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.


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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.

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.

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 […]