From the outside, Mr. Stadium Laundromat is as unassuming as you’d expect a laundromat to be. Situated next to a bowling alley on South Industrial Highway, down the road from the popular breakfast spot Benny’s, Mr. Stadium’s charm lies within its automatic sliding doors. The well-lit, clean and cavernous room has walls that hum from the dozens of washing machines and dryers, and the place perpetually smells like detergent and warm clothes.
This past Sunday afternoon, I drove to Mr. Stadium to do laundry after weathering out a terrible respiratory virus that I’m pretty sure three-quarters of the campus is battling right now. From Friday to Sunday, I was quarantined from the world, sipping on Zingerman’s chicken broth while sweating through both of my sets of sheets and watching “Making a Murderer” in a NyQuil-induced fog. The show, which tells the true story of a man who’s convicted of brutally sexually assaulting a woman, was disturbing. After waking up in a panic from a nightmare in which I was raped, I switched over to “Parks and Rec.”
Thus, the Laundromat was the setting of my first human interaction in more than 48 hours. My head still throbbed and my throat was still sore, but I took solace in the familiar hum of the machines and the smell of fresh clothing. That is, until I realized I was being watched.
The man looked like a stereotypical sketchy guy, practically straight out of central casting — mid-30s, shaved head, soul patch beard and (naturally) wearing a wife beater. And he stared. He stared while standing too close, choosing a table about three feet away from me to lean against when he could’ve taken up space just about anywhere else. He began with furtive glances before graduating to a full on gape, his eyes scanning over my face, the underwear I was folding, my body, my ass. He particularly looked at my ass. He was undressing me with his eyes, imaging the shape of my figure underneath my sweater. Although I knew I wasn’t in immediate danger — there were plenty of other people around — I sized him up out of the corner of my eye. He wasn’t particularly big, so I mused with the idea of kicking him in the balls if he tried to touch me. Then I kept my head low and tried to forget he was there.
When I moved to switch a load to the dryer, his eyes tracked me across the room so closely that another man noticed. He asked if I knew the first man, and when I said no, asked if I felt uncomfortable and looked back over at the man who stared. The haughty, snide countenance with which he had surveyed my body flashed to panic when he realized he had been “discovered,” and he walked briskly through the sliding glass doors to his car.
It was then when I realized he wasn’t carrying any laundry — he must’ve come just to watch.
When I talked to the management about what had happened, they apologized profusely and told me I wasn’t the first to report a man lingering, staring and following women at Mr. Stadium. Suddenly, yesterday’s nightmare of sexual assault seemed far less like a terrible dream and more like a potential reality. What if he had followed me out to my car? What if I had been the only other person there?
Just like many other women, my life is dotted by experiences like these. These sometimes subtle but oftentimes more overt sexual aggressions are carried out by men who lack an awareness of their actions. And it’s not just the man at the laundromat. It’s the random guy at Rick’s who slides his hand across my waist and stomach with an “excuse me” in my ear as he passes through the crowd. It’s the drunk friend of a friend who won’t leave me alone until I give him a goodnight kiss. It’s the Uber driver who calls me a “pretty little thing” and then suggests following me up to my apartment for a drink. These actions aren’t flattering, and they make me feel everything from uncomfortable to threatened.
These experiences are inextricably intertwined with the female experience, and for me, they’re nothing new. The first time I noticed a man suggestively staring at me was when I was 14 and barely old enough to comprehend the stare’s inherent sexual nature. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that unwanted sexual advances boil down to an issue of entitlement and authority — some men feel that if an attractive woman captures their attention, they’re entitled to look and touch. And oftentimes, it takes the authority of another man — rather than the woman herself — to shatter that false sense of entitlement.
These actions are more than just “creepy,” and when we relegate them to a flaw in a man’s personality rather than a wider, cultural sense of male entitlement, we dilute the consequences of these actions. Unwanted sexual advances, like the man’s stare in the laundromat, can rob a woman of her sense of security. They have real impacts.
Because of that man, I felt unsafe and uncomfortable at 3 p.m. in public surrounded by other people. And it certainly didn’t help that this unsavory encounter was one of my first interactions with humanity in more than two days. As I packed up my laundry, I paused to remember what an ugly place the world can be sometimes. Then, I looked up the number for a laundry delivery service.
Anne Katz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.