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Sunday: I took my dog out for a walk this morning around the block. There weren’t many people out so I tried to take in the cool air and continue on my way. It was early in the morning. I cross the street to take my dog to a nearby park that he likes and I think about how I’ve had several negative encounters there from men. They sit on one of the two benches and either stare and leer at me or try to talk to me. I’m trying to walk my fucking dog in a park on a beautiful morning and I’m thinking about Things Strange Men Have Done to Me: such a negative association for a pretty park. The city, my neighborhood, doesn’t just hold places that I’ve been and enjoyed but places that are tainted by men who have intruded into my day and made me feel like a piece of meat.
Monday: Didn’t go out today until the evening to pick up a prescription and then head to a meeting at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. I was going to be talking to a group about how Hollaback! got started and then talk about the connection between street harassment and sexual violence. As I was walking to the meeting and thinking about what I should make sure to bring up, I was people watching to see if I was missing anything. Sometimes we become so hyper aware of ourselves that we forget that we are sharing the sidewalk with strangers carrying their own experiences. I was looking at people and keeping my head up as I was walking, as not to look weak, and ready to hollaback if I needed to (‘cuz I gotcha back!).
But that’s the problem. The problem is that my body and mind are already in this state of anxiety leaving the house that it interferes with my day. Sure, it’s not the worst thing to be aware of your surroundings and conscious of your body, but when it gets to the point where you’re so alert that you can’t enjoy or even be calm on your outings, that is an issue. You’re so preconditioned to expect to glare at the next person that crosses you that you miss out on just living your life and moving your body around the city.
Needless to say, nothing happened, but my mind was thinking a swarm of thoughts that are not uncommon for me to have on many occasions when I leave the house.
Tuesday: I was out late tonight because I had an appointment with a friend. We were in an unfamiliar area and reliant on public transportation to get home after midnight. I want to point out that while I felt uncomfortable being in a unfamiliar area, nothing happened to us as we were walking towards Sullivan Square T station from Mystic Ave. We were walking in the middle of the night back and nothing happened. I point this out because women are often blamed for the harassment or violence against them because of the circumstances: it was too dark, it was late, you were out alone, you were wearing a dress/skirt at night. These are all restrictions put on women to restrict their inclusion in public spaces, but harassment only occurs if you are around a harasser. The time of day and your clothes are irrelevant.
Thursday: I am picking up a prescription. I am coming out of the pharmacy and going towards my bike as I notice a man in a car staring at me. I stare back and he doesn’t look away. I unlock my bike. I look up as I’m putting my lock away and he’s still staring. I stare back, give him the finger, and make a shooing motion with my hands. He shakes his head no, stares, and then slowly looks away. I am FURIOUS.
Friday: Nothing of note except that yesterday’s incident is weighing on my mind. That weight will carry throughout my day and I know I don’t have to get over it, but I should soon enough for my own well being. It’s a hot, hot day but I feel sexy in my outfit (a tank and harem pants) and walk confidently with my head up and shoulders back, daring anyone to cross me. No one does.
Saturday: I went out with my mom on a frozen yogurt/movie date. It was nice being able to walk around with her and not be entirely focused on harassment. We were so engulfed in conversation that I was not so focused on the micro: what am I wearing, am I safe, do I look confident? Is that person a threat? Will I need a sweater later and I’m walking home alone? I was entirely focused on our time together and what we were talking about. Which was nice for a change, as this must be what it’s like when other men walk around and enjoy their respective days.
Reflections: This activity was a lot for me. Not only was I able to take down every piece of harassment that I endured, but I was able to assess how my body physically and mentally react once I enter the public sphere and how often those reactions are negative. They interfere not only with my day but my quality of life; my ability to believe that I am safe and have a right to take up public space in the city that I live in (and pay to live in). “But isn’t harassment the price you pay for living in a city?” “No, local taxes are the price you pay for living in a city.” — a great quote in the Hollaback! manual in response to those who believe daily harassment inevitable for (women/sexually marginalized individuals) who live in urban areas.
The bottom line is that harassment of all forms is a damaging societal tool enforced by patriarchy used to maintain power over marginalized individuals and diminish their right to safe streets. So I won’t stop fighting and taking the micro seriously until harassment-free streets are a reality for women and LGBTQ-individuals worldwide.
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