Forming Street Acquaintances

A lady never forms an acquaintance upon the street, or seeks to attract the attention or admiration of persons of the other sex. To do so would render false her claims to ladyhood, if it did not make her liable to far graver charges.


"Waiting in public gets criminalised like loitering with intent, vagrancy, soliciting, waiting for their backs to turn, lying in wait ... There is something possibly very criminal about waiting ... the potential of it, the open-endedness of it, the perceived threat of it ..."


For women, of course, this idea of waiting in a public space is attached to the idea of being a 'public woman': the most likely outcome of becoming a public woman is to become a prostitute.2 To be a prostitute is to consort with known criminals as well as become attached to other criminal acts and behaviours. . The woman's body is made available and criminalised because she waits in a space which is not hers, in which she is out of place.


In public space, the woman is like a Sphinx, ostensibly presenting more problems than she solves. She symbolises disorder and is therefore a problem, an irruption and an ambiguity. "In the heart of the ... labyrinth lurked not the minotaur, a bull-like male monster, but the female Sphinx, the 'strangling one' who was so called because she strangled all those who could not answer her riddle."1 The riddle is simply that of her presence: of her sexuality, of her identity, of her 'unnaturalness'.


The Street Manners of a Lady

A lady never demands attention and favours from a gentleman, but, when voluntarily offered, accepts them gratefully, graciously, and with an expression of hearty thanks.


'Then there's the stranger ... ideas of menace and rescue. It is the stranger who occupies our imaginations ... the stranger defines waiting as mysterious, risky and possibly romantic. The woman is a muse for the narrative. She is the necessary subtext for imagining the stranger. It's a kind of obvious nonsense that women wait, but it has narrative potency.'


Through the stranger, we define our territories. We experience borders, as well as escape routes. If strangers did not exist, we would have to invent them. "And they are indeed invented, zealously and with gusto, patched together with salient or minute and unobtrusive distinction marks. They are useful precisely in their capacity of stranger; their strangerhood is to be protected and caringly preserved. They are indispensable signposts in the life itinerary without plan and direction. They must be as many and as protean as the successive and parallel incarnation of identity in the neverending search for itself."3


The space of strangerhood, the status of the stranger, vascillates between binary poles which form the stranger within these limits of reason, as palimpsest upon which the subject writes herself: "on one pole, strangerhood (and difference in general) will go on being constructed as the source of pleasurable experience and aesthetic satisfaction; on the other, as the terrifying incarnation of the unstoppable rising sliminess of the human condition as the effigy for all future ritual burning of its horrors."4


The stranger cannot be contained by reason ­ outside reason, formless. In waiting for the stranger, the woman who writes is exposed. In writing the stranger, the woman who waits instigates a volatile process of change. She poses a riddle, beyond the riddle of her being there, waiting: "there is no writing which does not devise some means of protection: to protect against itself, against the writing by which the subject is [herself] threatened as [she] lets [herself] be written: as [she] exposes [herself]."5 She covers her tracks so that no one can follow her: so that no one can retrace her footsteps. We know the fate of those who answer.

ridin' the wrong trail

"What is man that the itinerary of his desire creates such a text."6


1 Elizabeth Wilson, The Sphinx in the City, University of California Press, Berkley, 1991, p 7
2 ibid., p 8
3 Zigmunt Bauman, 'Making and Unmaking of Strangers', Thesis 11, No 43, 1995, p 12
4 ibid., p 15
5 Jacques Derrida, 'Freud and The Scene of Writing',Writing and Difference, Routledge, London, 1995 (fp 1978) p 224
6 Gayatri Spivak [Displacement and The Discourse of Women] cited in Vicki Kirby, 'Corpus Delecti: theh scene of writing', Rosalind Diprose and Robyn Ferrell, Cartographies: Poststructuralism and the Mapping of Bodies and Spaces, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1991, p 100