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This past weekend, within a period of 24 hours, I experienced 2 instances of street harassment and was a bystander for one. 24 hours is an extremely short period of time to be reminded 3 whole times that if you are female, that you are less than human and valued only as a sexual object; that violence is always waiting around the corner; that taking a short walk home on a lovely night can turn scary; that some men refuse to consider how a woman might feel when approached on a dark street. Well, here’s how:
Friday night: Hollaback! Baltimore helped organize and tabled at an awesome event for GenderEDGE at Golden West Cafe. The purpose of the event was to start a dialogue with the local neighborhood about tolerance towards the Transgender community. Namely, allowing trans-people to use the bathroom that best represents how they identify without fear of harassment or assault. It was a successful event, we had a lot of fun, a couple beers, saw some bands – good stuff! I live nearby and decided to get some exercise and walk home. As soon as I turned onto Falls Road from 36th St, 2 guys passed me. I tensed up, expecting the worst, only to hear a polite “Hey, how ya doin’?”. I responded with a polite “Good, thanks” and kept moving. A few feet later I heard “Hey…, hey… HEY!!” I turned around (thinking “did I drop my wallet?”) and the formerly polite guy said “Hey, come here,” motioning me with his index finger in a creepy way. Surprised after the initial ‘normal’ encounter, I stammered “Uh, I have to go.” To that he just turned around and kept walking with his friend. For a few blocks I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure they didn’t follow me. I had no idea what he wanted or expected of me. I was scared and angry that he would motion me like a little kid.
Once I finally relaxed enough to start enjoying my walk home again, a car pulled up beside me, slowed to my pace, and the man inside (a different man!) said “Hey, hey baby, hey… hey baby… hey girl… baby, hey…” I kept my gaze forward, but soon realized he wasn’t going to quit and that the street was deserted. I walked backwards a few feet, and made a bee-line for the middle of the street (and into the street light, to make it easier to get someones attention if need be). I heard the man say “Oh” and drive away. Like “Oh, she’s actually resisting my charms, guess I should go.” So. Weird. I guess I made it home unharmed.
Saturday night: After enjoying a fun dance party at a local bar, I was standing outside chatting with friends before heading out. A friend of my friends, “Mr. Funny”, was hanging around making off-color jokes. For some we laughed with him, for most we laughed at him. He’d had a few and didn’t seem to notice. Right before leaving, my friend brought it to my attention that this funny man said “Hey Judy” to himself as a woman was seen walking into the bar. “Judy” as in “big booty Judy”. It was thinly veiled street harassment. Still jovial from a fun night, I asked him light-heartedly “Wait, you just street harassed that woman walking in?”, “Yeah, I guess, so?” I said “Can I take your picture?” “OK!” I told my friends, “This is going on the site” as they laughed. The Mr. Funny posed, unashamed and unaware. I remember him saying, moments later, “Why do women get so upset?” Keep in mind I’m still laughing with my friends about how clueless this guy is, I was not screaming or crying, so I’m not sure what he was talking about, but it does sort of prove that he knows women do not like this behavior and yet he is unwilling to change.
I have a horrible analogy to share: You love clapping loud, right in the ears of men over 5’6″. You don’t bother with the men under 5’6″, that’s not your thing, but you LOVE clapping in the ears of those over 5’6″. Now, every time you do it you get a different reaction (ignoring, sideways glance, dirty looks, curse you out, etc) but they are never particularly positive. Some men over 5’6″ even tell you than no man likes people clapping in his ears, regardless of height. You would never clap in the ear of your brother, father, cousin, boss, etc, but strange men on the street over 5’6″ – game on! How many men of a certain height would have to tell you to stop before you actually did? In this imaginary situation, you aren’t over 5’6″ and you’re not a man, so wouldn’t you just have to take these tall guys word for it? Would you actually assume to know what life is like for them better than they do? Or do you just not care?
A stupid analogy for a stupid behavior. Leave strange women alone. Even if they don’t hear or see you, other women do. Other men do. Young boys do. And that is not OK.
This Street Harassment Diary series was inspired by the original diary post on Hollaback! Boston’s site.
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