Tag Archives: street harassment

New Orleans Diary: Week 12

21 Feb

Goal: I have totally fallen off the goal. The idea was to write weekly, which I have largely been doing save for the week of SCROTUS’ inauguration when I decided to take the week off. Then I decided to move my posts to Monday because I work on Friday so it made it hard. But now here it is Tuesday. But whatever it’s cool. At least I am writing it at some point, right? Right.

Haircuts: So as it turns out, getting my hair cut is just as dangerous here as it is in New York. People always want to hack my fucking hair off. Every time. I tell them I want a trim and VOILA all of a sudden I have gotten a foot cut off my hair. This is how it happens.

Stylist: Wow, you have such beautiful long hair!
Me: Thanks. I just need a trim though I think the ends are dead.
Stylist: Yeah, probably like the bottom three inches need to go. But wow, it is so long and healthy!
Me: Thanks. So yeah, just if you could maybe cut like 4-5 inches off? I still want long hair. I like my hair long.
Stylist: Of course. So let me see. So you want it like, here? (Demonstrates exactly what I asked for.)
Me: Yeah that would be perfect.
Stylist: Okay great. So to be clear: you want it long enough that it covers your bust, is that right?
Me: Yeah, that’s as short as I would go. But maybe I’d like it even a few inches longer than that.
Stylist: Okay great

HACK HACK HACK HACK HACK

Stylist: So, what do you think? It’s just how you wanted it!
Me: Um…it’s like 3 inches below my shoulders.
Stylist: Doesn’t it look great?
Me: It’s not long.
Stylist: Well, I curled it so it looks a little shorter than it actually is. Once you wash it and the curl comes out it will be exactly where you want it to be!
Me: (Stretches a lock of hair as straight as it can go. It is about 3/4 an inch longer without the curl.) Yeah, it’s short. Thanks a lot.

And this is what always confuses me. This certain stylist that I have come into contact with multiple times always goes on and on and one about how long and beautiful and thick my hair is and how great it is that I can grow my hair and it can still be so thick and healthy and then HACK they cut it all off. Like, why? Why did you say that it was so beautiful if you were going to then kill it with your scissors? Why waste your breath? Why not be like

Listen, bitch, I know better than you because I am a hair cutter and you are a lowly hair grower so imma cut this shit all off.

And then I would at least have the opportunity to run. Don’t stand there and talk all about your love life and your hair stylist experience and subsequently do exactly the thing I asked you not to do like 15 million times. Imagine if I did something like this at work.

Me: What can I get for you?
Customer: A gin and tonic please.
Me: Any specific kind of gin?
Customer: Just the well is fine.
Me: Great! So just to be clear, you want our well gin here right in front of me and then some tonic water from the soda gun?
Customer: That’s right. Yes.

MIX MIX SHAKE STIR MIX ADD MIX

Me: Here it is! Just what you wanted! A Ramos Gin Fizz with Hendricks! That will be $15 please.

That would never happen first of all because it would be rude and presumptive of me to make a drink someone expressly didn’t want because I thought I knew better and secondly because Ramos Gin Fizz’s are super annoying to make and whenever anyone orders one from me I always sneaky pass it along to one of my coworkers and make them do it. But you get the point. My hair is short and it looks sporty and stupid and I hate it. So if you need me sometime over the next 6-12 months, leave me a message. I will be busy trying to grow my hair back.

The world is so small!: I have been working at this one restaurant in New Orleans for all of a month. That is not very long. But in the month that I have been there I have seen 5 different people that I knew from New York! Granted two of them were in couples so it was only 3 instances of seeing people but still! That’s crazy! Yesterday I saw my friend Jason and his wife Colleen. I was so surprised to see them because I was just popping in for my check but there they were sitting at the bar having drinks I snacks.  I think maybe I was weird because I was so surprised. Sorry, Jason! Sorry Colleen!

It’s just that it really catches you off guard when you are wearing a silly uniform behind a bar in a city where you don’t know very many people and all of a sudden someone you knew from what feels like a different life walks in and you’re all like

Woah.

Super trippy. Because there are a lot of bars and restaurants in New Orleans. A LOT. But people keep walking into mine. And now one actually knows where I work so it’s just super extra weird but also awesome. Is this a sign that I should go back to New York? Maybe? Maybe New York is like

Hey! Hey! Remember me? You lived here for your entire adult life? I am going to just send a few people that you like down there to just randomly walk into your place of employment so you can remember just how much you like it here, kay? Kay.

Well played NYC. You so sneaky.

