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Sunday: My girlfriend visits me, and I’m so excited to see her that I forget that holding hands with her means that I should anticipate being harassed. During our ten minute walk to a restaurant, we receive three honks from passing cars and some incoherent yelling about our bodies. As they each speed past me, I wonder what it is I’m supposed to do to stand up for myself when they’re driving away, making harassment on their drive as common as the stoplights and pedestrians.
On our way back, now indignantly holding hands, almost challenging anyone who dare sexualize our walk down the street, a man hung three feet out of his passenger side window to say, “YEAH, SCISSOR GIRLS.” He made some sort of “scissoring” motion with his hand
I didn’t say anything, even though he was now stopped at a red light and I could see him and his friend laughing. I felt sick to my stomach.
Monday: As I was traveling a lot, I had my headphones in most of the time – this is both nice, that I can avoid all comments, and also a little scary, because you’re now vulnerable to things you’re not necessarily expecting.
I got a lot of long stares at my breasts. I was wearing a shirt t
hat said, “This is what a feminist looks like,” but I had the audacity to wear while having breasts. I thought to myself, “Well, I should have expected this – it’s a low cut shirt that says I support women.” No one really said anything to me, so I guess it was okay.
Tuesday: A few “Hey baby”s and “Hey girls,” but nothing memorable for the most part. When a friend and I were walking back to her apartment, a large group of men (probably in their early twenties) were talking to each other. They stopped on the sidewalk – one of them made a comment to us (I didn’t hear it, but my friend did). One of the men said, “That’s not okay, dude” to the harasser. My friend said clearly, “Stop, leave us alone.” The man who spoke to his harassing friend the first time said, “I told you so.” I felt like, despite the harassment, the positive bystander made it worth it… sort of.
Wednesday: It was, like, 90 degrees, so I spent most of the day inside. The one time I left, I went to a liquor store in Beacon Hill. The cashier took my ID, and he started engaging me in a conversation about what I was going to drink, how I was going to drink, was I getting drunk, etc. I thought it was annoying, but, as usual, I smiled and nodded. He asked me what it was like being a Capricorn. I told him I wasn’t. I assumed he was checking to see if my ID was fake or something, but then he pointed to my tattoo.
“Well, then, what is that?”
“It’s from a song.”
“How do you know what I’m talking about?”
“Because I know what my own body looks like. I put the tattoo there.”
“Well, FINE, if you don’t want to tell me about it, you don’t have to.”
Glad I was given permission by this man to not talk about my body, my choices, and “my sign.” I walked home.
Thursday: I was walking to South Station. A friend and I stopped at the Dunkin Donuts across the street to get breakfast and coffee. About five minutes into our meal, my friend says, “Angela, that man won’t stop staring at us.” I looked over. He wouldn’t break eye contact whenever we looked over. He knew exactly what he was doing. A second later, a large group of people blocked his gaze. When they left a few minutes later, however, he was still staring at us. It had been too long to be by accident or innocent. I turned around to him and said, “Stop staring at us, please.” I was not unpolite, but not unclear. He said, “Sure.” About a minute later, my friend asked again. He still wouldn’t stop staring. My friend asked if I didn’t mind leaving. As we left, I looked at him. He didn’t care what my friend or I thought. He didn’t care what the employees thought, or the other patrons. It was a power struggle, and he won.
I saw my girlfriend again. We went to the mall and we held hands. Men stared, but no one said anything. It went well enough.
Friday: It was a pretty uneventful day. I went to dinner with a friend. I left him at the table for a minute to go to the ladies room. On my way, I passed a table of men in their twenty-somethings, and one of them pointed at the tattoo on my thigh and made some comment to a friend. They sort of chuckled and continued to talk. For all I know, they discussed how cool it was. I don’t know. I was too busy pretending to look confident as I walked by them a little too quickly to be my natural gate. I’m so used to defending my right to be present to men that even their sitting at a table seemed like a threat, so the added comment was more than I could handle.
Saturday: I took an extended, roundabout route to check my mail because I noticed a man who often says things to me that make me uncomfortable. I avoided him and felt stupid that I walked such a stupidly long way to avoid him. I also felt relieved that I didn’t have to say anything to him.
Reflections: Taking note of each and every thing that happened to me, every bit of street harassment, every call, every stare, every small decision I made because of gender-based violence, was more difficult than I thought it would be. I think about street harassment, I write about street harassment, I present about street harassment – I thought it would be easy.
Well, it’s not easy. I don’t even realize how much effort I put into forgetting, into brushing off very real and very scary situations, knowing I won’t feel comfortable or safe going about my normal day if I spend too much time thinking about for how long someone followed me until I faked a need to go in CVS, or, as I did this week, take an extra long route to get my mail, knowing I would have to try to prevent my breasts from getting stared at if I took a direct route. As much as talking about my experiences with street harassment is cathartic, it’s also draining: there’s only so much time I can spend in a day thinking about how unsafe I feel from the minute I leave my door. By subconsciously ignoring all of the things I purposely thought long and hard about this week, I can get by and feel okay.
I was also worried that after listing all of the noteworthy harassment that occurred this week, it wouldn’t sound hard enough to deal with, or terrible enough to matter. Of course I don’t want something awful to happen to me, but it seems like it would make a case against harassment on the streets more valid to all the nonbelievers who think I should learn to take a compliment. I have to keep reminding myself that the entire point of this diary is to reflect the little, everyday things that happen so often it’s impossible to discuss them all. It’s not supposed to declare the worst street harassment I’ve ever received; it serves as a TV to my normal interactions, and I can’t say enough that these small events are persistent, and they facilitate a culture of violence against women that leads to other acts of violence.
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