To the editors,
Regarding Mark Weinberg, "Working for Change," March 1:
When I moved to the Loop about nine years ago, I routinely gave to "the homeless." It only took a few months before any charitable impulse I had vanished in the face of ingratitude, harassment, coercion, and the realization that these were, by and large, bad people who didn't need my encouragement to be parasites on the body politic.
But there is a feminist issue that should be addressed. I teach at the Fine Arts Building on South Michigan Avenue. A few years back there was a particularly obnoxious beggar who plopped right down on the pavement in front of our entrance just about every day. A white kid, perhaps in his 20s, though he looked like a boy. He would sob and hold out a cup, affecting the persona of a lost child. He was apparently successful at eliciting shock, horror, sympathy--and cash--because he was always there.
I never gave to him, or any other beggars for that matter, because after only a few weeks of living and working in the Loop, I was disabused of any charitable impulse I might have had in the face of repeated coercion and ingratitude for the few times I did foolishly contribute. So I ignored this guy, and he ignored me. Then one day my wife visited me at my studio. She was shaken. "Some guy on the street just called me a fuckin' bitch." She described the assailant, and there was no doubt that it was my little cup-rattling friend. So I went down there and told him that I would kick his ass if he ever bothered my wife or any other woman who traversed my little corner of the Loop. He vanished from my world, but no doubt reappeared in a new location, to harass, intimidate, and verbally punish women who didn't buy his poor, lost boy act.
So, when discussing the panhandling issue, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that women inhabit a far different world than men. And what many of us men consider to be a mere nuisance is to women a degrading blight that colors their already burdensome world with menace.