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Submitting another story!
I witnessed this particular incident over the summer. I was showing a friend from out of town around the city. We descended into the Government Center green line station after drooling on over-priced merch at Newbury Comics, and proceeded to join the crowd waiting for the train. We were standing behind a group of young women, whose ages I can’t really gauge – but they were quite petite and were probably teenagers.
We chatted away as we waited for the “B” line, clearing the way for others to board when their trains arrived. I mention this because everyone was behaving in an orderly manner – there wasn’t really any need to rush or to shove past anyone, which is why I’m convinced that this was harassment.
Finally, the “B” train arrived, screeching horrifically across the tracks as it did, and people began to assemble toward entrance points to get on and find seats. OUT OF ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE this pathetic piece of shit makes a full-on bull run past us, almost hitting me and my friend, and then completely VAULTS HIMSELF into the girls standing in front of us, nearly knocking them into the side of the train itself. They turned in horror and confusion to stare at him as they regained their footing. He mumbled some sort of insincere apology and said it was an accident, and proceeded to motion for them to get on ahead of him. They did, looking uneasily at each other and giggling nervously.
I immediately felt enraged. I’ve mentioned my history in a previous post – suffice to say, I have a pretty sensitive Spidey-sense when it comes to behavior like this, and I immediately knew that this dude was a fucking pervert that decided to tackle a group of girls half his size in order to force physical contact with them. There was literally no reason for him to run up the way that he had – the train wasn’t leaving (in fact, the doors hadn’t even opened yet), everyone, as aforementioned, was boarding in an orderly matter before – this wasn’t some rush hour competition to ensure that he could get a seat or something (and even then it would have been fucking rude).
The girls got on and sat in two rows. My friend and I sat across from them and watched as the loser stood in the stairwell directly in front of two of the girls and proceeded to try and converse with them. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but the girls were exchanging the same looks as before, so I can only guess it was unwelcome.
I snapped this picture of him. He’s the douche in the grey Marines shirt.
This isn’t exactly a harassment story, but about a stinging comment from a stranger that I think had a terrible influence on her young daughter that I’ve been unable to stop thinking about the implications of since then.
Over the summer on the commute home from my internship, I entered the T on my way to South Station. There was usually only standing room only at this time only, so I held on to one of the poles near a woman and her young child. My bag of choice for that day was a novelty purple bag with bright, colorful designs on it. Definitely not anything offensive, but something personal that a friend chose out for me to go with my style, and that made me happy.
The little girl admired my bag to her mother, who said snappily in return,
“Yes, I bet that girl gets lots of attention when she carries that bag. Sometimes, you don’t always want to attract that kind of attention to yourself.”
South station was the next stop so I did not say anything back to her but it was very embarrassing and many people turned to look to see what this woman was talking about. I can’t stop thinking about how blatantly rude and not quiet this woman was. No one paid me any notice before she made a comment and then all of a sudden people WERE curious to see what the woman was talking about.
What’s worse though, what a terrible influence to that little girl, who is probably going to have to grow up thinking she has to worry what people think before making style choices. Sad.
I am gay. I have been dating girls for nine years now. I make it pretty obvious, because I’m really into hand holding.
I am not live-action lesbian porn. I am not showing affection to my girlfriend for the public’s benefit.
For some reason, many people seem to conflate these two things. I feel like there should be a checklist. Am I naked? Am I wearing a strap-on? Are my actions horrendously fake-seeming and obviously fashioned for a male, heterosexual market? No, no, and no.
Growing up, the comments and catcalls didn’t bother me so much. High school was a hard time for me. I’ve been spat on, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been ignored in times of need. All because I’m gay. So when guys would see me with my girlfriend and say, “I like that,” or, “Man, what I’d do to get between that,” I generally didn’t mind. I figured that hey, at least they’re not spitting on me, right? At least this is “positive” attention, even if it’s unwanted, even if it makes me feel exposed, vulnerable, and objectified.
So I began to prefer the harassment over the slurs. I preferred getting groped over being threatened. For some reason, I made a hierarchy out of these instances of disempowerment.
Since college, I’ve begun to look at things differently. Perhaps it’s because I have more supporters, or because I have been gradually finding my voice. I can remember the moment where I finally snapped. I was at a party, and a guy was fastidiously trying to get my number. Finally I told him I was gay, to which he responded, “Yeah? Baby that’s hot.” So being as agreeable as I am, I simply asked, “Why?” And walked away.
I am still afraid to hold my girlfriend’s hand, but I refuse to let go. Walking down the street, men playfully jeer, “Can I hold hands too?” “What I’d do to see that!” “Very nice, ladies.” And in my mind I keep asking that question, over and over again–that simple “Why?” We’re holding hands, not fucking. Refer to the checklist.
