: Just in terms of the fact that I am keeping this diary, I already feel like I’m on guard against street harassment. I hope this will wear off after today. I am becoming more aware of the way that I move through public space, though, and the effects that past and potential harassment has had on me. I don’t like approaching groups of men and I find that I brace myself for harassment before it’s even happened. I approach every male like they are a potential harasser, even though I know that isn’t true.
In order to get from my train to my house, I must walk down a path that is flanked by chainlink fences. The only way out is at the beginning and at the end. Every time I walk down this pathway, I think about how easy it would be for a man to trap me there. I look behind me to see who has followed me into the corridor. I am uneasy every time I walk down that path and do not feel safe until I’ve safely exited the other side.
: I have more thoughts on something that I had started to become
aware of yesterday, which is the way in which I move through public space. Worse than receiving actual harassment is the near-constant feeling of anticipation or expectation of harassment. It’s this feeling of being on guard at all times. This culture of fear has been created for me, and it makes me feel unsafe in my surroundings even when I’m not actively being harassed or bothered. I notice that I avoid eye contact with men when I am in public. I walk past groups of men with my eyes glued to the ground, hoping that if I don’t look up they won’t speak to me. I turn the volume up on my headphones, hoping to drown out any stray comments or whistles that may come my way. I’m alert and always aware of the person that’s approaching me or sitting next to me. I would consider this behavior paranoid, except that it’s continually proven to me that I have reason to be worried about being harassed.
: Today was a
good day. Just a few scattered, “Hey, baby,”-type comments. In my world, that’s nothing. I’m relieved and surprised when I’m hardly harassed.
Wednesday: Waiting for the train on a street corner in Allston, I’m standing with a group of women. None of us know each other. A man across the street begins yelling at us, things that I can’t quite make out. His tone is threatening and demeaning. None of us says anything. He continues to yell at us. No one tells him to stop. He comes over to the platform where we’re standing, still incoherently addressing us. I feel threatened and anxious, and also ashamed that I didn’t say anything about it.
Walking down the street from the T to my apartment, I pass a group of men sitting on the stoop of their apartment building. They used to yell things at me as I passed, usually some variations of, “Hey, mami!” I am a familiar face to them now, and they no longer yell. I don’t know if this is a sign of respect or if the novelty has worn off. What I do know is that even though they don’t yell at me anymore, their eyes follow me as I pass. All 4 of them watch me walking, and my body becomes nothing but an object for their gaze. Their eyes burn through me and I feel vulnerable and insecure. They don’t have to say a word for me to feel intimidated and self-conscious.
Thursday: A swelteringly hot day. A man on a crowded train tries to casually reach up my dress. I’m sure in his mind I was asking for it by wearing a sundress in public. I’m grateful for my headphones because I can’t hear what the guy on the street is yelling at me. I do know that my failure to respond to his calls has angered him, though, because his face gets angry-looking and I assume the things coming out of his mouth now are less-than-nice.
: A man stared at me for 10 minutes straight on my train ride to work. It was super intimidating and made me really uncomfortable. He did not stop staring at me for even a second, even when I looked back at him to let him know that I knew he was looking at me. He kept looking at me until I got to my stop, and I felt his eyes watch me walk off the train.
Saturday: I am frustrated when men that I assume are on the same page as me question my assertion that street harassment is a problem for me. I am really upset because I like to think that I align myself with people who understand these basic things about the world we live in or would at least be receptive when I tell them that I experience this thing, and so it feels like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me when one of them tells me that I’m overreacting or that I “don’t have to take it.” I know that part of doing this work is being willing to open a dialogue with people about it and not get defensive when they don’t agree, but sometimes I just want to cry because it all feels so futile.
Which becomes even more infuriating when a random man on the street tells me that he wants to “hit that,” another one makes kissing noises at me, another one gets angry and calls me a bitch when I don’t want to talk to him on the train, and the assorted “hey, baby/sexy/mami” calls that I am unable to even keep track of all compile to make me feel completely fed up and exhausted by the time I walk through the door of my apartment. Sometimes I feel like I’d rather just stay inside forever, dealing with no males other than my super awesome and supportive partner because it’s just too tiring.
Reflections: When I look back at the diary that I kept this week, I notice that it was a week light on harassment in general. I didn’t have a lot of incidents to document, and in the larger picture of my life, none of these incidents will be seared into my memory and recalled at a later date. What sticks out the most to me about this diary is how much the cumulative harassment that I’ve experienced over the course of my life has affected the way I feel when I’m moving through my community. There is an underlying fear, anxiety, and sense of uneasiness that permeates every minute that I’m in the world. I’m not a generally anxious person. This is rational anxiety that has been created by repeatedly being subjected to harassment and assault (usually by males) in public and private spheres. I’m constantly reminded that my body is not my own every time that I’m touched or ogled without my consent. And this is the way that street harassment works as a tool of the patriarchy: by keeping women in fear, by keeping us walking on eggshells, and by reminding us that we never have the upperhand, it succeeds in keeping us oppressed. And I feel that oppression every time that I’m treated like a piece of meat to be poked, prodded, leered at, and jeered at.
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