Men: UGH. (I actually almost feel as though I could just finish the section right there but I will elaborate.) Yesterday was one of those days where maybe I should have just not left the house. Okay okay, that’s not entirely true. Last Wednesday was a day when I should have just not left the house. That was The Day of the Horrible Haircut, The Day that I Lost One of My Favorite Earrings and also The Day my WhatsApp Got Hacked and I Had a Panic Attack. All in all last Wednesday was not my best day. Yesterday was fine until I had to walk to work to pick up my check because something totally weird happened with it and it didn’t get direct deposited. I am not going to go into all that but suffice it to say it was annoying and confusing and I am pretty sure that I am being harassed by an ill-intentioned spirit or internet person. ANYWAY, moving along. Yesterday my walk to work was going just fine until I passed by this dude on a bike and he looks at me and goes

Let me get a taste. Excuse me, I said let me get a taste of you.

Like as if I hadn’t heard him the first time. As if I hadn’t intentionally ignored him (while resisting the urge to vomit). Nope, he assumed I just hadn’t heard him and that if he said it again a little louder and included the oh-so-polite “excuse me” as a precursor I would be like

SURE THING! Let me just drop my pants right now. Get your tongue ready, boy! This shit tastes gooooooood.

Ew gross I can’t believe I even just typed that. Excuse me while I shower.

Fifteen minutes later…

I’m back now. In real life I didn’t actually say that gross thing I just typed up there that I will not type again or even reread. No siree. Instead I chose the more tactful route and yelled

The fuck is wrong with you, you disgusting piece of shit. Get the fuck outta here. Get a taste? I’ll give you a fucking taste of something you piece of garbage. How about this? I hope your fucking dick falls off. How does that taste?

I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed the interaction but no one seemed to notice one way or the other. Of course there were some people walking around in storm trooper outfits on the other end of the block so maybe they were distracted? Anyway I kept walking. And the very next dude I saw, the very next goddamn one, was wearing a shirt that said “Bitch Give Me Head” and he was holding some stupid goldfish tank full of liquor and walking down the street with a lady. A LADY! I’ll tell you what, if I met to hang out with some dude, friend or otherwise, and he was wearing a shirt that said “Bitch Give Me Head” I would throw paint on him and kick him in the nuts. Or maybe I would kick him in the nuts first and then throw the paint because I wouldn’t want to get paint on my clothes. I am not about to ruin my outfit because some asshole thinks he’s funny. And truth be told since I don’t normally walk around with paint I would have to come up with some other solution. Maybe I would take his goldfish bowl of booze and pour it over his stupid head and then make him wear one of those ridiculous novelty shirts that says “I POOPED” on it for the rest of his time in New Orleans. Bitch give me head. Please. I also hope his dick falls off.

Conclusion: I don’t know, I think that’s about it for now. I wish I had more New Orleans specific things to report on but I had to miss the Krewe of Barkus because that entitled coworker I bitched about last week was a no call/no show and got himself fired so we all had to pick up the slack. I had to pick up the part of the slack that conflicted with seeing a bunch of dogs wearing costumes. But! This week should be fun. Muses is happening on Thursday and my friend Tiffini is coming to visit and is staying with me. Also, Victoria is here not staying with me and so is Austin and his family! Fun times ahead. Stay tuned!

New York, Have You Become Respectful?

12 Oct

There was a time, not that long ago, when I would get harassed on the streets on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. I got hissed at, winked at, snapped at, clapped at; I had people tell me I was beautiful, demand that I smile, whisper in my ear, ask me out to dinner or to marry them; I had men follow me down streets and try to come with me on my run; I got touched and I got grabbed; one man tried to push his way into my apartment. In all the hundreds of times that this happened, I never once felt flattered or happy, I never once left the interaction feeling more attractive. Sometimes when I complained about it, people – men, to be more specific – would tell me I should take it as a compliment, that when it stopped happening I would miss it. I assured them that I would not.

Over the past few years I have noticed that the amount that I get harassed has been slowly creeping downward. It hasn’t stopped entirely but it is way less common than it used to be. Maybe the city has changed or maybe I have become less attractive or desirable now that I am safely into my thirties. Maybe it’s some combination of the two. The reality of the situation is that I don’t give a shit what it is that is causing this significant downturn. All I can tell you is that I fucking love it. Let me tell you a quick story.

This morning I went to a spin class with my friend CJ. Afterwards, red faced and sweaty, I headed out into the bustle of Downtown Brooklyn to run a few errands. I was wearing the modern-day workout uniform of 3/4 length stretchy pants and a tank top, with a small sweatshirt and a vest thrown over to keep me warm. And you know what? No one gave a shit. No one asked me where I was going or if they could come with me. No one honked at me or yelled at me from the window of their car. No one whispered a hushed “god bless” into my ear as I hustled through my tasks. And it wasn’t until all my  errands were completed and I hopped on the train that I realized it. And do you know what? I smiled. I fucking smiled.

