Harassment: A Rant

If I haven’t made this clear before, harassment is a thing that I care pretty deeply about. I care about it because myself and other femme folks that I care deeply about face harassment on a daily basis simply for the act of being outside. Or being on the internet. Basically, we are punished on the regular for daring to enter areas where other people might have contact with us.

It’s not going to stop any time soon. I know that. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk about it.

So here’s some stuff to think about when harassment comes up in conversation.

1. Don’t belittle our concerns.

I legit do not give a flying horses enchanted hooves if you have had your ass pinched by someone before and you thought it was sexy. Good for you! I’m glad the threat level of someone grabbing your ass is so minimal that you can think something like that is some kind of adorable, sexy joke. Odds are, if someone is complaining about harassment, it’s not a joke to them. It’s certainly not a joke to me. And your insistence that it’s somehow funny will result in the sound of me charging up my eye lasers.

giphy (1)
No one will be spared.

2. Don’t act like it’s a compliment.

I don’t know how many times I have to say this before it finally sinks into the heads of the general population.

HARASSMENT IS NOT A COMPLIMENT.

Not now. Not ever. Having someone harass you when all you want to do is talk to your friends on Twitter or walk to the shops or get on a bus is not fun. It’s not something that people list as a turn on on OkCupid or FetLife. I cannot say that I have ever heard of an instance where a stranger telling a woman she’s got tits he’d like to use as basketballs resulted in a full and frank discussion of their likes and dislikes followed by an hour long hump at the local Motel 6.

3. Don’t tell us we’re being “too sensitive.”

Not for nothing, but I’m a pretty hard ass bitch, all things considered. Yes, I love puppies and bunnies and I cry at touching films, but you would be hard pressed to find a social situation that I would balk from on a given day.

That said, there have been days where I did not leave the house because I couldn’t put up with the harassment I was experiencing. I would sit in the house and wait for Frankie to get home so that I could go out with someone that presented masculine and be left alone because I was already “spoken for.”

Being exhausted and freaked out at the constant litany of harassment that one faces on a daily/weekly/whateverly basis is not a sign of sensitivity. It’s a sign of being human. If you got a sunburn every time you walked out the door, I bet you would spend more time with the shades drawn, wouldn’t you?

4. Shut the fuck up and listen when people talk.

Seriously. Just shut your mouth and listen. When people who experience systemic issues like sexism or racism or whatever the topic of the moment is, you can learn a lot by just keeping your mouth shut and listening to what they have to say. The world isn’t the neat little thing that you think it is. Your point of view is just one of TRILLIONS. Try opening your ears and you will be surprised at how enriching the things you find out will be to your life.

Huh. That’s the nicest thing that I’ve said this entire post. That was fun, wasn’t it? Honestly, though, I’m done being nice about this ever to anyone. I used to do this thing where I would try to explain why it was that this was an issue and how and all the sociological things and let people into my head to see my fear but honestly, it’s too much work. Fuck it. If you can’t take a slight re-direction in the form of me telling you not to be a shitheel when people are expressing fear and concern, you can kindly fuck off directly into the largest body of water you can find. Because fuck you.


And if you doubt for even a second that this stuff happens all the time. You can read other things that I’ve written about it. Here. And here. And also here, here and here. And that’s just the shit that warranted a blog entry.


On being afraid all the time.

I used the Companion app to walk myself home last week with a virtual companion.

I resented every moment of it’s presence in my pocket. Even though it was helping me. I resented it’s existence. Even though it made me feel safer.

I resented it because I needed to be made to feel safe rather than feeling safe naturally.

I left my brother at Broad Street and told my phone where I was going. I told it to tell my girlfriend if anything happened to me.

On the way home, in the space between street lights, I turned to see if anyone followed me.

Shadows lurking at a corner up ahead, a group of four, sent me walking across the street to avoid an unwanted situation. When I passed them a block later, they proved to be three teenage girls.

