My Feelings on Street Harassment

26 Apr

My feelings, as you may have already presumed, are not good.  A few weeks ago, my friend Creating Carrie posted about an incident of street harassment she experienced while on her bike.  In the end of the post, she asked her readers to respond to a number of questions which were posed to the victims, the by-standers, and the perpetrators of harassment.  I had been planning on responding to this post since she wrote it but just hadn’t felt compelled.  Until right now.

I have, earlier in my thus far short blogging life, posted about two different experiences I have had with different types of street harassment.  One was verbal, one physical; one I took action that resulted in punishment for the perpetrators, one I still fantasize about what I could have done differently.  (I will not share with you some of the more violent fantasies.)  Each situation is different, the levels of safety are different, the time of day.  Is the harasser in a car, on a bike, walking down the street?  Is he alone or with buddies?  My immediate feeling, despite the scenario, is always the same.  Anger.  Intense, intense anger.  Sometimes people tell me that I should just ignore it but, honestly, I find that those people are usually men.  They don’t understand.  One night, walking home from a bar that my boyfriend at the time owned and worked at, (if you’re wondering what time of day it was, what I was wearing, and whether I had been drinking then I have nothing to say to you) I heard behind me, on the sidewalk, the crunching of bike tires.  Even though I think it is rude to ride a bike on the sidewalk, going the wrong way no less, I decided to just swallow my words, move aside, and let the biker pass.  I was a few yards away from home and it seemed silly to start something right then.  And then, it happened.  The bicycle rider, who turned out to be a food delivery boy (I use “boy” not in any derogative way but because this person was, or at least appeared to be, a kid) grabbed my ass and rode off.  I was livid.  I yelled, of course, but bikes are faster than legs and I knew there was nothing I could do but stand there and seethe and feel completely violated.  I walked into my building and the tears came immediately.  Not because I was afraid but because I felt so dehumanized, so disempowered, so enraged.  Ignore it?  How?  I tell people this story and sometimes they laugh.  I wonder what the hell they think is so damn funny.

When was the last time I was harassed on the street, you might ask?  About 20 minutes ago.  Here’s how it happened.  I decided today would be the day I would start doing some of the things I have been putting off.  I used power tools and I hung up a mirror.  I felt powerful!  Self-sufficient!  I said to myself, “self, today you are going to hang up that pendant lamp that has been sitting in a bag, swaddled in bubble wrap, waiting to be mounted on the wall or broken by marauding kitties.”  I got my things together and walked to the nearby Home Depot.  I looked everywhere (and failed to find) the item that I needed but in the process I passed a middle-aged man who said, in a whisper in my ear right as he passed me, “hello.”  Honestly, unless you have experienced this you can never really understand how creepy that is.  To have some dude pass you so close that you can feel his breath as he whispers something at you is one of the most unnerving things.  It is a complete violation of space.  I ignored him and kept walking.  And then I heard an automated voice behind me so I turned around to see the source and, unfortunately, he turned around at the same time.  It was like that scene out of countless movies when two people pass, find each other attractive, and then catch each other looking back over their shoulders and that’s the beginning of the story of love.  Only I wasn’t looking at him, he was looking at me, and I found him repulsive.  I knew I had made a grave error.  I decided to wander around the Home Depot a while longer, weaving around the store, making sure that this man who probably thought he got some invite to conversation, or who knows what, wouldn’t see me purchasing the box of 100 garbage bags I had settled on.  I left the store.  I was still walking down the driveway, a mere 100 yards from the entrance of the store, when I caught something out of the corner of my eye.  It was the man, in his car, keeping pace with me and staring.  It seemed more than just a coincidence that we left at roughly the same time.

“Hey sweetheart, you need a ride?”

Sweetheart?  Really? “I’m fine.”

“Where are you going?  You look awfully nice.  I bet I could get you there faster.”

All I could do was look straight ahead and say “get away from me” as calmly as possible.  Luckily, he listened to my stern request and said nothing.  The entirety of my three-block walk home I was looking over my shoulder, worried that he had parked in front of one of the semis lining the street I was walking up, waiting to try his luck again.  Thankfully, he didn’t but the point is that he could have.  The point is that he, like the other men who have harassed me, made me feel unsafe.  It feels especially invasive when it happens so close to home.  As Creating Carrie so wonderfully put it,

A harasser’s desire to harass cannot be allowed because of some mythical safety. Guess what? Harassment destroys my safety. Physical violence is not the only way to make a neighborhood unsafe.

Is the Home Depot now on the list of places that a woman shouldn’t go alone?  Oh, there are so many men there, so much testosterone-inspiring power tools that a woman is just asking for it.  Fuck that.  Me looking over my shoulder in response to an unexpected sound is not an invitation.  I was born with breasts (not literally, but you know), and a vagina, and all the other things that come along with being female but that doesn’t make me any less human.  So don’t tell me to ignore it.  Don’t tell me I am only making it worse.  Next time you see a girl and want to say something, just don’t.  And the next time your friend or girlfriend tells you a story of harassment, don’t laugh it off or suggest she do something different, just listen.  Otherwise, next time I am harassed in Home Depot I might heed my friend Cherie’s advice and grab the nearest nail gun, axe, 2×4….because, despite what people may think, we know how to use these things.

3 Responses to “My Feelings on Street Harassment”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Don’t Be An Asshole « franklyrebekah - May 3, 2012

    […] day’s anger out of my mind.  After all, it wasn’t the fault of my customers that some asshat in an SUV had stalked me through a hardware store and then tried to give me a ride home.  The night went […]

  2. Roe v Wade is 40! « franklyrebekah - January 17, 2013

    […] of time on this blog writing about how, sometimes, being a woman really sucks.  I wrote about it here, when I talked about street harassment.  And again here, when I discussed this recent tragedy in […]

  3. Hey Random Dude Talking to Me at the Bar: My Body Language is Intentional « franklyrebekah - February 14, 2013

    […] of times about being a girl out in the world.  I wrote about my feelings on street harassment here, and about this guy who spit on me a few times here, and then about this time when I got […]

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