I’ve always hated being catcalled, but generally saw it as an unpleasant part of life. Then, one morning on my way to work, a couple of guys in a truck caught me on the wrong day and went a little too far. They slowed down next to me, creeped along and made comments, and I stood there, shocked, and watched them drive away and park in front of a house further down the street. I got to work, and posted this on Facebook, with a picture of their truck:
“I am SO SICK OF BEING CATCALLED. It’s not flattering, it’s not charming, and it’s not cute. It’s disrespectful and aggressive. I hope the guys in this red truck on Fairbanks, installing new windows, are ready for an angry call to their employers: both the company AND the homeowners.”
Women (and even men) I barely ever spoke to were commenting and discussing how unacceptable this kind of behavior is. My friends, my family, people who were in classes I took six years ago…I got fired up, and on my way home from work that afternoon I sought out the names of the installers. I managed to get the landlord’s contact info (not without first I knocking on the wrong door and making friends with an elderly woman named Marguerite. She was a real sweetheart.)
I finally emailed the property owner to let her know about my experience. I got this letter back:
“Dear Ms. ***,
I do really want to express my sincere apologies for the unpleasant and frightening experience you had on Fairbanks street on your way to work.
I am extremely astounded to hear that ***, a man I have known and who has worked for me and some of my best friends for many years may be responsible for this unacceptable behavior toward women. I certainly will speak to him in very harsh terms, you can count on that.
What would be helpful, is for you to forward me a copy of the incriminating photos you took so that I may make more of an impact on *** and his crew to stop immediately this kind of behavior.
I certainly can also forward your contact information,with your permission only, if you wish to receive a written or an oral apology from him and his crewmen.
Again please do accept my sincere apologies for this terrible behavior on the part of my contractor and his crewmen.
I have lived in Brighton since 1974 and I can say that this is the first time I hear of this kind of complaint. I certainly take this very seriously and believe me I shall make sure *** and his crew do take it that way as well.
With sincere apologies,
I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU HOW GOOD THIS FELT!
I thanked her, and a few days later got this:
“Dear Liz (if I may),
I am grateful for your response. I did have two conversations with *** on Tuesday and Wednesday to make sure that he convey your sentiments to his crew and that they take your concerns quite seriously.
I can assure you that you should feel free to walk down Fairbanks Street without fear of being bothered.
*** offered to have a conversation with you, but I shall inform him that you would rather move on and not have him contact you.
I do thank you for bringing your complaint to my attention and can assure you that I, like you demand respect of all women.
With all good wishes
Sexual harassment doesn’t need to be an unnecessary, unpleasant part of life. I think that Hollaback is a wonderful reminder that this is something we ALL deal with. Your fellow women, and the better of the men, have your back (if they don’t, cut them out of your life.) Speak up!
A male friend of mine who does manual work showed the conversation to his partner, who harassed women constantly. It convinced him to “at least stop whistling at women from the work truck” so as my friend put it, “progress has been made!” Small progress…but it’s a start!
For this Monday morning, an illustrated look at street harassment:
For me, this resonates. It’s not just public masturbation, groping and assault that are problematic (though they very much are); it’s the small, seemingly unremarkable comments that build up to a sense of vulnerability, of feeling unsafe in public. These interactions are worth remarking on, and are a part of the spectrum of street harassment that we’re here to share.
image credit: Lefty Cartoons
Recently, Jezebel posted this article: Can You Tell The Difference Between a Men’s Magazine and A Rapist? I resist from using adjectives to describe it (see: shocking, surprising, disgusting, appalling) because while these words are surely applicable, I can’t help but feel that this isn’t news. We are conscious of the fact that the media, particularly “women’s” and “men’s” popular lifestyle magazines are driven primarily by stereotypical gender-role based writing, and within that, there is an “appalling” amount of sexist garbage.
This particular article highlights just how pervasive it can get:
Well, this is upsetting. According to a new study, people can’t tell the difference between quotes from British “lad mags” and interviews with convicted rapists. And given the choice, men are actually more likely to agree with the rapists.
The University of Surrey reports on the study (conducted jointly with researchers at Middlesex University), to be published in the British Journal of Psychology. Researchers gave a group of men and women quotes from the British lad mags FHM, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo, as well as excerpts from interviews with actual convicted rapists originally published in the book The Rapist Files. The participants couldn’t reliably identify which statements came from magazines and which from rapists — what’s more, they rated the magazine quotes as slightly more derogatory than the statements made by men serving time for raping women. The researchers also showed both sets of quotes to a separate group of men — the men were more likely to identify with the rapists’ statements than the lad mag excerpts.