From a distance, every shadow is menacing.

I remember being younger, in high school, a friend asked me to walk her to her door from the car that was dropping us off, down her dark street in Port Richmond.

I don’t know what she thought I would be able to do if we were threatened, but I agreed, and walked her to her house in my combat boots and pleather jacket, trying with all my might to ooze the type of confidence I had seen men saunter with.

On my way back from her door, I passed an alleyway.

Shadows separated from the shadows of the alley wall, growing larger as they drew closer.

“Here, kitty kitty,” one of the shadows whispered. Menacing.

Heart in my throat, I bolted down the street to the safety of the car and jumped in. I imagine I looked like an action movie stunt person. I told the person in the car to drive.

A short distance down the block, the alleyway gave birth to lurking shadows. I sat in the car, shaking.

We anchor ourselves, we of the femme persuasion, to safety zones. Our apartments, the brilliance of night-erasing street lamps, the arms and company of friends. We anchor ourselves there and stretch to the ends of tethers, hoping that we will not be cut loose.

We need apps to walk us home. Because walking home is not safe.

We send texts to let family members know we are alive. Because they worry otherwise.

The world outside of our safety zones is not a safe one. We careen from one into the other, traversing the intervening space as quickly as possible. We plan the shortest routes.

When people tell me that gender equality is over. When they say we don’t need feminism. I ask them to explain to me why, if that is true, I am so terrified to be on the streets alone at night.

What I learned from going viral on Twitter

Content Advisory: Suicide, graphic images, harassment.

I don’t really tweet all that much. I’ve had my Twitter account for years, but it hasn’t been something I’ve been really interested in until very recently. And even recently, it’s not a huge priority to me. I tweet sporadically, contributing to hashtags or commiserating with friends on occasion. I don’t even have 300 followers as of this posting.

Ten days ago I posted the following to Twitter in an effort to support the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag. I posted other things to, but, as you can see, this one got just a little more attention.

Pretty much immediately after posting it, I was inundated with tweets from trolls and internet abusers. And I wasn’t the only person to receive abuse over this. The originator of the hashtag, Amelia Bonow, was forced to go into hiding after the hashtag went viral. Which I guess just goes to show that the “pro life” set really is more “pro-birth” than pro actual human life.

At any rate, the first abuse that I saw was an image of a man holding severed heads sent to me by Twitter user @TwerkingSpider [GRAPHIC original tweet behind hyperlink]. I immediately reported and blocked him. I have since been told by Twitter that his message was “not in violation of the Twitter Rules.” Which I just… don’t get. Their rules specifically say you cannot threaten people, and I’m not sure how sending someone a picture of decapitated heads does not constitute a “threat.” But maybe I’m just being over-sensitive, right? There’s such a thing as a friendly beheading, right? Right?

Of course, it didn’t end there. There were other tweets telling me I was basically an ugly dude and that I should kill myself. Which, coming from supposedly “pro-life” people was just… confusing and enraging.

There were loads more. Luckily, I went on vacation and missed a lot of it. I also had cool people around me who told me about how to block the majority of the yuckiness.

I learned a lot in the few days that my tweet exploded. I learned that people on the internet do not know how to use basic logic when it conflicts with their opinions. I learned that the ease of tweeting lends itself to all manner of repulsive insults and hurtful words being slung about. And I learned that answering those people with ridiculous questions and comments like “ARE YOU A RIDDLE?” and “LEARN LOGIC.” brought me no small measure of joy.

There were two big things that the people arguing with me seem to have trouble dealing with.

