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I was walking home, completely soaked by rain when someone said “It’s wet. Wanna get out of the rain for a while?” I looked up and saw a man in a doorway, and hurried past. No way in hell was I going in a strange building alone with a stranger who is bigger and stronger than me. He probably meant to be helpful, and probably thought I was rude for not answering, instead looking down and running past. But I know too many people who have been hurt by someone who used an offer of “help” to get them alone. I’m sure most people wouldn’t think of this as harassment, but I think it’s an example of someone who feels safe in society not realizing how things that seem benign or even helpful to them can be seen as threatening by other, more vulnerable populations.
For one of the first times since I had a baby 6 weeks ago, I left the house feeling awesome. I put on a new outfit (jeans and a loose shirt), threw my baby in her car seat, and drove off to be a productive member of society.
I stood at the gas station, pumping gas into my car. There was a man at a pump kitty corner to mine who was engaged in a conversation with another customer. When his conversation partner drove away, he turned to face me. I avoided eye contact and hoped that he wouldn’t come over. The next thing I know, he’s sauntering over to me with a huge smile on his face.
HIM: “Can I ask you a question?”
ME (hesitantly): “Sure.”
HIM: “Will you marry me? RIGHT NOW!”
ME (unsure of how to handle it): “Um… I’m already married.” *shows ring*
HIM (cutting me off): “HAHAHAHAHA. I JUST *HAD* TO GET THAT OUT THERE. YOU HAVE A NICE DAY NOW!”
Yes, he just *had* to go out of his way to come over and make a random female uncomfortable by making weirdly aggressive yet “joking” come ons in the gas station parking lot. I wonder if I should have just stuck to my leggings and spit up-covered tank tops.
I was sitting at the picnic tables outside the Boston Children’s Museum one evening, enjoying the view of the city and the water. I saw a young man also around, a ways away past the museum. I was messing around on my phone and when I looked up he was much closer to me, again I looked down, and when I looked up he was maybe 20 feet away from me. He said, “Hello,” to which I responded, “Hello, how are you?” He said “Good” and then turned towards me so that I could see he was masturbating. I said something like, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?” I was mad – I couldn’t believe this guy thought he had the right to do this in front of me. I got up and quickly walked away. He called after me saying, “Wait, I’m sorry.” I looked back later to see him walking off in the opposite direction – but for the rest of the night I was anxious I would see him again.
Last week, I was asked to share my story at a hearing on the recently filed bill to provide narrow protections of (and repercussions for impeding access to) reproductive healthcare clinics in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling striking down Massachusetts’ former buffer zone law.
As I sat waiting to give testimony, I noticed that the audience members sitting behind me were whispering furiously, and not terribly discretely, through any pro-choice testimony. As Megan Amundson of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts explained to the committee that her written testimony also included the stories of several victims of harassment who wished to remain anonymous, I heard a clear snort of derision. “How convenient!” my neighbors sneered. “Anonymous testimony.”
In that moment, my reasons for testifying, for sharing my story publicly and for the record, were reaffirmed: talking about one’s own most vulnerable moments, those moments which left such a mark on the memory that they cannot be shaken even as we move beyond them, is uncomfortable. It is to reopen that vulnerability, to experience the fear and the fury once more, and it is – frankly – unpleasant. And yet, my clinic harassment tale was not one in which I was physically assaulted, nor which caught me at a particularly trying time in my life; at first, I laughed it off, only shared the odd experience with my partner, and moved on. But sharing our stories, just like the shared stories of street harassment submitted to Hollaback! Boston, begins to change the conversation; shared stories show the breadth and diversity of experience, and shared stories from those who feel safe enough to attach their real name lend a credibility and an individuality that strengthens the testimony.
I am, fortunately, in a position to share. I am thankful to feel safe at home and at work, both physically and emotionally, and to have a strong support system; the repercussions and consequences I fear from speaking out, publicly and loudly, are not unfounded, but the risk is less than others may face. As a site leader for Hollaback! Boston, I regularly encourage victims and bystanders to speak up, to start the conversation, to testify; how could I, in good conscience, remain silent – especially faced with those whispered accusations of falsehood? “How convenient. Anonymous testimony.”
