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Originally posted on Allison’s personal blog here. Allison was kind enough to let us crosspost her response to street harassment in Allston the other night.
I punched someone on the street last night, which is a first for me.
My girlfriend and I were walking along Harvard Avenue, a heavily trafficked main street in Allston. We were headed home from a party about a fifteen minutes from our place. In the one block between Commonwealth and Brighton, three separate men or groups of men verbally harassed us — a very typical female experience, practically guaranteed for lesbian couples. They said things like ‘hey baby’ and ‘you girls wanna sleep with me tonight?’ as well as the eloquent ‘OHHHH!’, an urgent effort to draw attention to two women holding hands.
At the next block, another dude said something. I don’t even remember what it was. I don’t think it makes a difference. I turned around, swung, and punched him. It took him by great surprise and his face immediately changed to one of anger and hate as he started yelling at me, ‘what the fuck, you fucking dyke! you fucking faggot!’ This happened to occur right outside of a bar with 15 or so people outside, who stared as Michelle pulled me close to her as we crossed the street. Peeling off onto a side street, we were followed by violent hollers until they faded out. ‘fucking faggot!’ I sobbed the rest of the way home.
I’m not exactly a placid person, but I’d never punched someone before and I believe in the merits of peace over violence. Whatever that guy said wasn’t the worst thing that’s been said to me by any means. I just snapped. After 23 years as a woman and ~2 years being ‘out’ in Allston, after having been forced to tolerate my relationships and humanity degraded on a regular basis with no option other than to keep walking, I wasn’t going to take it. It’s not okay how so many men behave as though they have the right to aggressively address strangers on the street because we’re women, and it’s not okay that we are expected to take it with a smile.
Isn’t it interesting that he first addressed me with interest because I was holding hands with my girlfriend, and when I turned on him I was suddenly a dyke and a faggot? This shows how these guys don’t see women and lesbians as people, they see as whatever they want to see us as — certainly, less than human. I can’t imagine how shocked that guy was when I hit him. I wonder if the effect will be that he is more wary of hollering at women on the street or if his urge to make women feel bad is strengthened. I wonder what made a deeper impression on the people outside the bar: a girl hitting a guy, or the subsequent sound of hate shouted down the street.
I’m sharing this story because I want to be an example for women: we don’t have to be silent when we are degraded. I’m sharing this story because I want my male friends and allies to be aware that street harassment is an everyday occurrence, it feels awful, and you can and should stand up to it. I’m sharing this story because even though the whole event shook me up and made me sad and angry, it’s empowering to use my voice to share that I physically challenged rape culture. (If you’re not sure what ‘rape culture’ means, read this.)
At the end of the night, I get to go home with an amazing person I’m head-over-heels in love with, and I have the strength of knowing I stood up for myself even though society frowns upon doing so. It was an ugly experience but I hope that sharing it opens some eyes and maybe even changes some hearts. Thank you for reading, and don’t forget that everyone you see is a person, like you.
We’re no strangers to uphill battles, but we rely on our freedom of speech – and yours! – to make a case against street harassment every day.
Today, please take 30 seconds to contact your representatives to share your views on SOPA, and help us keep fighting the good fight.
image credit: Google
For your Friday, this gem from A Softer World:
Have a lovely, harassment-free weekend!
Climbing the hill toward home, I heard it – the unmistakable sound of a car going out of its way to slow down and pull up close. The driver leaned across his copilot, completely diverting his attention from driving.
“Hey, honey! Are you black?”
I stared. It’s possible my mouth fell open in shock.
The passenger spoke up, as someone in the backseat giggled loudly. Clearly, this is amusing.
“Are you stupid? Are…you…black?”
The driver chimed back in, speaking over the unseen giggles.
“Well your ass sure looks black. What are you then?”
I stared some more, as traffic began to line up behind their car on the steep slope of Cedar Street. I decided it would be easiest to answer.
“Oh, that explains it.”
Does it? Really?
The co-pilot, now hanging out the window, reaching toward me on the sidewalk, asked the next crucial question:
“You have a boyfriend?”
“Husband,” I answered, flashing my left hand with my key ring looped around my fourth finger, silently grateful I had taken up the habit years ago of carrying my keys this way.
“Damn. Is he black?”
Silence. I was done. I was shocked that this conversation had happened at all, that it had happened so close to home, that it had continued this far. My silence was unacceptable and the driver leaned over again.
“Fine bitch, you don’t wanna talk? Fuck you.”
And with that, they drove on, giggles and all.
Why? Why does my clear discomfort with this conversation, my rebuff of your advances, classify me as a cold, cruel bitch? Why am I expected to swoon over, or at least politely (and, frankly, my responses were nothing but polite, if terse) tolerate and engage in, your inappropriate advances?