  1. Bodily autonomy: fetuses are not more valuable than adults.
    • I know it’s hard to grasp, but a fetus does not have a right to live at the expense of the body of another person any more than a fully grown human does. If I have cancer and the only thing that can save me is your bone marrow, you cannot be compelled to give it to me. No matter how sick I am.
      I think the fact that fetuses cannot speak for themselves is the thing that gets a lot of people with this one. And I get it, you want to speak for the silent masses of developing blastocysts or whatever. That’s fine. But the fact of the matter is, even if they could talk, they would not have any more of a right to life than I would, dying of cancer because you didn’t want to give me your bone marrow.
  2. Abortion has always existed. And will always exist. Because sex is fun.
    • Sex is super fun. It’s true. People have been banging for the fun of it for ages and ages. Hell, the Romans drove silphium to extinction with their need for birth control to manage family size. This isn’t new information. It’s not a shockingly revolutionary societal development like lolcats or something. Society didn’t wake up one day and become this loose moral ground where people can bang whoever they want. People have always banged whoever they want. Acting like it’s a surprise just makes you sound like a totally disconnected idealist who doesn’t get how the world works. Or, you know, genitals.
      Since sex for funsies has always existed, so has birth control, and so has abortion. The difference between abortion now and abortion at the beginning of human civilization is that, not unlike childbirth, women have a better chance of surviving it now.

For the most part, I don’t have many friends who will argue with the rightness of a woman’s right to choose for herself whether to continue with a pregnancy. But I’d like to take a moment for the one friend who I had before the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag went up that did, apparently, stand in the opposing camp.

She’s religious, of course. And she has an issue with abortion. The strange thing for me is that, years ago, before she got married, she and I had a conversation about abortion, the end result of which was her stating that she was, in fact, “pro-choice.” Because even if she wouldn’t get one herself, she wasn’t the sort of person to stand in front of the rights of other women to a safe and healthy medical procedure that was perfectly legal.

Now, though, things have changed. I don’t know if she was merely paying lip service to me before, or if being married to someone who works for the Archdiocese changed her viewpoints. I can’t say either way. Needless to say, we got into a long conversation about my tweet and her views on abortion. I’m going to take the main thrust of our discussion and spin it out here for you.

In my original tweet, I re-posted an image talking about bodily autonomy, which is my chief reasoning behind my stance as pro-choice, as well as one of my core principles generally. The reason I say that I “had” this friend before we had this debate is that, during it, she called the autonomy argument “silly.” I have a couple of problems with that. The first of which being that the right of everyone on this planet to control what happens to their body is at the core of my system of beliefs about the world. The second of which is that, legally, our bodily autonomy is very important. It’s one of the things that makes rape illegal. Or assault. Consent and all of it’s trappings are important and valuable components of our legal system.

All in all, the conversation did not go well. But it made me think. And it made me realize that, if you do not value the autonomy of others and their ability to make the medical choices that are right for them and follow through with them safely, I can’t really be friends with you. That’s a line in the sand that I am more than willing to draw. And one that will happily stand by.

So #ShoutYourAbortion, my loves. Shout because it is nothing you should be ashamed of. Shout because you made the right decision. Shout because one day, the act of you shouting will not be something to be frightened of.

You can’t take the sky from me: Harassment edition

So immediately after I got that horrible phone call on Monday, I called public safety and got someone to come and take a statement from me. Once we realized that the person calling was from inside my university, my HR rep got involved and hooked me up with someone in the Office of Equality and Diversity here on campus.

My meeting was this morning. It’s gorgeous outside, if you haven’t noticed, so I grabbed my coffee and headed over, enjoying the sights and sounds of the bustling campus. I left my headphones in my desk, true to my promise to myself to live my life unfettered by blockades meant to keep the world at bay.

Walking into the building for my Equality and Diversity meeting, a man from Dannon Water was coming out with a large cart full of empty water bottles. I held the door for him, joking when he thanked me that I didn’t have nearly as much on my hands as he did. He laughed. His smile was wide and white in his face. A handsome guy. Mid-20s. The sort of person that I usually avoid locking eyes with because I am afraid of what comes next.

I patted myself on the back internally for being brave enough to interact with him and breezed by.