I smiled and I realized to myself that there was never a moment, there has never been a moment, where the downtick in harassment has somehow made me feel bad about myself. I don’t need that to feel attractive or worthwhile. Being harassed wasn’t something that added value to me or my day, it detracted from it. It made me feel cheap and dehumanized and as if because I am a woman I only matter in how I look, and how my looks make other people (read: men) feel. And do you know what else made me feel cheap and dehumanized? Having people tell me I would miss it when it went away. Because that meant that they believed that somewhere in me, somewhere I wasn’t willing to acknowledge existed, I was somehow flattered by the passing lewd comments. And even as I told them I wouldn’t miss it, there were times when I worried that maybe the norm of the hyper-sexualization of women had snuck in there a little and that maybe I did thrive off it, just a little bit. That even though I hated it, it still made me feel desirable. But do you want to know something? I feel more desirable, more empowered, more human and complex and amazing in the absence of it. Because it took a lot of work to build myself back up after being verbally objectified day after day. And now that I don’t have to put that work in as often, now that I don’t have to be defensive and angry and sometimes have outbursts at a passing car or man in the middle of a busy avenue at 3 in the afternoon, I start every single day a little bit ahead. And I have more mental energy to put into the things that matter to me. Like this blog, and my friends, and trying to figure out what the fuck is happening in our country right now.

So, thank you New York City for either getting more respectful or simply not wanting to fuck me. Keep it up – it’s been amazing.

Are You Married?

17 May

No.

But sometimes I say yes.

Right now my entire neighborhood is under construction. There are actually two construction projects currently under way on my block. One of them is particularly annoying to me. So much so that I wrote an open letter to the developer of the site and posted it on this blog. I also call 311 on them at least once a week. You know me: always putting too much energy into things that yield absolutely no results. So here is the thing about this construction site. They start work at 7 on the dot every morning except Sunday. It is like clockwork. And I know that city regulation allows them to do that (because I did my research) but it doesn’t mean that I can’t be mad about it. Especially because them starting work actually means that one asshole climbs up onto the second floor of whatever personality-less piece of crap building they are erecting and bangs a mallet against a metal stud for like 1/2 hour. No joke. He gets up there and he bangs metal on metal. And then once I have been awake for long enough that the overall quality of my sleep diminishes ten-fold he says

Yeah, that’s enough mallet banging for today.

And he stops. I hate him. He might be a perfectly nice guy in real life, but by design his job makes him an asshole.

The reason I am going into this is that every time I walk by the construction site – which is like 10 times a day because it is two doors up from my house – I get mad. I glare at the site. I shake my head disapprovingly. I have ill-fantasies about drawing pictures of penises all over the shoddily-built scaffolding. Sometimes I snarl. I try to give nasty looks to the man I know to be the guy in charge of it for single-handedly ruining my quality of life. He knows I’m coming for him. I have even called him on the phone on more than one occasion although I am not sure he has put two-and-two together. I have become that person on the block. (Although to be fair I have spoken with a lot of other people on the block who have also reported the site to 311, snarled and reached out to the developer guy  who by the way calls himself Ryan although I don’t think that is his real name. None of us do.) So just this afternoon I was walking by the construction site, glaring, when I noticed there was a meeting of construction workers right there in my path. Uh oh. This is never an ideal situation. I have been yelled at by so many construction workers in this city over the years it’s absurd. Construction workers whistle at women so much that there was a site on 4th Avenue above a laundromat and the laundromat had parrots and the parrots learned how to catcall. Not kidding. I would be running down 4th and get catcalled at the construction site and begin to descend into a blind rage when I would realize I was being harassed by a pair of mother fucking birds.

BIRDS!

As I was saying, there was a construction-worker meeting happening directly in my path. I knew something was going to be said. I concentrated very hard on drinking my iced coffee and staring at my feet. I hate that I do this but I did it. I thought maybe if I pretended not to see them they wouldn’t see me. That approach failed, obviously.

Construction worker: Hey.
Me: Grunt.
Construction worker: How are you today?
Me: I’d be better if you guys didn’t wake me up at 7 in the morning every day. (ZAMBO!)
Construction worker: Are you married?

Okay, what?! I am so confused as to how this happened. So let’s recap and see if maybe I missed something. I clearly did not want to speak to him, hence the grunt. Then I basically told him that he was ruining my life. And then he asked me if I was married? And what if I said no? Was he going to ask me out on a date? Was he going to see if I wanted to meet him at the site at 6:57am, climb onto the second floor and, at exactly 7 on the dot, take a mallet and bang it as hard as I could against a piece of metal? You know, just to fuck with the neighbors?

I told him I was in fact married by calling out a sing-songy

Sure am

and continued on my way. I pretend to be married at least once a week.