My strongest takeaway from the study was when I read the quotes from the study that the men had to distinguish between, an awful lot of them are reminiscent of what “common” beliefs there are about how a woman presents herself in the public sphere and what men deduce and act upon. I highlighted some below:
1. There’s a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex . . . The way they dress, they flaunt themselves.
2. Some girls walk around in short-shorts . . . showing their body off . . . It just starts a man thinking that if he gets something like that, what can he do with it?
9. You’ll find most girls will be reluctant about going to bed with somebody or crawling in the back seat of a car . . . But you can usually seduce them, and they’ll do it willingly.
11. Girls ask for it by wearing these mini-skirts and hotpants . . . they’re just displaying their body . . . Whether they realise it or not they’re saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got a beautiful body, and it’s yours if you want it.’
14. I think if a law is passed, there should be a dress code . . . When girls dress in those short skirts and things like that, they’re just asking for it.
Let’s be clear. The way I dress does not dictate whether or not I want to have sex. Wearing short shorts does not mean that I am anyone’s fuck to be had. If I am reluctant about crawling into the back seat of your car, you don’t get to try again. It means “No.” My mini-skirts and hotpants are never worn for you and do not represent my sex life. Finally, I am never asking for it. I am asking for it when I verbally consent to the behavior we have explicitly discussed.
I hope this article helps highlight the connection between street harassment and gender-based violence and how if one is okay (see: number 11), then it opens the door for what other behavior is okay (see: unwanted touching, groping, grabbing, hitting, raping).
What were your thoughts after reading the findings of this study? Share your thoughts below!
Last week, my partner sent me an excellent, excellent article – a piece that resonated both with me and, he was excited to note, with him.
J is particularly keen on understanding my views on street harassment, and keen on being supportive of my activism in that realm. When we first started dating, years and years ago, street harassment – in its fleeting, degrading, less-physical-but-mentally-draining sense – was unknown to him. When I began coming home from lone runs rattling off lists of comments thrown my way mid-mileage, he started to be wary, and angry. When he started running with me, he was surprised that catcalling continues even with him by my side.
When he read this article, something for him clicked and he sent it my way. “I get it,” he said. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.” J is what I would consider an ally in this fight to make our streets feel safer; he’s a supporter, he’s on my side. And yet, it still had not, until recently, quite made sense.
Gentlemen. Thank you for reading.
Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.
So far, so good. Miss LonelyHearts, your humble instructor, approves. Human connection, love, romance: there is nothing wrong with these yearnings.
Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.
“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”
Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?
So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?
Why do I share this here? Firstly, I believe everyone should read this piece in full. Women, you will be thrilled that someone put this into such eloquent, accurate words; men, you will (hopefully) see a new side to this fight, and understand that it’s not that we hate you.
Second, for me personally, this piece covers exactly why I believe that Hollaback! can be an effective tool for change – if victims of street harassment don’t share their stories, how can we expect society as a whole to understand what the problem is? Hollaback! serves as a forum for sharing, discussing, communicating. It can be both cathartic, and informative. It has the power to provide a voice, and to change perceptions.
What do you think?
While waiting at Government Center for the subway, a man came up next to me and mumbled something incoherent at me. Since I was uncomfortable, I casually walked a few feet away. When I look back in his direction, he gave me a very nasty smile and flipped me off. I quickly walked FAR away and took the next train even though it wasn’t mine. There were plenty of other people there, but I don’t think anyone said anything to him or noticed. This is the kind of thing people (usually men) who have never been harassed don’t understand: you can do something innocent like ignore someone and remove yourself from an uncomfortable situation, but sometimes that just escalates the situation. It isn’t cool. It isn’t fair. It’s bullshit.
I was heading home in the early afternoon. I was in a busy part of the city, walking up the hill, away from Park st. Station, towards Beacon st. I was deep in thought about the events of the day and not feeling very good about it at all.
I noticed a man walking towards me, but he wasn’t looking at me and I assumed he was on his way somewhere, minding his own business just as I was. However, in the split second that he passed me on the sidewalk, he looked at me and said “Mmmm, yeah, I like what I see,” and kept walking. As always, when something like this happens, a million thoughts of what to say run through my head (after the initial shock at some strange man making a sexual comment to me) and of course, as always, all I could do was turn around and look at him in disbelief as he walked away without giving me a second look.