As I passed him I heard him grunt and say “Damn, girl.” Immediately I felt cold rage rise up in me. I wasn’t hot. Wasn’t ashamed. I was furious on a level that could not be contained. As the door closed behind me I spun to see him still staring at the area where my ass was a moment before.

I opened the door again.

“Are you fucking serious right now?” I said, eyes burning into his face.

He blustered and stuttered. “Uh, um, I, uh… I was looking at my phone!” Outrage and shame and disbelief played on his face. He knew he was caught. And he could not believe that I had pinned him so quickly. Could not believe that I was calling him out to his face.

I said, “No you weren’t, now get in your damn truck.” And I slammed the door behind me.

I am living out loud, assholes. Watch out.

This body is not for you.

On Monday afternoon my work phone rang, as it is wont to do. I answered it.

“Good afternoon, College of Engineering.”

A man’s voice answered.

“I just have to ask you a question.”

My stomach sank a little at the tone in his voice. I have had these interactions so many times before that I feel like I respond to cues that I could not possibly articulate to you. I knew, in my gut, that he was about to be disgusting.

“Sure!” I said, trying to maintain my chipper phone demeanor. “How can I help you?”

“I just need to know what color your panties are so I can jerk off.”

My face and neck were suddenly hot and crawling with shame. I snarled “go fuck yourself” into the phone line and hung up.


 

Friends, I am so tired.

When I walked home from work on Monday I felt so strange. I had my headphones in. No music playing, as usual. Just a condom against the world. A prophylactic to allow me to ignore people when it suited me. When men yelled things at me from cars or “mhm’d” their way past me on the street.

I listened to the muffled sounds of the world around me through the plug of my headphones. I could barely make out the sounds of birds in the trees at the park. The sound of my own footsteps seemed so far away.

I felt so fucking sad in that moment. Here I was, muting the world around me just so that I could create a barrier against harassment.

I took my headphones out.

I listened to the unfettered sound of the world around me and smiled.


I spend so much time trying to protect myself from harassment. Sometimes, in the summer, when it is too hot to cover my body entirely in cloth, I will stay inside until I have an escort. Other times I will wrap myself in jeans rather than a short skirt in order to avoid the possibility of leers and comments.

I refuse to wear sexy clothing when I am going to be taking public transportation.

At work, when people say weird or inappropriate things, I freeze.

I refuse to be this person any longer. I refuse to act as though I am afraid.

I have taken my headphones off.

I will wear my short skirts whenever I please.

And everyone at work had better be prepared for me to go full-on feminist killjoy on them when they tell me I should smile, or call me “sweetheart.”

I am officially done muting the beauty of the world around me and curating my behaviors in order to make it so that these jerks do not see the chinks in my armor.

I’ve had enough.

Everyday Harassment: A Glimpse

Last night Frankie and I decided to go shopping. After the con, our cupboard was looking pretty bare. We have both been suffering from the lack of fruit in our diets. So we took Xena to the vet for her boosters, ate a quick “do not shop hungry” snack, and headed to Shop Rite.

When we got there, our cart quickly became laden with all manner of goodies. Because the “do not shop hungry” snack can only do so much and cherries were on sale and goldfish crackers are delicious, OK? Don’t judge us.

Ahem.

We got in line with our overburdened cart, Frankie taking up her customary position at the front end so as to better unload the cart onto the conveyor belt, while I stood at the rear.

As she unloaded, a 50-ish year old man came up behind me and addressed Frankie across the length of the cart.

Man: You work for forensics?
Frankie: Yea.
Man: That’s real good. I watch the forensic shows. That’s a good job. That’s real good.

The interaction went on like that for a bit. I, my hackles up for imminent harassment, did the usual body language of a person who doesn’t want to talk. I did not look at him except to give him one word answers. I smiled only briefly. I sent off as many “fuck right off” signals as possible.

They didn’t work.

After finishing talking to Frankie, he turned to me.