Here is my testimony from the hearing. It is not anonymous. It happened, to me, in 2008, and it was very real and very terrifying and very much NOT counseling, but harassment. Experiences like these are why protestors around clinics are a public safety concern. Experiences like these are why clinic patients and visitors and staff fear for their safety in public space. Experiences like these are why Hollaback! Boston has partnered with coalitions working to pass a replacement to the buffer zone law, and soon – because EVERYONE has a right to feel safe on our streets.
If you, too, would like to share your story of harassment and intimidation, at a reproductive health care clinic or anywhere else, Hollaback! Boston is here as a resource and a platform – and anonymous stories are always welcome! We are honored to publish the experiences that Bostonians have entrusted to us, and we intend to continue offering a space to safely share, to learn, to testify, and to spark conversation and prompt change.
Chairman Brownsberger, Vice Chairman Markey, Members of the Committee – thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
I urge you to support the Safe Access Bill so people can access health care without feeling unsafe. Even when simply accessing birth control, protestors outside clinics are intimidating and threatening, and we need to ensure safe access to health care in the wake of the Supreme Court decision striking down the buffer zone law.
I’ve been on hormonal birth control, in various forms, since I was 18. From my first period at 13, my cycles were abnormal, irregular and wholly unpredictable; to regulate them, I was prescribed Yasmin, a dual-hormone daily birth control pill, and it worked wonders.
For a time in 2006 and 2007, my birth control costs, no longer covered by insurance while I was a student in Boston, rose above $70 per month. The increased price was a burden. In late 2007, in an effort to be more responsible with my money, I decided to seek out a less expensive alternative. Without a local OB/GYN, I headed to Planned Parenthood. I was prescribed a different dual-hormone generic at a much more reasonable price point, but I had to go to PPLM every month to pick up my pills.
And so, I did.
One month, on a weekday morning, I arrived at Planned Parenthood in Boston to pick up pills on my way to work as a Northeastern co-op. There were just a handful of protestors outside the clinic, lining the yellow buffer zone painted on the sidewalk, and I locked my bike a bit away from the entrance. As I approached, someone asked why I was there – I assured him it was a private question I didn’t intend to answer, certainly not on the street.
Before I could duck inside the clinic, this counselor escalated his rhetoric: “You nazi bitch, you should be ashamed!”
I turned, shocked, and asked him to repeat himself. He did, and added other vitriol. I asked, from the perceived safety of the doorway far within the yellow line, what he had against a woman seeking medical care, before ducking inside, shaking as I passed through the requisite metal detectors.
That protestor was still there when I left. I was terrified that he would follow me to where I had locked my bike, and furious that I felt ashamed and frightened leaving the clinic with the birth control pills that my doctors prescribed. All of this, on a weekday morning.
Let me reiterate:
I was called a nazi bitch for refusing to tell a stranger on the sidewalk what medical care I sought.
I was told to be ashamed for consulting with doctors about my own health care.
Though it would have been simpler, I never had the courage to stop by the Boston clinic on a Saturday to pick up my pills; the fear of a protestor singling me out, engaging me beyond the clinic vicinity, following me as I left, seemed too great, the possibility of confrontation too real, and I was only seeking medication. I was terrified to face harassment on my way out, or to spend time unlocking my bike or waiting for the T to finish my commute. Ultimately, I was driven to find a different provider to avoid the stress of the clinic; I am fortunate now to afford to make that decision.
What is at stake here is the ability of people, women and trans men and queer folks who might rely on clinic services for any number of reasons, having their options limited because someone else made them feel unsafe in public, and unsafe accessing their doctors. Please lend your support to the Safe Access Bill so that others can feel safer accessing health care than I have.
image credit: NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts
This morning on my way to work I was playing the timeless game called…
“What’s That Smell?!”
I finally narrowed my suspects down to the smirking business man scarfing down a breakfast sandwich in front of me, or the man who appeared to be a student sitting to my left.
When I looked over at the man to my left, I realized he was watching porn on his phone. Not just watching, but holding his phone out in full view of his activities. There was no question I was meant to see what he was watching, and let’s not even mention that this guy smelled like he may have also crapped his pants in the process of his little game. Where does the sandwich-scarfing business man fit in to all this? He was smirking all the while because he was watching it happen!
