On Street Harassment, Silence, and Social Change

 

So, in case you didn’t notice, gentle reader, it’s street harassment season.

Every year, when Spring arrives, women emerge from wool coats like butterflies from cocoons. They spread their wings, bare their legs, and gather, brightly colored, in squares and sunlight. But, like a dark cloud threatening on the
horizon, these beautiful springtime revelations are matched by the emergence of men who seem to think it is their duty to comment on the appearance of these women in varying degrees of filthitude.
Street harassment.pin

It sucks.

And it’s something that I talk about a lot, but haven’t had the opportunity to fully elucidate. So, in this festive time, I present to you, my first blog entry.

About a month ago, I got a dog. Her name is Xena and she is just a bundle of cute. Well, with dog ownership comes the walking of the dog, and since F and I were going to get a puppy, we waited until the springtime to do that.

The first time I walked her alone in the morning, I didn’t even consider the fact that my business professional skirt and boot combination would be street harassment provoking. Winter had dulled my prey instincts, I suppose. I walked out of the house feeling that special joy that I get from knowing that I’m put together well.

That would change of course, because within the space of two blocks, I would be harassed three times.

The first time happened two blocks from my apartment. A man stopped his truck alongside me and excused himself. I turned and looked at him and he said “Hey, if I find a place to park this can I come walk with you for a while?”

I said “Absolutely not.” And walked away.

On the next block a man approached me and I smiled at him, not thinking anything of it. Just because one man had been weird didn’t mean that all the men wandering the streets of my neighborhood at 8:00 in the morning were similarly threatening. I was rewarded for my smile with the following statement:

“You got nice legs. You know you got nice legs. I’d like to…” trails off and grunts.

Feeling a flash of anger and a sense of danger as he passed right by me I snarled back:

“Are you serious? Buy a fucking magazine.”

The third man was sweeping the street a half a block from my house. The puppy, being friendly, approached him, tail wagging. He looked down at her and said:

“Good morning puppy.”

Then turned his eyes to me and said:

“And good morning to you. Whachu doin later?”

At which point I pulled the puppy away from him because I didn’t want him to touch her, put my head down and hauled her back to the apartment. I arrived home feeling the opposite of how I had felt when I left. I wasn’t “put together,” I was sweaty, shaking from adrenaline, angry, and upset.

I ranted about my experience on Facebook. I railed about it to my girlfriend. And since that day I have been harassed about two times a week on average when walking outside.

And it sucks. It makes me feel so vulnerable and freaked out. And it makes me not want to speak to or look at any man that passes me because he might be slimy and gross. Every time I leave the house, I have to amp myself up for it a little bit. I plan out what I’m going to do or say to anyone that harasses me. I don’t go near certain streets because they are often deserted.

Despite all of my precautions, I have been harassed numerous times since Spring arrived. And every third or forth time, I will post about it on Facebook. Sometimes just an angry sentence, sometimes a pseudo-polite, passive aggressive note.

Inevitably, I will get these responses:

“Don’t get so worked up.”
“If you get angry, they win.”
“I don’t see the point of getting so angry about it.”
“You’re wasting your energy by focusing on this.”

And I have seen other women who post about their harassment experiences get similar responses.

So let me answer all of that now.

I will not be silent about this. I don’t think anyone should. And I seriously think it’s out of line for you to tell me to be quiet like a good little girl and not express my outrage at the injustice of a culture that lets men shout at me from cars and leaves me feeling threatened and exposed just because I chose to leave the house.

My outrage is legitimate. The outrage of other women (and men) on this issue is legitimate. We will not be quiet little mice so that you don’t have to listen to us. If you don’t like what I’m posting about, mute me on your feed. But don’t try to silence me.

And, to be clear, I have said from the beginning that this issue is one that requires social change. I am not bitching just to bitch. I am hoping to incite people to speak out against this issue. To stop street harassment when they see it happening. To communicate to other people experiencing it that they are not alone.

This is how change happens. If we don’t express our outrage at injustice – and I mean any injustices, not just this particular one – these things will continue to happen and we will have failed as a generation to incite any real change in the world.

And change is happening, for the record. A few years ago, groups like Hollaback! didn’t exist. Or
Stop Street Harassment
. If you Google “street harassment” you will find great things like petitions to remove sites that promote harassing behaviors or articles on the New York Times website or BuzzFeed. On streets you have great movements like the one pictured here calling for an end to street harassment. These are conversations that weren’t happening before we raised our voices. And they will fade back into the shadows if we don’t keep shining a light on them.

I want to talk about street harassment and rape culture as a men’s issue, but this entry has gotten pretty long and I want you to actually read it, so I’ll talk about that in my next entry.

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