Man: Damn, ma, what’s your name?
Me, making direct eye contact and not smiling: I’m her wife, actually.

His eyes popped out of his head. He looked me up and down for a long moment, then turned to Frankie.

Man: You are so lucky. You never done a thing wrong. You made a good choice. She fine. Damn. She fine.
Frankie, glaring a little: Yea, I’m lucky. She’s great.

Now, back when I used to date men, before I figured out that was a terrible idea, the way these interactions would go is as follows.

Man: Says something to me.
Me: I’m with him.
Man: Aw, man, I’m so sorry, bro. I didn’t know. *vanishes*

But this guy knew that I was with a woman. So he kept telling Frankie things like the following.

Man: I would break my own neck to get up in that. I would leave my paycheck on the bed every Friday. Damn.

All while looking me up and down while I smiled beatifically at Frankie where she couldn’t see. I reached critical mass when he was standing behind me, mumbling to himself, and I could see Frankie’s rage muscle activate. It’s this little muscle in her jaw that clenches just before she loses her shit.

I moved to the other side of the cart.

Me: See what I deal with?
Frankie: Ugh. Yea. I wanted to punch him.
Me: Was he just staring at my ass the whole time he was behind me?
Frankie: Yea. And he kept making faces at me. I just glared at him until he left. What the fuck?

What the fuck, indeed.

I think it’s interesting to compare the way that I am treated now to the way that I was treated when I was in relationships with men. Most of the time, Frankie reads to ignorant assholes as male from a distance, so they don’t bother us. But in this case, he had already spoken with her and knew that she was female. I also used female pronouns to address her. With that leeway, he thought it was completely appropriate to linger around my ass and make lewd comments at me while trying to catch Frankie’s attention.

The funniest part of all of this is that he somehow thought that Frankie would join in his appreciation of me as some kind of object. Her lack of engagement with him on that score and her glaring reproach of him from her side of the shopping cart spoke volumes. Don’t ask my girlfriend to join you in reducing me to a sex object, men of the world. That’s not going to fly. I pick my partners better than that, nowadays.

Just another day in harassment paradise, kids. And people wonder why we need feminism.

So, rape culture sucks.

But I’m pretty sure you already knew that.

The other thing about rape culture? It doesn’t even make any sense at the best of times. At the worst of times, it is nigh-on indecipherable.

Saturday night. It had been a while since Frankie and I had gone out on the town together, so we made plans to do just that! Little did we know that the weather was going to serve us a big, wintry wake up call with a low of 50 that night.

So, what to do? Well, the obvious answer was to first drink some bourbon and warm up. And since the Twisted Tail is 1) two blocks away and 2) my favorite bar, this was a no-brainer.

Bellies warm with Bourbon, we set off to find a place where dancing might be had. We walked all the way up to Rittenhouse and tried a few places, finally settling on the Raven Lounge and it’s tiny, hot dance floor and decent club music.

Although why they only play 15 seconds of any given song, I will never understand.
Although why they only play 15 seconds of any given song, I will never understand.

We get to the bar and settle in. I wind up laughing at the group of girls who seem intent on creating some kind of dance circle show off group. Ladies, there is no space for that. Please stop. But it’s all in good fun and I’m having a beer and dancing with my lady and all is right with the world.

At one point I feel a hand grasp my elbow, then release it. After a moment, a man’s voice says “I can’t even say hello?” I ignore it, assuming that it was meant for me, but not giving any particular craps about talking to some dude in a club. I glance back and see a dark-skinned, short, white-shirted guy walking back to his friends. I tag him mentally and go back to dancing.

A few more segments of song flash by. My beer is half-gone. I’m laughing at the silly happy people standing on the benches along the walls and shouting to their friends. Everyone is having a good time.

Then the man in the white shirt is standing very close to me. He tells me that he “had to come over and talk to me.” I ask him why, moving myself away from him so that he isn’t touching me. He is clearly drunk. I can barely hear him above the music and shouted song lyrics and my own blood pumping in my ears.