So what I have noticed is that as I have gotten older, the line of questioning from random strangers on the street or assholes in bars and at parties has changed. They used to ask me if I had a boyfriend and when I said yes they would respond, like clockwork (I totally accidentally typed cockwork and it made me laugh…had to share),

Don’t worry, he doesn’t have to know.

And that always made me mad because it was like, what the fuck? I don’t want anything to do with you and your statement completely takes me out of the equation. There is that assumption that I absolutely want to suck your dick in the bathroom but the only thing that is stopping me is that fact that my boyfriend might find out and then who will I be? I will go from being a somebody with a boyfriend to a single nobody, sad and alone who probably picked up some nasty disease from putting your cock in my mouth. Now that I am in my 30s and clearly cannot just have a boyfriend, I must either be married or single (AKA sad and alone and diseased from aforementioned interaction). So the line of questioning has changed. Now people always ask me if I am married. If I say no, all hell breaks lose. If I lie and say yes, just to get them to leave me the fuck alone, they then follow it up with

No you’re not. You’re not wearing a ring.

And it’s like

I wasn’t wearing a ring when you asked me in the first place, dipshit, so if you’re so goddamn observant why didn’t you notice that before?!

But then do you know what happens next, when I don’t actually audibly call the person a dipshit?

Don’t worry, he doesn’t have to know.

AAAAAH!

But I mean, really, what is the expected response to this? Or, I suppose more accurately, the hoped-for response? I came up with a few possibilities:

  1. You’re right! I know a motel you can pay for by the hour down on 3rd. You down?
  2. You’re right! I’m not wearing a ring but I’d like to be and I know a guy who can perform weddings!
  3. You’re right! I live two doors down and my imaginary husband won’t be home for hours!
  4. You’re right! (Swift kick to the genitals.)

My money is on number 4 for sure.

Anyway, I never claimed to have all the answers. But I’m gonna go for a run and think on this. I’ll let you know if any moments of clarity follow.

The 4:45 am Compliment

3 May

Oh, you guys. It takes all kinds, it really does. Over the years of keeping this blog, I have written about all kinds of times when I have been cat called, street harassed, spit on and the likes by men in New York City. As a bartender, I get my fair share of nonsense when I am at work also. There was the time I got proposed to on a napkin, my answer requested in the form of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ check boxes. Obviously I checked yes. It was a beautiful ceremony. Wish you all coulda been there. Then there was that time I went to give a customer a kiss on the cheek and he turned his face, landing one on my lips. He thought it was hilarious. Me? Not so much. And then there was last night when, after a request for a hug from a regular, I got the following lovely little suggestion (request?) whispered in my ear:

“Are we gonna have sex tonight? I am going to fuck you so hard you won’t be able to run for a week.”

Charming. Have I mentioned recently how much I love my job? No? Oh. Weird.

Anyway, all those things are neither here nor there I just really felt like sharing. The point of this post, really, was to tell you guys about the most ridiculous pick-up line I got last night. Or, wait, maybe it wasn’t a pick-up line. A compliment? I don’t know. Either way it was HI-larious.

Okay so here’s the deal. I had just gotten off a dreamy night of work. Can we just, for a second, discuss the fact that I said that with absolutely no irony whatsoever? Despite the rather aggressive sexual encounter that was offered to me? Seriously, just as an aside, last night I was transported from the bar that I normally work at into what I call Pleasantville. Seriously, everyone was nice! And they were tipping so well! And saying please and thank you! There was one girl who was only, like, moderately nice and she was the worst person we had all night mostly because she spent half the time crying into her gin and tonic. (My coworker and I did feel really badly for her. I hope you are okay where ever you are today, crying girl.) Oh! And before I forget! We also had this other girl sitting at the bar who spent like an hour videoing herself drinking her drink and making duck face. I so wish I had her Vine information because that shit was fantastic. I can’t even really do it justice. Anywho, I got off work, dropped my coworker at home, and headed back to my neighborhood where I found a parking spot on my block, and in a Wednesday spot no less! Score one for Frank! I got out of my car, noticed I was parked a tiny bit on the curb, made the perhaps poor decision to worry about it later (which reminds me….move car…) when a black luxury car with tinted windows pulled up next to me. It was 4:45am. Here we go.

Guy: Hey sweetie.
Me: (unimpressed eyebrow raise) …
Guy: You’re lookin’ awful pretty
Me: (even more of an eyebrow raise and an eye roll) …..
Guy: What’s your name, gorgeous?
Me: I am not going to tell you that. Have a good night.
Guy: Come on, why won’t you get in the car?
Me: (walking away) HA!
Guy: You have just the most attractive kneecaps

?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

I have to say that in all my years of life and cat calling, I have never had my knee caps admired or complimented. And, honestly, until last night when it finally happened, I had no idea just how neglected they were or, honestly, how beautiful. How shapely. How bendy. And yes, how downright sexy. So thank you, weird 4:45am guy, for sexualizing a previously forgotten area of my body. Hopefully next time you will compliment my armpit, my inside elbow or, if I am lucky, my right pinky finger. It’s a little swollen from an incident with an ice bucket a few months back but it’s still downright hot.