This was by far one of the more bizarre interactions I’ve had on the street regarding my backside, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s unacceptable. In any other situation, be it a workplace, classroom or polite company, asking a stranger, “Are you black?” and continuing to comment on their physical form would be considered all kinds of harassment. Why is it any different on the street, the most public of spaces?
I expect to be able to bike to work safely in my boots, leggings, and work skirt without having my crotch leered at by older men when I am stopped at a red light and they are walking past me in the crosswalk.
I expect to not be ogled at as a lady biker, the way male bikers decked out in tight, revealing spandex never are.
In my day-to-day life, I tend to surround myself with people who share my beliefs. I surround myself with activists and feminists and queers. Currently, I’m in a place where I cannot pick and choose the kinds of people with whom I associate. It has been a huge wake-up call regarding the sheer amount of misogyny out there and how much work still needs to be done.
The men in this place are typical men. They are a general cross-section of the types of men that exist everywhere. I can only call out the casual rape, domestic violence, and general violence-against-women jokes for so long before I snap. It becomes exhausting to be the only one speaking up about things. It becomes exhausting to be the “wet blanket feminist with no sense of humor.” It becomes infuriating that no matter how many times or how many different ways you explain why you are offended by these things, men continue to say them.
One day, after a trifecta of jokes about Kelly Preston “deserving” to be shot in the arm by Charlie Sheen, a Michael Jackson child molestation joke, and a “hysterical” rape joke, I couldn’t take it anymore. I sobbed in frustration, and then I wrote an open letter to the men here:
“I’m sorry that I react so strongly to your jokes about rape and domestic violence and molestation. My anger and explosiveness around these things is not always the most productive reaction, and it’s something I’m working on. However, I will NEVER find these jokes funny or okay. There are so many other things to joke about that are actually funny. These kinds of jokes that degrade and disrespect women are unnecessary.
I’ve worked with survivors of domestic violence. I’m also a survivor myself. I’ve seen firsthand what this behavior does to people. I’ve seen lives destroyed and people broken. You try working with someone who almost lost their life to this and try to tell me (and them) that that’s funny. Try to tell them that they deserved it– but you’re just kidding! No offense!
I’ve worked with survivors of rape and sexual assault. I’m also a survivor myself. I’ve seen firsthand what these things do to people. I’ve been put in that situation that renders you completely powerless and takes your body from you. The situation that strips you of your autonomy, your worth, and your ability to decide what someone can and can’t do to you. Try telling someone who’s been through that that it is funny. I can tell you firsthand that I didn’t find it funny at all.
Jokes about these kinds of things serve to sanitize them. If we can joke about them then it makes it easier to laugh them off. It makes it easier to excuse them. We are inadvertently giving them permission to keep happening. When we say that we find these things funny, we condone them in a way. When we equate our taxes or a test (“I got raped on that test, man!”), we remove the power from the word and the act. It doesn’t seem like as big of a deal.
Until men can stand up and say, “Hey dude, don’t joke about that shit. It’s not cool,” nothing will change. I know it’s hard to break old habits. I just ask you guys to pause a minute before speaking and be mindful of the power of your words.“
All it takes is one guy at a time to stop this kind of behavior. Don’t you want to be that guy?
People ask me why I would choose to bike to and from work in the winter in New England, with temperatures ranging from the low 10s to high 40s on any given day. They wonder why I wouldn’t just take the T with the loads of other commuters. Biking and riding the T take about the same amount of time, anyway.
But I don’t feel as safe on the T. Because I know that I will have to assess my surroundings at all times, which granted I do riding my bike as well, and assess if this man is just looking at my piercings or my sweater or truly ogling me. Groping me on a crowded train because he’s betting I won’t say anything. Because on the T there is no quick escape. If I want to hollaback, I risk making a scene where I am stuck on the train or bus with this perpetrator telling me how much of a crazy bitch I am who needs to take her meds. Their shame of being called out is turned into denouncing my existence as another emotional woman who can’t take a compliment. Once a man said to me, after I called him out for leering at my body in the summer, “You think you’re precious, huh?” Like I’m too weak to accept this man’s attention.
On my bike, where I often receive harassment from strangers yelling things from cars and quickly escaping as they drive off, I am at least in control of my mode of transportation. I have to focus on the road, the pedestrians, the cars, the children, and am able to ignore harassment or at least push it to the back of my mind as I pedal on. I have bigger concerns than an idiot yelling nonsense at me as I navigate my way through traffic. If someone is harassing me and I am in danger, I have a better chance of getting away on my bike than on foot.
Honestly, I love commuting by bike in all weather. I feel more connected to the city and my surroundings than if I were in a car or bus. It frustrates me to acknowledge that choosing to bike isn’t solely for pleasure and convenience, but also for safety and lessening my anxiety of being harassed. We all know that there is no magic solution to street harassment– you won’t magically be exempt from it biking versus riding the T– but there are definitely routes that we take as women and targeted individuals that we personally gauge as the lesser of two evils. I choose biking.