I do not like being approached by drunk strangers. They frighten me. Especially when they are male. Especially when they keep moving closer to me as I inch away from them.

He tells me that Sarah and her friends told him to come over to me. I ask him who Sarah is and what this is about. He tells me that Sarah is the “wife of the night” and gestures behind him, where a group of four guys and one woman (standing on a platform above the men) are watching the exchange with interest.

I ask him what a “wife of the night is” and inform him that I really don’t have any interest in whatever is going on. He starts to get frustrated and tells me that I’m not letting him explain himself. At this point, I inform him that I don’t really care what he wants, but that I don’t want to talk to him and he should leave us alone. Of course, because my feelings on whether or not I should talk to him are totally irrelevant, he gets more insistent.  I tell him that I don’t want to talk to him. I tell him that I’m there with my girlfriend and that we just want to dance and be left alone. He continues to insist that he needs to talk to me and, when Frankie tries to talk to him, brushes her off and says he’s talking to me.

Frankie kicks into another gear at this point and rushes over to his friends and asks them what’s going on and what he wants. They don’t respond. They just stare at her and smile. So she informs them that this whole thing isn’t fucking funny they need to get their friend to leave us alone or she will be getting security because this is harassment and it’s weird and we just want to be left alone.

While she’s doing this, he is still standing near me and tells her really loudly that she’s “getting aggressive” and that there’s “no need for that” and that he just “wants to talk” to me. I tell him, yet again, that I don’t want to talk to him.

Apparently, my girlfriend is intimidating, because the males in the group slowly reach out and grab him and start to pull him back. As they do that, he is half turned and pulling away from them. He tells me loudly that I’m “being an asshole” as he pulls against his friends. I tell him to go fuck himself.

The friends take him back into the group and Frankie pulls me toward the bar. I’m shaking and angry and upset. I see white shirt explaining his side of things to his little circle of friends. They look up at us and smile. All of them. They seem to think it’s funny. I experience white hot rage and just want to go over there and take the “wife for a night” by the hair and fling her across the dance floor. I’m certain by the way she is smiling satisfactorily and what white shirt had said that she orchestrated the whole thing.

I’m uncomfortable being in the same room with them. And I’m upset at not having the guts to go and say something to them because white shirt seemed really ready to physically lash out both in his body language while talking to me and while being pulled away from us.

I tell Frankie that I want to go. She insists that we should talk to security or something. I tell her I just want to go. We get our coats from where they’re hanging and make our way back out into the night.

I’m torn between extreme rage and some kind of horrible fear reaction as we walk outside and catch a cab. When we get out of the cab and walk toward Tattooed Mom’s to calm down I’m so frustrated and upset that I start crying. Then I’m struggling to pull myself together before we hit crowded South Street.

The whole thing was so confusing and upsetting and frustrating. I don’t know what he wanted, and that’s bugging me. But I know that it centered around us being gay and female. And I know that his whole attitude of entitlement to our time and attention comes straight out of the rape culture handbook. I tell him that I’m not interested in talking to him and I’m an asshole. Frankie tells his friends to get him to leave us alone and she’s being unnecessarily aggressive.

And why not, right? We left the house, so obviously we want any attention that we get whilst going about our lives. How dare we just want to dance with each other! How dare we tell him that whatever drunken shenanigans he was trying to describe, we had no interest in participating in! How dare we, as people he wanted to interact with, rebuke that interaction directly and succinctly.

Situations like that are what make me want to give up on going out altogether sometimes. They also make me miss Sisters quite a bit, because I could always go there for a drink and some dancing and feel relatively safe.

All in all, the situation was resolved well, I guess. I still wish I knew what the hell he was talking about. He was obviously soliciting us for something, but I will never know what. But at least no one got hurt, which is the main thing.

Sigh. Stay classy, Philadelphia.