Woman from Street Harassment Video Receives Rape Threats, No One is Surprised

30 Oct

Over the past few days a video documenting the degree to which women experience street harassment in New York City has been making the rounds on the internet. As of this moment, 11:49am on Thursday, October 30, 2014, the video has been viewed 15,831,699 times and that is only the official link from Hollaback!. The Hollaback! video was a small excerpt from a 10 hour long silent walk that Shoshana B. Roberts did, all the while being videotaped by Rob Bliss who walked in front of her, a camera hidden in his backpack. If you haven’t watched it, you should. This will either bring back memories of your own experience of street harassment, or give you a little taste of what it is like to be a woman walking the streets of New York, and, really, any other city.

Watch it. Because while there are some problems – as pointed out in this Slate article although the video claims that she was harassed by people of every background, the vast majority of the men featured in this video are either black or Latino – it makes a really great point of what it means to be female in public. Just yesterday, for example, on my walk home from the super market, a man in a truck honked at me, and then proceeded to park in the crosswalk I was about to enter in order to comment on my outfit and my legs. The only response when you’re on a relatively desolate street right near Hamilton Avenue? Keep your eyes straight ahead and walk on lest you are dealing with a person with anger management problems. And the thing about it, the thing that is so incredibly fucked up, is that that shit didn’t even phase me. I had already experienced 3 other men commenting on my legs, been “god blessed” about half a dozen times, been leered at, honked at, had cars slow down as they passed me, been wished a good day, and had someone tip his fucking hat at me. And it was only 4:30 pm. I had left the house at 1. This shit is so goddamn normal that I completely forgot about it until I came across an incredibly upsetting article.

Since the release of the video, Shoshana B. Roberts has been receiving rape threats on the internet. I would love to say that I am shocked by this but the reality? Not so much. This is completely and totally unsurprising. And I am not the only one to feel this way. Kelsey McKinney over at vox put it really well in her article on the subject, emphasis mine:

“Let’s lay this out in plain terms. Women are forced to feel uncomfortable and scared for walking down the damn street. Then, when one woman takes the time to show just how uncomfortable those interactions are, people threaten to physically assault her. If the video reminded us that women are constantly made to feel unsafe when they leave the house, the response is a reminder that women are constantly made to feel unsafe when they simply turn on their computer.”

And it is so true. I don’t know if you guys remember a few months back when I decided to poke the bear that is the Men’s Rights Movement. I wrote three different articles on the subject and I have to say I don’t think I have ever received so many comments, all of them negative. None of the comments were scary or violent in nature. They were just, well, stupid. They were written by angry people who have created for themselves some incredibly bizarre alternate reality within which they, American white men and their brain-washed white female supporters, are somehow the oppressed class. There is no reasoning with them. They live in a land where logic simply does not exist and all events can somehow be changed and manipulated in order to feed into their myth of the misandry of American culture spear-headed, of course, by the “feminist agenda.” They have been in the mix of people claiming that if Roberts were to have worn something less revealing then maybe she wouldn’t have been harassed so much. As David Futrelle from We Hunted the Mammoth said,

“Today I learned that wearing clothes that cover up most of your body is the same as going outside practically naked.”

Sadly I am reminded of this fact daily, whether I am wearing running clothes, a dress or a puffy fucking winter jacket. Back to the point. So after Day 3 of me fucking with a bunch of MRAs, my dad called me up and said, and I am paraphrasing here,

“I know this is going to make you mad but hear me out. I need you to lay off this stuff you’ve been writing about.”

And you know what? It did make me mad. Because I should be able to say whatever the fuck I want. I mean, everyone else does, right? I should be able to call people on their bullshit and tell people that there is nothing complimentary about having a man whisper in your ear as you walk down the street on your way to mail your cable bill, or have some assholes in a pick up truck comment on your clothing while they drive past, only to then run into them 20 minutes later in the super market. But my dad also had a point. The reality of the situation is that while the internet appears to be a safe place for the anonymous rape and death threats that men seem to feel entitled to hurl at women who speak their minds, the internet is very much not a safe place for those of us doing the speaking. Under our real names. Because we are responsible people who stand by our beliefs. I didn’t really see it at the time, probably because I am stubborn as shit and don’t like to be told what I should and should not discuss on my own personal website. And I also believe that I have a responsibility to myself, and to women in general, to say these things. We should be able to speak our minds, to design video games, to call out bullshit, to believe that we are deserving of respect and safety. And you know what? We shouldn’t have to fear our information being made public. We shouldn’t be bombarded with threats of violence. We shouldn’t be going into hiding. This is fucking ridiculous.

