As much as it irritates me to have to do so, I take precautions when I go out in public. I don't walk alone unless I am in a well-traveled area (a designation I sort of arbitrarily set as having at least 10 other people within sight). I don't walk at night. When I do venture out alone, I try to look as inconspicuous as possible. I started taking these measured precautions after my rape three years ago.
They began as a source of comfort; I was so embarrassed and ashamed after my assault that I wanted to melt away, to just be another face in the crowd. After I began to process my assault in therapy, I became frustrated as I grew to understand no person should have to change their behavior or dress to avoid sexual assault. Still, some small part of me believed and hoped that, if I played by the rules of sexists and misogynists, they would leave me alone.
I'm pretty sure we know how that usually pans out.
When PokÃ©mon Go debuted a month ago, I was hesitant to download the app. I wasn't apathetic about the PokÃ©mon Universe; I was really just trying to disconnect from my smartphone and didn't want another app to potentially occupy too much of my time and attention. But, within a week, I caved in to my curiosity and downloaded the app.
Initially, I had a great time wandering the streets with my fiancÃ©, Luke. I live in the Bay Area, so each block was packed with new creatures and PokÃ©stops. Luke works in Berkeley and I work in San Francisco, so we often would text each other over lunch to discuss (and shamelessly brag) about finding different PokÃ©mon. I laughed with my coworkers about the Golbat lurking around the office and snapped pictures of small local business street signs offering "PokÃ©mon Specials!" to draw customers and tourists. Like any mass cultural attraction, there were downsides: People would step into streets, police departments had to release announcements to not #CatchAndDrive, and some more-than-questionable PokÃ©stops and PokÃ©mon were set up in inappropriate venues, but it was still a fun, innocent way to get outside and enjoy myself.
Just as with my walking habits, I followed the "rules" set for me: I looked both ways before crossing the street, didn't play on busy sidewalks, and made sure I stayed in public, well-trafficked areas. My hope was, as it had been for years, that I would just be another inconspicuous face in the crowd. And much like before, I watched that hope crash and burn.
The first time it happened, I was waiting for my train on my way to work. I stood in line on the platform with other commuters, several of whom had their phones out catching PokÃ©mon. I had just captured a Dewgong and was having a small moment of internal celebration because it was my first time seeing one since downloading the app. In that moment of celebration, I did not notice the young guy peering over my shoulder until he asked if I wanted to work on my Breeder's badge with him. Confused, I told him that is not how that badge works, that it's just for hatching eggs, and there was no part of the game set up for breeding PokÃ©mon. His reaction was immediate, visceral, and, well, disgusting.
"If you weren't interested in me, you could just say it and not be a stuck-up bitch about it!" As he walked away muttering "bitch," I closed the app and haven't opened it since.
At first, I was pretty surprised by the street harassment I experienced. But over the next couple of days, I read articles by people of color who shared they could not enjoy the game for the very apt fear of racial profiling and other potentially deadly expressions of racism. Then I realized that the harassment I experienced wasn't something necessarily new. It felt different because a new platform had arisen for these institutional problems to inhabit.
This is when I started getting frustrated and, yes, angry. For the past three years, I had bent over backward trying to satisfy all the demeaning and unnecessary "rules" on how to be safe from sexual harassment. I knew these precautions were stupid, sexist, and wrong. I knew that no woman should have to fundamentally alter herself or her expression of self in order to feel or be safe, but I hid anyway. Now, a beloved childhood game was being marred by the unwarranted sexualization of my mere existence.
My experience is about more than just an app; it is about the futility of trying to avoid sexual harassment. In that moment on the train platform, I was clad in jeans and a baggy cardigan. I heard the same disturbing comments that I received while wearing a sundress last month, while wearing leggings last winter.
It shouldn't matter what I am wearing, nor should it matter what I am doing. I shouldn't be sexualized. After that PokÃ©mon-based come-on, I am now personally aware of the irony that it doesn't matter what I am wearing or doing. I will be sexualized. The precautions I clung to won't change sexual harassment or make me immune to the catcalls. Nothing will, until something changes.