Saturday, April 28, 2012

Social issues: Feminism vs. Homelessness, an anecdote

I know, you all are still anxiously awaiting my second post about how I became the pervert I am today. But that requires a lot of introspection and my visitors do not allow time for such things as introspection. It is half done, but today I have for you a story that leaves me feeling a little unhappy.

During a bit of a holiday in San Francisco, we stopped to be amazed at and take tons of photographs of Ruth Asawa's San Francisco Fountain. I had the camera and I wanted a photo of the plaque so I could read it later, and my husband wandered around the other side of the fountain to look at the sculptures there.

It's really something. If you're ever in San Francisco you should make it a point to see it. We just happened on it accidentally, but it's really beautiful. This guy came up while I was taking photos of the different parts of the fountain, seemingly having waited until my husband left my side.

"Hey, take my picture," he said, posing with the fountain.

I was stunned. Not used to random people wanting me to take their pictures with my own camera. Have taken other people's photos with their cameras plenty of times in the years I've been travelling, but never this. WTF. "You want me to take your picture?" I asked, a little confused.

"Yeah, go ahead." He posed, but my camera has a tiny lag, and he looked over at my husband by the time the photo snapped. You can see him right on the edge of the photo, the guy is looking at him. Yummy.

This guy came over to me and said "Let me see," so I complied with the request but he never really looked. It was a bright sunny day and I'd been using the digital viewfinder all day just to see my own photos, hadn't even bothered with the larger screen - it was almost impossible to see. He started rambling off about being from Jamaica.

"That's cool," I said.

"I just need a dollar to get me a hot dog," he said, done with the pretense of friendliness.

"I don't carry money," I responded. I had $10 for all of us to get on the bus later, but that was it. Even if I had money I wouldn't want it spent on a hot dog. I'm a vegan and I don't carry money! Last time I had to tell that to homeless people I DID have half a package of Fig Newmans on me and I gave them that. I'm certainly not heartless.

"Oh c'mon," he said, "everyone says that!"

"It's true!" I said.

He stalked away from me angrily and I heard his muttered words drift back to me on the wind: "Greedy lying bitch..."

Even if I was! I was trying to have a moment alone with my husband - our little one and my mom had just taken their leave of us for the duration of the few minutes it took for us to see this fountain, and this guy ruined that, suddenly made me feel unsafe.

We work hard. We don't take a lot of travel time nowadays, since we had the little one. What right does this guy have to first intrude on my personal space, make me feel unsafe, and then to call me a liar and storm away?

I was first extremely shaken - I didn't finish taking as many photographs as I would have liked of the fountain, and my husband came back over to me and I wrapped my arm around his waist, asking him not to leave me. As I got over being shaken, I became flat-out angry that I couldn't be left alone at all - regardless of if my husband was mere feet from me - without this guy trying to make some kind of gain from it.

As it happened, the guy took off in the same direction we were going, back to Union Square Park, and we saw him doing his routine with several other women who were alone. He cupped his hands around the cigarette of one to shield it from the wind while she lit it before he went into his spiel about the hot dog.

Okay. I have a place to sleep tonight.

But a homeless man still takes advantage of his male privilege and manages to make me feel unsafe and belittled even when I am completely willing to talk to him and be open and honest.

I am pissed, and now in the safety of my own home, I feel a little guilty for being pissed.

What the hell is up with that?


  1. Hi,

    San Francisco is a beautiful city, I am sorry that he spoiled part of the trip for you.


    1. It is a beautiful city and we're fortunate to be close enough to it to not really be tourists. I mean, we can go back and not be spoiled sometime. Thanks for the sympathy. :)

  2. You have every right to be pissed, Conina--no need to feel guilty. The guy was rude, demanding, insulting, intimidating and basically a jerk. Why feel guilty about that? I get that he's homeless, but polite is a requirement for everyone...

    1. Yeah, I've had much much better interactions with homeless folks. They're generally much more sanguine in my experience.

      The guilt is part of what's pissing me off, too. I appreciate the validation.

  3. You should be mad. He invaded your space and even your phone! If anything you were too nice putting up with that phone stuff. A nice normal homeless person will just simply ask if you have change for a hot dog. End of. And if you say no, they just move on to the next person. The name-calling is likely the result of first developing some kind of short-term "relationship" with you through the phone nonsense. And once you had become like acquaintances, and you wouldn't give him money, he got obnoxious.