And the thing that makes it even more ridiculous is that all this shit does is prove the point that women, and our allies, are trying to make. That we are not safe. Anywhere. That we are not valued. That our opinions don’t matter. But guess what? We aren’t going anywhere. So bring it, mother fuckers.

Also, that video has now been viewed 16,451,646 times and counting. Let’s keep the conversation going and let Shoshana and the Hollaback! team know that they are supported and, hopefully, safe..

No, Doree Lewak. Just No.

20 Aug

I.

It was about 2:30 in the morning on a Wednesday and I was covering a shift at my local bar.  My customer’s glasses were all filled so I decided to take a quick walk across the street to read the handwritten sign left on the front door of my (now-shuttered) favorite coffee shop.  I walked down the ramp, eyes glued on my destination, when it happened.  The whistles.  The kissy noises.  The comments about my shorts, my boots, my legs, my hair, my body, my face, my value.  I looked over and saw the driver of a garbage truck looking at me with a foul little sneer on his face.  Before I even had time to think the expletives started exploding from my mouth.  I was in the middle of the avenue in the middle of the night, arm outstretched, finger pointing, telling him whatever the hell it was that traveled quickest from my brain to my vocal chords and out of my mouth.  I can’t imagine it is much worth repeating.  I took out my phone, took a photograph of the truck’s license plate and went back to work.

II.

My friend and I decided to go for a walk.  As we made our way down 5th Avenue we were forced onto the street by some sidewalk construction.  While walking past an especially freaky-looking piece of heavy machinery we heard it from just above our heads.  The whistles.  The kissy noises.  The comments about our shorts, our boots, our legs, our hair, our bodies, our faces, our value.  As we walked past the cab of the truck, another wave of bullshit washed over us.  My friend took out her phone, took a photograph of the truck’s license plate and we went back to our walk.

III.

I went on the internet yesterday and came across this article, written by Doree Lewak of the New York Post titled “Hey ladies – catcalls are flattering! Deal with it!”  I would like to just say two things here before we get going.  (1) I am not a reader of The Post, I just clicked on the link this one time because I am a sucker and (2) the Wikipedia page about Doree Lewak that I linked describes her as a humorist, something I wholeheartedly disagree with.  Now, let us carry on.

In Lewak’s article, she talks about what summer means to her:

“…heat, hemlines and hard hats.  It’s the time of year when I can parade around in a skimpy dress with strategic cutouts that would make my mom wince.”

But Lewak doesn’t just dress this way for herself, no ma’am.  She looks forward to the opportunity to

“brazenly walk past a construction site, anticipating that whistle and ‘Hey, mama!’ catcall. Works every time — my ego and I can’t fit through the door!”

Do you want to experience that feeling of validation?  Well, just follow Lewak’s advice.

“Walking confidently past a mass of men, making eye contact and flashing a smile shows you as you are: self-possessed and playful. The wolf whistles that follow will send your ego soaring.”

And how!  Maybe buried underneath all the rage and disempowerment I felt at being objectified by complete strangers in the middle of the night, and in the middle of the afternoon, was my rising confidence.  Oh wait, no, on second thought I am pretty sure it was actually just fear.  Fear that responding to these men might send them over the edge or that not responding to them might cause them to hurl their own version of hateful vitriol in my direction.  There is no blueprint for how this goes.  Each circumstance is different.  And, sad as this is to say, I almost consider myself a professional at handling street harassment.  I think I could practically put it on my resume.  I assess my environment — are there people around, is it light out, are there easy exits, is there a business I can walk into, do I know the neighborhood — before I decide whether or not to respond.  If it seems unsafe, I scowl and walk on.  But if I am about 90% certain everything will be okay, I take the risk and speak my mind or I whip out my phone and take a photograph.  Ms. Lewak is correct when she says that “feminism is” (at least in part) “about self-empowerment,” but I think she needs to do a little bit of reading and figure out what the word “empowerment” actually means before she starts throwing it around and aligning herself with the feminist movement.  There is nothing empowering about being yelled at from the cab of a garbage truck or a piece of heavy machinery or anything else for that matter.

Oh, and about that.  Belle Knox?  Really?  Belle Knox is an incredible young woman and I have the utmost respect for her.  I think she is having a huge impact on the way we see, and talk about, pornography and the sex industry at large and that is incredibly important and long fucking overdue.  But there is a serious difference between a woman on a street and a woman in a professional working environment.  Belle Knox is, when adult films work the way they are supposed to, in control of her environment.  There are safety protocols.  She knows what is going to happen and, perhaps most importantly for this particular argument, she is consenting to the activities she is engaging in and if she becomes uncomfortable, she can say stop.  And that matters.  When I, any of my friends, and yes, Miriam Weeks (AKA Belle Knox), walk down the street and we get hollered at, we are not consenting to that.  If we become uncomfortable, we cannot necessarily make it stop.  We are not safe.  We have to assess our environments to make sure that our response to harassment does not put us in a physically dangerous situation.

