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Guest blog post by our volunteer, Corrine:
So I’m hanging out in a bar with some friends. It’s happy hour. People are drinking. We’re talking, we’re laughing, we’re having a good old time. Everything is great. Then out of nowhere this guy comes over to my friends, grabs my crotch, tries to kiss me, and licks my face. Licks…my…face!
Not only was it gross and humiliating, it made me think I did something wrong. Maybe I accidentally made eye contact, maybe I smiled at him (I smile at everyone, I think someone told me once that it was being polite. I don’t smile so much anymore), maybe my pinstriped button down starched collared shirt and jeans and flip flops was too provocative of an outfit. Who knows?
The point is, he felt that something warranted him putting his hands on me. We weren’t in the workplace, I didn’t know him, we weren’t friends. Unfortunately, this was not my first time being harassed on the street by a complete stranger.
What exactly is street harassment?
At Hollaback Baltimore, we define street harassment as a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces. At its core is a power dynamic that constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces. Further, it reinforces the ubiquitous sexual objectification of these groups in everyday life.
In a nutshell: it’s when you say or do something to someone that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and those actions are motivated by a person’s gender.
Get to the point…
The point? Street harassment takes away an individual’s ability to be comfortable in their skin. It says, because you have these physical features and/or because you are of this specific sexual orientation, I can do and say anything I want to you, any time I want to. Street harassment can be sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, sizeist and/or classist. – See more at: http://www.ihollaback.org/about/
It says “Because you’re a woman, because you’re gay, because you’re a transgender person, you can’t just go anywhere and do anything without a consequence. You are not free to come and go as you please. You have to think about the places you go, you have to decide if its worth it. Otherwise, stay your ass at home.”
A step forward…
On Tuesday, May 21st, Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law the Fairness for All Marylanders Act (FAMA) of 2014 . Essentially, this law bans discrimination of any person based on sexual orientation and sexual identity. Further, this past week President Obama signed an executive order, also banning discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors and the federal government.
The Presidential Executive Order (Cliff Note’s Version)
Pretty cool, right? This legislation is most certainly is a step in the right direction with regards to making the workplace safer for all people. Despite this, the order still makes it perfectly legal for non-government employees and contractors to continue discriminating against a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person in the workplace. And don’t even get me started about what happens outside of the workplace. What about on the street? How can we make public spaces safer? What constitutes safe or unsafe? When does behavior become threatening?
Why can’t you just take it as a compliment?
I guess I could, couldn’t I? But tell me this, is it a compliment when someone follows you off the subway when you’re alone at night? Is it a compliment when someone stalks you? What about when someone decides to beat you bloody and leave you for dead on the street, is that a compliment too? Where do we draw the line between harmless fun vs. criminal act? Its legislation like FAMA and the most recent presidential executive order that are allowing us all to more easily navigate these gray areas. The more that we can advocate to specify the illegality of things like discrimination, harassment, rape, etc., in the workplace or at school, the safer the streets and other public spaces will be.
As we recognize the important acknowledgements being made with the passing of this bill and the signing of this executive order, street harassment is still a huge problem, not just in Maryland but internationally. Get involved and tell your story: If you’re a person who has experienced street harassment, Hollaback! While you’re at it, check out some of the other stories and maybe they will inspire you to take action. If you’re a person who has street harassed (knowingly or unknowingly), stop and check out the stories on our website to get a real picture of the message you send when you say and do those things.
I was walking to the West Baltimore marc train at 7:45 am, when a guy sitting on the curb I was passing leaned back, winked and said “heyyy mammmiii.” I didn’t say anything. I hadn’t even had my coffee yet.
This morning I was walking home by myself when a group of men stopped at a traffic light. As I walked by, they rolled down the window and one of them shouted, “Sup?” When I didn’t respond, he thought an appropriate response was to ask “Dick suck?!” I still didn’t respond and just kept walking. It was a great way to start out my Sunday.
I was standing in line at a convenience store one weekend a few months ago. I had just been harassed by some guy who had shouted “Hey baby!” at me out of his window, so I was already on edge. The guy behind me in line kept telling me “Hey beautiful,” and “Smile beautiful” and all kinds of creepy things that I was in no way inviting or responding to. I ignored him, but he continued. Finally, the man behind him said, “Leave her alone, can’t you see she has a boyfriend?” The creeper muttered, “Sorry…you’re still beautiful though.”
This was upsetting for multiple reasons. Firstly, that he continued his advances regardless of my silence (sometimes I get nervous about responding, as I have friends who have been followed home by guys like these). That would have been enough. But what upset me the most I think was that the man in line defended me not by saying, “Leave her alone. You are not entitled to comment on another person’s body,” but by saying he should leave me alone because another man had claim to me. I’m sure this was not the man’s intent, but the implication is that women are only people that deserve respect when they have a man in their lives. And that was the reason the man stopped harassing me. Not because I was a person, but because my hypothetical boyfriend was a person.
I was getting a carbon monoxide alarm at the department store. A guy turned the corner of the aisle and first asked how I was, so I said, “good, thank you,” and didn’t make eye contact while I continued to examine the box. He then said something about if I was “paying.” I ignored the comment. Then he followed up with, “because you are beautiful enough you could be.” He was soliciting me for sex, treating me like a prostitute. It is sad that he thought that was acceptable.
I am waiting in line at the grocery store and at first this guy touches my shoulder to say “excuse me” to apparently get out of the way of someone that is passing by. First, when people do this I find it completely unnecessary to touch me. Then he touches me again as he points to his friend, so as to suggest his friend as a prospect for me, raising his eyebrows and saying “eh?! eh?!” I felt really violated. I somehow was able to say “why are you touching me?” as he walked away, but still feel gross.
I just moved to Baltimore two weeks ago and was so excited to get settled into my new city. Three days into living in my new apartment I realized that a large construction project was starting in front of my house. Every day that I leave my apartment the construction workers ogle me, whistle, and shout at me. I thought that if I walked quickly or avoided eye contact the harassment might subside but it only got worse as they started to recognize me.
Whenever I leave the apartment with my boyfriend they pretend that it’s never happened and act respectful and courteous. I am so sick of people treating women like they are property and only deserve polite treatment out of respect for their partners. Next time this happens I am going to speak up and tell them that I don’t appreciate their stares or comments. I am not there for their pleasure or entertainment and I deserve respect simply for being a human.
Around 11 pm on June 15th, I was walking through an intersection when a passenger in a truck said to me, “Hey.” I did not respond. He said, “Hey” again. I still did not respond. Then he said, “Are you scared? You should be.”