Look, I try to mind my own business on the train. Whatever you are reading or watching or listening to is none of my business unless it encroaches on my personal space. Watching hardcore porn holding your screen in front of me is a deliberate act of harassment. The fact that other people noticed, watched, and moreover seemed to enjoy the show is simply mortifying.
So. I’m going to tell you about a rather tedious and extended bit of annoyance I encountered yesterday, walking through East Boston.
I am generally not one to avert my eyes from passerby, and this at times leads to unwanted social interactions. From men. Especially in my neighborhood, where gender behaviors have a certain anachronistic sexism jacked up on steroids.
I walk along head up, and meet eyes of passerby. Sometimes, it is interpreted as a welcoming, an invitation to a passing man, because I am female, and moreso, because at that moment was dressed as such (happens less in boy drag because then I’m interpreted as more likely to be lesbian…but still doesn’t stop this, just lessens the fequency of it).
And one man…a drunken one at that, takes to my side as I walk. It went predicatably…comments, questions, terrible flirtations I responded to politely, at first. Several blocks later, it turns sexual with outright vulgarity about how skilled at oral he is. I stop being polite and tell him he is wasting his own time, go the fuck home. I am ignored…do I have a boyfriend? I might, but it has no bearing on my lack of desire to have you tailing me like a lost puppy. He might not like it, eh? No, *I* might not like it. He gets huffy but forges onward anyway.
Several MORE blocks later, I finally stop. I ask him if this has EVER, EVER had any success rate? Why on earth would you think a woman would respond positively to this kind of BS? Do you realize what a total IDIOT you sound like? No woman likes to be followed and spoken to like a storybook whore, from a total pig.
He gets confused. Then angry. He looms a bit threateningly, to which I ask if he intends on escalating this to a level of violence….for which he is FUCKED if so, because now we are in a public square, people all around, and he, being drunk, is likely to get fucked up. He backs off seeming embarrassed but STILL lingers after me. But why not? He asks. He genuinely looks confused.
You should really just GO THE FUCK HOME. And never, ever try this approach again. “It makes you so much less of a real man” I say, knowing that particular choice of words will fuck with his reasoning, and seems to create some serious conflict judging from his face.
Then he turned tail and hustled away.
Oh man I am glad it was broad daylight, in retrospect. I don’t back down very well.
A young male at the T stop harassed me when I got off the train at around midnight. He complimented my outfit and then asked me out, and continued trying to get me to go out with him after I repeatedly told him that I have a boyfriend. He followed me until I got to the stairs leading up to Hammond St.
HOLLA On the Go posts are those submitted through Hollaback!’s mobile apps – learn more here!no comments
You probably know that the basis of Hollaback! Boston’s work revolves around sharing stories of street harassment on our site. But did you know that we also accept stories of abortion clinic harassment? IT’S TRUE! We do. And if you have one to share, we encourage you to submit it to us. BUT WHY?
Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the 35-foot buffer zone that has existed outside Massachusetts abortion clinics since the 1994 shooting of 7 people at 2 Boston-area clinics. They determined that the buffer zone was a violation of protesters’ free speech.
But we all know that abortion clinic protesters are not just politely standing outside clinics asking you nicely to reconsider your decision. They use tactics like intimidation, harassment, and violence. And that makes for some very unsafe public spaces, which is what we are actively working to change here in Boston.
Luckily, Mass politicians are taking this issue seriously and are working on legislation to put protections back in place. This new legislation was filed earlier today by Senator Harriette Chandler. It’s titled An Act to Promote Public Safety and Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities.
However, in order to strengthen the case for protections outside of clinics, the courts need to know how necessary these protections are. And the way that we can let them know is to hear from YOU! Your stories can change the world and here is an opportunity to do just that.
Have you been harassed outside of an abortion clinic? Tell us about it. Feel free to submit anonymously if you’d like. Tweet us @HollabackBoston. Tweet using the hashtags #protectthezone, #jointhedissent, and #notmybossbusiness.
Every story matters, and every story makes our case stronger. Protecting the zone starts with telling your story to the world. You have the power to help us ensure that everyone in Mass can seek reproductive healthcare in safety.
Not sure what we’re talking about? Here are some resources:
And don’t forget to check out coverage of the Supreme Rally, which we were proud to co-sponsor!
image credits: 1-NARAL Pro Choice MA; 2-Kate Zieglerno comments