I am sorry that Ms. Lewak thinks all the rest of us somehow got it wrong.  That what many of us see as hurtful, demeaning, frightening and dehumanizing is actually something we should embrace and, yes, even court.  You know what?  Fine.  Doree Lewak is welcome to go about her life, finding her worth in the “primal” utterances of strangers on the streets.  But perhaps she shouldn’t tell the rest of us how to feel.  Or maybe she should read the comments on her own article.  Maybe she should read Diana’s comment:

“But telling other women to “get over it” and respond to catcalls (i.e. street harassment) like you do is deeply inappropriate. For some women—particularly women of colour and women living in poor neighbourhoods, who are at a higher risk of catcalls turning into actual physical violence—street harassment is an issue of safety, not preference. There are tons of blogs by WoC documenting this exact phenomenon. I can’t imagine that they appreciate you giving permission on their behalf to the catcallers who make their streets unsafe.”

Or Astoria Grey’s,

“That’s really great that you have had such a positive experience and enjoy the street harassment you receive. Maybe it has something to do with being 20 years old when you received your first ‘cat call.’ You were probably in a much better space for receiving attention about your body than I was when it started happening to me. Growing up in NYC, my street harassment began at a much younger age. Men telling me to look at them with my beautiful eyes, or to smile more, or commenting on the length of my shorts. It made me feel exposed and vulnerable and not in control of my own body. I still cringe at how these remarks made me feel and can still make me feel nearly 15 years after they began.”

Or Nicole Leigh’s,

“I was 11. My friend and I used to walk by the highway the boarded our neighborhood and we’d count how many men would scream at us from their cars on our walk to meet each other. And we BOTH looked 11. None of us developed early or anything. “

Maybe then she will realize that what she sees as empowering is actually dangerous and damaging for the majority of us.  So, Doree, next time you go for a run and some guy starts running “with” you for 5 blocks because he thinks you’re hot, let me know how empowered, flattered and safe you feel.  Because that happens and it is scary as fuck.

Street Harassment: The Close Proximity Whisper

13 May

Okay, ladies, I’m sure you’ve all experienced this:

You’re walking down the street doing what you always do which is minding your own goddamn business and going about your day when you see a man walking towards you.  You notice him looking but he says nothing, doesn’t exactly ogle but his eyes linger on you a little too long for optimal comfort.  As he gets closer you brace yourself for the upcoming comment, the kissy noises, that terrible clicking sound.  Nothing.  You think you’re home free but then, just as he passes you he leans in and whispers ever so quietly,

“God bless.”

You can feel his breath on your face and the hair stands up on the back of your neck.  You turn around, angry, but he is already halfway down the block making his way to where ever he is headed.  No one around noticed a thing.  He’s in the clear.

If I had to rate types of non-physical assault style street harassment from one to ten, ten being my least favorite, I think that approach would get the crown.  It is worse than the passing car, the obvious stare, the invitations to go out, the whistles from rooftops.  For me, the close proximity whisper is one of the most invasive forms of harassment.  In the United States, we have such an engrained idea of personal space that when someone invades it there is no ignoring it.  That person made the choice to enter into my space, he knew it would make me uncomfortable and he didn’t care.  The feeling of his breath on my skin only adds insult to injury.  It is one step away from him putting a hand on me.  It is infuriating, disempowering, and disgusting.

The close proximity whisper is something that has been driving me crazy for a long time.  I almost forget that it even happens until one day some dude whispers “smile baby” in my ear and I go through the fucking roof.  But he didn’t touch me and there is no opportunity for a strong worded retort, really. It always takes too long for me to register what has happened and by the time I do my only option is to scream like a banshee at some asshole’s receding back.  The reason I thought of this now is that the other night this happened to me only it was on a crowded train and it was terrible.

So I was with a friend of mine and we were heading to Crown Heights to visit his friend at the bar she works in.  When we got onto the train it was relatively empty but we opted to stand.  I have been standing a lot lately.  It’s a thing.  Anyway, we were standing in the little door alcove on the wrong side of the train (AKA the side the doors open on) so every time we stopped somewhere we would split up; he would stand to one side of the doors and me to the other.  We’d reconvene in the middle once everyone got aboard.  When we stopped at Atlantic Avenue the train got swamped.  We couldn’t meet in the middle again so he stayed to his side and I stayed to mine. Right next to me was a really tall (this is all relative considering I am pushing 5’4″) man somewhere in his late forties if I had to guess.  The second the doors closed he leaned over and, right in my ear whispered,

“Are you a mommy?”