On most days, if this happened, depending on my mood, I would just shrug it off, or make a disgusted noise and keep walking, or if I happened to be with someone, complain about it to them for as long as I could. This was not a usual day, though. I kept walking and noticed that I just kept feeling more weak and sad with every step, I had never felt so defeated, disgusted, violated by an encounter like this. I also felt helpless, but most of all, angry.
As I fought back tears and continued to walk home, I was mad that this guy had made me cry over what he said. I was angry that he thought he felt he had some right or privilege or that it was just plain okay to comment on my body. This man did not know me. He didn’t know that I was on my way home from an appointment with my doctor, where I had cried in the examination room as I explained to her that I was having such bad panic attacks, that I couldn’t go to my classes, some days I couldn’t leave my apartment, and some days I barely got out of bed. He didn’t know that strange people on the street, near me, talking to me, is something that can trigger an attack. He didn’t know that his words were bringing me to tears and making my already terrible day, ten times worse.
Maybe if he knew all of those things, he would have left me alone. But he didn’t and he didn’t. The strange thing was, to him, it almost seemed like a reflex. Pass a woman = make a comment about her body/appearance. It’s not the same as someone seeing me on the street, possibly finding me interesting, attractive, or whatever they see and coming up to me and striking up a normal conversation. I’ve had that happen, and it doesn’t bother me. If I feel like talking to them, I do. If I don’t, I tell them I need to be somewhere and head on my way. THAT is a normal, human interaction. What the man passing by on the street did, was take a cowardly shot at me, because he somehow felt he had the right to do so. I still don’t understand why. Of course I have theories: he wanted to make me feel weak, he wanted to make himself feel big and strong, he thinks it’s funny, he gets some sexual thrill out of it. I really don’t know why and I don’t care. I just don’t want him to do it again, because he has no right to. Even if he did “like what he saw”, that doesn’t mean he had some sort of obligation to let me know.
Writing this story gives me the same helpless feeling all over again, because it just seems like there’s no way to make it stop. Creating awareness, speaking up, talking back to the person, are all ways that I feel like I can make it stop. But there are still days that I don’t want to leave my apartment because I know that (especially, if I’m alone) most likely, I’ll get a look or a comment from some man who thinks I’m on the street that day for his amusement. Well, I’m not. And one day, he might be sorry he said anything to me or any other woman.
I was always a little ashamed about my experience with street harassment because my feelings each time were mixed. I didn’t have a very high self-esteem as a teen, and if a man thought I was attractive, or if he told me he wanted to do something sexual to me, I should take it as a compliment, right, despite how uncomfortable I was? I was sure no one else would want to compliment me. I went on like that through most of my adolescence and into my teen years: feeling uncomfortable but secretly thankful that if they were going to make a lewd, disgusting comment at my beautiful friends, it meant they thought I was beautiful, too…right?
It wasn’t until I was in college that I had to think twice about it. Coming from a small town, incidents were few and far between (mostly because there wasn’t a sidewalk). Now that I had a job downtown, I had to walk then ten minutes back and forth a few times a week. I ordinarily had my iPod, but that didn’t stop me from seeing the lewd gestures and open leering every day, so many times in each ten-minute walk that I would increase my speed, nearly running home so I could avoid the stares and the comments my iPod protected me from. I was no longer experiencing my guilty pleasure at men thinking I was attractive – I was feeling like I had no power, no authority over my own body and no way to know whether the man who might reach out to touch my arm as I walked by was going to do more than touch my arm.
I was walking home one evening, and, having forgotten my iPod, had to endure every comment, every glance and every, “Hey baby” thrown my way. I was nearly back to my campus, thankful to soon be out of the dark and out of the rain, when I heard, “Excuse me, ma’am.” I was so surprised at being addressed so politely that I stopped to respond. He then proceeded to ask me out for the next ten minutes, not taking no for an answer. I finally tell him I really have to go, and he mutters something under his breath about me being fat and ugly anyway.
A little shaken up, I entered my campus dining hall, where a man serving chicken complimented “my style,” saying he liked my lip piercing. I said thank you, and he continued, “You should get your nipples pierced,” smirked, and looked down to my breasts. I walked away, not understanding what I should do, how I could have responded, and wishing I had just brought my iPod. Then the normal guilt started – “Well, if I didn’t have a lip piercing, he wouldn’t have noticed me. I should have worn a less flattering coat…” Somehow, all the “compliments” I got didn’t seem to complimentary.
That’s because street harassment is not a compliment. It’s a way to assert power over the victim. Since then, I’ve discovered Hollaback!, a whole community of brave people who know the difference between comments and gestures that are supposed to make you feel confident and secure, and comments and gestures that are supposed to put you in your place. That’s why I Hollaback!