    1. I know, I was stunned. I was thrown at first because he just looked like a tourist, until he got close and I got a better look at his face.

      I thought I was exceptionally nice to interact with him at all, as most people around there just ignore everybody altogether, homeless or no.

      It did seem like he felt entitled once he'd taken the time to be "nice" to me, but that's fucked up logic right there. I think he was also in a rush because he realized my husband would be returning to my side in a moment and he would be SOL then.

  4. Hvae you considered that he may not have been homeless? He may have just been an ass that targets and preys on women. It's unfortunate, but there are plenty of people who are taking advantage of the poor economy and the generosity of others for there own gain.

    And what does it say about our society that a woman alone, even for a brief moment becomes a potential target?

    1. Yeah, he looked really clean at first which is why I was initially stunned when he started talking to me like any other tourist.

      The social issue of me becoming a target by being alone, literally for 20 seconds, really got my goat.

      By contrast, I spent two days alone in Seattle last year and not one single person bothered me. I suppose that was just my good fortune, or perhaps because it was November and less tourists were around to prey on in the first place.

  5. San Francisco is where I learned never to stop my forward propulsion on the street even to answer a question. Once you stop there, you are exposed. It is sad and it makes me grouchy too.

    1. Yeah, I find I feel that way in many many places. Just keep walking like you have a destination even if you don't, don't look around like anything is interesting, don't look like a target. GRRRR.

      That pisses me off the most because everything interests me - especially architecture, so even when I live somewhere I find myself pointing my camera at random buildings, the windows of 100+ year old buildings especially fascinate me.

      I had no idea the security of travelling with a companion was so limited though. The fact that we were together always seemed to shield us from most intrusions - it never occurred to me that it was because I was a woman out with a man, I thought we were mutual protection for each other. Now that that has occurred to me, I'm ticked.

  6. I very rarely give money. I have given dog food, bread, water, sweaters, etc. And I find that if people really need it, they are just as, or more happy, to get those things than money. And I think it's rare that money begged gets used for food.
    My father was homeless for a time and never asked for money. My mother in law is off and on homeless and wouldn't be caught dead begging for anything.
    My sil is a junky. She will ask anyone for money, and I won't give her a penny--because I know it's all going in her veins.

    More than anything perhaps its the approach that implies they are entitled to what you have that grates the wrong way? And being an asshole when you don't get what you want doesn't win any points either lol.

    I think that maybe the guilt stems from wanting to do good and feeling bad about it not working out that way?
    It is painful to see people who are genuinely in need of life's basic necessities.
    Of course, some of them aren't really--there's a man in our town who is always hitting everyone on the street up for money. His family has more money than god and he has access to it. So it's his personal choice.

    Omgoodness. I may have made no sense at all. This is one of those overboard comments that could have been its own post. But now I feel invested and like I have to click "publish" lol. Sorry.

    1. I love this comment. :) Don't apologize.

      I agree about the money begged hardly ever being used for food, which is why I don't like to give money even when I do have it. If I have extra food on me, I'm happy to share what I have. People around where I went to college would hang out at the gas stations and give people pumping gas these sob stories about needing some specific amount of money to "Get home," ($2.45 or some random number), so I know what you mean.

      I think his attitude that if I did have any money I owed it to him is the main thing that grated on me, yes. That and his immediate targeting of me once my husband left my side, and his similar M.O. with other unaccompanied women later on.

      The guilt stems perhaps from him having stormed off and from me not having helped him out - but that's not on me. It's not my job to help him. And so the guilt and the anger kind of feed each other. The guilt makes me angry and the anger makes me feel guilty, and so on.

  7. I'm sorry to hear that happened to you, Conina. It annoyed me most that he tried to be friendly with you and then you did something nice for him -- taking a picture while he posed, and then after he was done playing nicey, he started asking for things, and when that didn't work, he called you names. He basically took advantage, and in a very creepy way. If he'd just asked nicely, then it wouldn't have been a problem, but that's not the case. I don't blame you for being upset, I would have been shaken as well. Any negative words, even from a stranger, can still hurt.

    1. He was very creepy. Thanks for the sympathy.


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