I was inspired to write this account of street harassment-related events by Britni’s Diary from Hollaback Boston. She has an insightful reflection on the effect that the mere threat of street harassment has on women and LGBTQ folks and her diary is definitely worth reading.
Tonight around 10pm I was out in Little Italy with a male friend of mine. As we were crossing the street, I heard a man in a car yell something incoherent. When I looked over, he waved. I’m not entirely sure if that was intended for me, but we were the only two people crossing the street at the time. My friend did not even notice that this happened, but I certainly did.
I looked around those several seconds after the incident to see if there could’ve been anyone else this man was trying to talk to. I immediately felt self-conscious and thought, “Are my shorts too short? Do I look particularly provocative right now?” Then, I tried to play it off because my friend didn’t notice and I didn’t feel like explaining.
While walking the block and a half from my house in Hampden to my job at 9:45am, I passed two male construction workers repairing a roof. Yet again, I hear one of the men yelling out and I see him wave. Is he waving to me? I try to look around discreetly to see if anyone else is around. It’s early and there are about 3 other people within 300 feet of me. Is this man trying to get my attention? Should I cross the street and pass by him? I won’t look directly at him and let him know that I’ve heard him – he might take it as an invitation to keep yelling at me.
Again, I feel super self-conscious and I just want everyone to leave me alone.
I just read [trigger warning! sexual assault] Liz Gorman’s account of her sexual assault on July 4, 2012 at Dupont Circle on the Collective Action for Safe Space website (www.collectiveactiondc.org) , DC’s anti-street harassment campaign. Her story is almost identical to my story of assault in Santiago, Chile and brings up serious emotions.
I was living in a good neighborhood in downtown Santiago and had spent the night out drinking and dancing with a girlfriend of mine. We shared a cab home, dropping her off first. It was almost 7:00am when the cab pulled up to my apartment and although I lived downtown, it was a Sunday and it seemed deserted.
From the cab to my apartment doorstep, it was about a 20 second walk. In those 20 seconds, I saw a man on a bicycle staring at me. I stared back sternly so he knew I had seen him. He then rode up to me, grabbed me under my dress and sped off. I screamed and yelled in Spanish saying, “WHAT THE FUCK?! YOU ASSHOLE!” No one else was around to hear me or even notice.
I wasn’t brave enough to share my story until I read Liz Gorman’s. I wasn’t brave enough to tell the carabineros (Chilean police). I wasn’t even brave enough to tell the Chilean family I lived with what happened to me because I was in such shock; I felt embarrassed and violated.
Shawna, Linda, David and I go to the St. Francis Neighborhood Center to represent Hollaback! Baltimore and do an anti-street harassment activity with middle school girls (check out the video here!). We walk as a group from St. Francis to Druid Hill Park to throw some water balloons. After every last balloon has popped, we start walking back. We’re walking on the sidewalk of Druid Park Drive and, of course, it happens again.
I hear a man in a car yell something incoherent and when I look over, he’s waving. What is WITH all these strange men in cars waving and yelling at me and the people I’m with?! I seemed to be the only one in our group to notice some dude yelling at us from his car and, as usual, I look around, get super self-conscious and proceed to get really angry.
I witness this just as Shawna is behind me talking to one of the 12-year old girls, “Have you ever been harassed on the street?” “Oh yeah!” she says rolling her eyes. Another 9-year old girl chimes in, “Uh huh!”
I talked to a good male friend of mine about street harassment today.
Every summer I go through this inner conflict of dressing for extreme heat (it was up to 105 degrees in Baltimore this summer, in case you didn’t know) vs. dressing to blend-the-fuck-in with everyone else. Because I know it won’t solve my problems, I force myself to dress exactly as I want despite my concerns.
This was the first time I was so open about these insecurities with a man. I told him that today I went grocery shopping in a white summer dress.
This is what I do when I’m anxious about being harassed: I slouch with my shoulders rolled forward, my neck lowered and leaning forward a bit all in an effort to shrink; to take up as little physical space as possible. This makes me feel less vulnerable to leering stares and inappropriate comments, but it doesn’t actually work. I walk looking directly ahead and focus my eyes on objects, not people. Looking at anyone’s face could be an invitation for conversation, or harassment, so I avoid it at all costs and try to look busy.
I was driving on I-95 South and I passed several large trucks. I didn’t experience any harassment (woohoo!), but was definitely hypersensitive.
I think about the family vacations I went on when I was in elementary school and how my sister and I absolutely LOVED passing huge 18-wheelers because we’d signal for them to honk their horns, then giggle excitedly when they actually did it. How different my attitude toward trucks is today.
When a truck passes me now, I think about how vulnerable I am in my small car so low to the ground. That truck driver can see my entire body if he wants to and I can hardly see him at all.
While I do experience harassment, it’s the threat of harassment that most often causes me (and other people) anxiety and stress. I consider myself a strong, reasonable woman and it was not easy for me to be so honest about these insecurities, but it’s normal to try to protect yourself when you don’t feel safe. Why don’t people who experience street harassment feel safe? Because street harassment is at the beginning of the continuum of violence; it’s a gateway crime and it can easily turn into assault or worse. The international Hollaback! movement has taught me that I’m definitely not crazy and I’m not alone. Volunteering for Hollaback! Baltimore has given me agency and control in a situation where I feel none. I can write about my harassment, locate it on a map of the world and even take a photo of the person making me feel unsafe and unwelcome! Raising awareness, sharing stories and educating our communities can truly change our society into one that no longer normalizes cat calls, assault and harassment.