I yank out a red basket from the pile and walk towards the fresh produce. “Excuse me,” I hear a man behind me.
I turn around, an unimpressed look on my face. There are only two possibilities – this man wants directions (which would be strange considering I’m in a supermarket) or he is trying to hit on me.
“Don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell you anything or talk about religion, I promise” he says, trying to change my expression.
“Really, I’m not. I just saw you on the escalator and wanted to tell you that I think you’re really beautiful.”
I look over at the escalator outside the supermarket; he has followed me in. I turn around and begin to walk away.
“What? Don’t run away!”
I keep walking.
I know, I didn’t think you were a frog. I look back briefly due to the absurdity of his words and continue to walk away, searching for whatever it is I walked in here for. I’m sure it wasn’t a human.
Unable to shake off the situation, I feel uncomfortable until I leave. Where does one get the confidence to follow someone into a supermarket to compliment them? I can hardly work up the courage to tell a waitress there’s a hair in my food.
The first time a man approached me on the street it, similarly, wasn’t so much of an approach as it was incessant following. He stopped me along Swanston St to tell me how attractive he thought I was. I was 19; he must have been nearing 30.
“Thank you”, I say as I turn right towards an escalator.
“Where are you going?” He asks.
“Priceline” I reply, still walking. He gets on the escalator behind me. I politely continue the conversation as we approach the store, not knowing what else to do.
He follows me in. What now? Can I tell the staff that a man is following me and I would like him to leave? Do I pretend I’m buying a year’s supply of tampons or some diarrhoea medication to scare him off?
I look at hair dye. He asks why. I tell him I am thinking about dying my hair red. He asks why.
Eventually he asks where I live and when I tell him – an hour out of Melbourne, I’m just here for the day – he leaves. Apparently I’m not long-distance material.
Dear men, please don’t approach me and definitely do not follow me. I am trying to do my shopping. I am walking home. I don’t have the energy to talk to you and you are making me uncomfortable.
I am carrying heavy grocery bags on both arms as I walk up the stairs to leave the shopping centre and walk home.
I turn around.
I look him in the eyes. “Thank you.” I turn to walk away.
“What? No, don’t leave!” I turn my head back.
He seems truly in shock that I haven’t jumped at joy at his comment, that I haven’t flung myself into his arms and asked where he has been all this time. Obviously he believes that all I have ever wanted was for a strange man to tell me that I am beautiful.
“You’re just like a butterfly, aren’t you? One moment you’re here and then you just fly away.”
I trudge home wishing I really could fly away.
I don’t know why these men expect me to treat them like decent humans when they treat me like their prey.
Like many women, I try to avoid stopping alone in public for too long as it tends to attract unwanted male attention. I have earphones, I have a book, I have five shopping bags and sunglasses, but nothing stops them – trust me, I’ve tried.
These men must think that if they keep walking up to women with compliments and then lingering around waiting for their reward, that it will come. One day, a woman will thank him profusely and shout, “You won! You won me; I’m your girlfriend now. And you’re my boyfriend. I’ll just get your boyfriend badge, it’s in my bag, I carry it around with me just in case anyone ever follows me for long enough to win it. Lucky you!”
I see what men write on these kinds of articles online –
‘Oh, stop complaining that you’re beautiful’
‘Well I hope she knows why she’s single’
‘Wtf? Are we calling this news now? What happened to good journalism?’
‘That’s not real harassment bitch.’
Men with extra confidence where their boundaries should be.
Your compliment deserves nothing more than a thank you, and following women is never okay.
Nicole McKenzie is a writer, performer and event producer. She has written for The Lifted Brow, The Cusp, ArtsHub and various other publications and performed at Melbourne Fringe Festival, the Sustainable Living Festival and the National Young Writers Festival. As a creative producer for the 2017 Emerging Writers’ Festival Nicole programmed a literature themed live game show, complete with songs about grammar.