It took me a second to understand what he had said.  It was Mother’s Day after all.  I gave him a small smile and said no and then resumed staring blankly in front of me, my left arm grasping the subway poll, my right hand resting on my left shoulder, as much of a protective stance as I could muster considering I had no room to move.  He leaned forward again,

“You look too young to be a mommy.”

I glanced over at him, raised my eyebrows and did a very slight head nod in an attempt to acknowledge he had said something to me without inviting him to say anything else.  A moment later his hand “slipped” off whatever he was holding and hit me in the chest, landing hard on my breastbone.  I instinctively checked to make sure my necklace didn’t vanish — it hadn’t but it wouldn’t be surprising to me if it had because people just love to steal shit from me — and felt thankful I had the foresight to cover my boobs with my arm.  I glanced over at my friend who had been looking at me protectively, not sure exactly what to do and, I imagined, taking cues from my behavior.  The man apologized.  I shot my eyes up to him without turning my body in his direction.  Then, seconds later, as we approached a stop he put his hand on my shoulder, leaned in much to close and whispered,

“Have a wonderful day.”

He was all up in my space.  He was touching my arm.  I thought maybe he was getting off at that stop and felt a momentary rush of relief but the train doors opened and he made no move to exit.  At that moment my friend called over the heads of the half dozen people in between us and asked if I wanted to get off and walk.

Fuck yes.

We got off the train.  I didn’t look back to see the man’s reaction when he realized that I was traveling with someone and that someone happened to be years younger and much more solid than him.  My friend and I talked about it for a minute, him not knowing the man had touched me because he was unable to see through all the people.  From his vantage point all he could see was some guy whispering in my ear and to him, that was enough to want to get me out of the situation. I put it out of my head for the remainder of the night but now I am thinking about it.  And here is what I am thinking.

It is bad enough to have someone whisper in your ear and keep moving but to have that person violate your personal space and continue to stand there is totally fucked.  It put me in an incredibly uncomfortable situation, one that I could not extricate myself from.  It’s like, there I was, stuck with all these people around me and then this guy who was just toeing the line, seeing how far he could push it.  I was bound, in a way, by the manners we as women have been taught.  I didn’t want to sharply tell him to stop, as I normally would if I could walk away, and then be stuck standing next to him, with the eyes of all the other passengers on me.  I didn’t know what their reactions would be, whether they would support me or think I was a loon.  I mean, all he was doing, really, was talking.  And the first touch could easily have been excused as an accident.  I started feeling like the best course of action was to keep my eyes down and my mouth shut, to not draw attention and maybe it would just stop on its own.  (In my personal experience, this reaction never really has the desired effect.)    I didn’t want to have to defend my reaction to a bunch of people who might not support me and then remain there, shamed.  I thought if I just stood there, more or less unmoving, as nonreactive as possible, he would back off but he didn’t.  He just kept toeing the line, kept inviting me into this seemingly innocent, but incredibly invasive, private conversation that I had absolutely no interest in participating in.

It’s a weird thing, to step out of your own tendencies.  I am pretty outspoken about this sort of thing, normally.  Especially when I am in New York.  That might sound like a weird thing but this is my home, I have lived here for a long time and I know when I should say something and when I shouldn’t.  Before I react strongly to a comment, I note the time of day, where I am, whether or not there are people around. At 4am I keep my mouth shut, but in the afternoon, in a parking lot stuffed with cars, I will say my piece.  I take the shock and awe approach.  I am especially good with words when I am angry and I think that the mouth I have takes casual harassers by surprise.  It gives me the chance to tell them about themselves and march off before they regroup and think long enough to come up with something better than “bitch!” But being stuck in a subway car, pinned in place by the sheer quantity of people, can really make you revert back to socialized habits.

Anyway, a lot of times I think back on things and figure out how I could have handled it differently, better.  There’s always something.  But in this particular case, even with the luxury of space and a few days time, I cannot for the life of me figure out how I could have behaved differently.  I didn’t feel unsafe, really.  What I did feel was the society in which I was raised, one that teaches girls to keep quiet.  I thought about all the times people have told me that it is unsafe for me to speak my mind, that it isn’t worth it.  But I can’t stop thinking about how this guy won. How by not telling him what he was doing, I was complicit in it, I was saying it was okay.  Sure, I got off early, sure, it was clear that I didn’t want to be near him, but I don’t know.  It is very possible that me telling him to back the fuck off, as much as he could considering the circumstances, would have set him off, or would have fallen on deaf ears, but I also could have been the first person to say it and maybe, hopefully, the last person he did it to.

Being a woman is hard.