho numba?” Oftentimes, there’s some derogatory comment included about how big “it” is, or what they’d like to do with “them.”
Who wants to deal with that every time they have somewhere to go? Not me, I have enough issues with my self-esteem without having to fend off strange men who get a rise from seeing a big ass and breast.
Some men are bold. They’ll pull up next to you while you’re walking down street or at the bus stop minding your own business and in all of their manliness, verbally sexually violate you just because they can. And if you try to ignore them, or in my case tell them to fuck off, then you gotta be the bitch.
I’ll never forget when I was in high school and had no choice but to take the bus, I was at the intersection of Van Ness and Slauson when a man pulled up next to me naked in the car masturbating. I kid you not, some things you just can’t forget.
More recently while waiting in Inglewood at the intersection of Prarie and Manchester in front of the Forum before the start of a R. Kelly protest, I had to walk back to my car and wait because of the horns and sexual slurs hurled at me from men driving by, men old enough to be my father and grandfather. Did I mention I was attending the protest of R “14 Counts of Child Porno” Kelly? Ironic, but true.
It doesn’t matter how tight or loose your clothes fit. In certain parts of Los Angeles, as long as you have “T&A,” you’re considered fair game.
Many of the men that participate in the daily sexual humiliation of women from the comfort of their cars are husbands, boyfriends, and fathers, some “good church going” men, most who probably either just dropped off or picked up their kids or woman. But none of that matters. Once they’re solo, if they see a female on the street and they like what they see, they’re going to let you know, whether you like it or not.
I know that this is a hard topic to raise in our community because it means that as women, we have to examine the role we play in all of this and the fact that many of the men who partake in this behavior are our men. We also have to acknowledge that this behavior routinely happens in our neighborhoods, and not in their neighborhoods.
It’s true, some females mistake sexual objectification for admiration. For example, those young ladies who think that car rims and a sound system make the world go around and because he pulled over and stopped to holla you got it going on. Not knowing how they look leaning into the window of a car standing on the street. I should know, I used to be one of them but then I grew up.
Today, I don’t appreciate the attention and in my case it’s actually debilitating. Being pursued as I walk down the street by some man old enough to be my grandfather in a Cadillac made the same year I was born is not fun for me. It’s because of this that I will not walk the streets of South Los Angeles alone, not even to the bus stop, not even to save money. The humiliation I am forced to endure is simply not worth it for me.
So you see, I’d really like to be a team player and join my fellow Angelinos on the Metro. Saving money and my sanity from our insanely congested streets sounds like a winning combination to me. However, unless there’s a plan to curb the rampant, blatant, and vulgar verbal sexual assaults that come along with doing that and I have a car, don’t look for this sista on the bus anytime soon. Check back with me when we get to $5 a gallon.
To the women who don’t have a choice, be strong.
Jasmyne Cannick n is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. A regular contributor to NPR’s ‘News and Notes,’ she was chosen as one Essence Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com or www.myspace.com/jasmynecannick.