Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Columbia MO, Des Moines, Fredericksburgh VA, Jacksonville NC, Los Angeles, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Palo Alto, Portland ME, Richmond VA, Rutgers University, San Francisco
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Monday: It’s the first day of the week, and I am already missing the weekend. Knowing that the temperature will be high again today, I dress myself in weather appropriate clothing, trying not to think about the fact that my jean shorts may give street harassers a full view of my legs. I get angry whenever I realize that I have to stop and take time out of my day to think about what I’m wearing, as if that will ever affect whether I get stared or hollered at, because it happens either way. Pressing on, I change, I get ready, I go out. I haven’t even left my doorstep yet when I spot a group of men up ahead on the sidewalk where I’m about to pass through. I am immediately dreading walking by them and consider walking a different route to work. But no, they’re not worth it. I don’t feel like (even slightly) rearranging my life just because I’m afraid of them. From what I can see, there are at least three men: two sitting in a car, and one standing outside talking to them. Preparing to pass them, I lift my head up high and walk quickly. The men are engaged in conversation until I get within a few feet of them, when they stop. They fall silent as I pass and I can feel their eyes on me, so I throw an unwelcoming glance their way. The man standing outside of the car smiles at me just as I turn the corner. The whole interaction leaves a bitter taste in my mouth–not the way I wanted to start off my week.
Tuesday: I don’t know what it is about me pumping gas, but it seems that every time I go to fill up the car, I become a harassment magnet. I was alone at a Hess station, and just as I turned around after entering my card’s PIN into the pump, I hear the sound of a car window rolling down. I instantly tense up. “Hey pretty girl,” comes from an anonymous car at the stopped light on the adjacent street. My eyes scan the row of cars for the source. At first glance I see nothing so I avert my eyes back to the task at hand. Putting the nozzle into the car, I hear the same voice say, “Pretty girl, I mean you.” This time when I look up I see a man holding his hand out while making a motion implying that he was blowing me a kiss. I sigh to myself and then say, “Leave me alone,” just loud enough for him to hear. I turn my back to him and continue on with my transaction. I hear the sound of the window rolling up, and the light turns green. I’m still angry and tense, but at the very least this man listened to me when I told him to leave me alone.
Wednesday: I’m walking with my boyfriend to Walgreen’s to pick up a few household items. Our route is along a heavily traveled street. I try not to think about the chance of getting harassed. Instead I focus on our conversation as we walk, as well as the cloudy sky, which is likely going to open up and rain on us at any moment. My mind stays open to thoughts of street harassment however, and soon I find myself anxious about its increasing possibility every time we pass someone. In hoping to decrease the chance of receiving a cat call or honk from a passing car, I subtly shift places with my boyfriend, making sure I’m walking on the inside of the sidewalk, farthest from the road as possible. By the time our trip is over, I am relieved as I successfully avoided any obvious cat calls from passer-bys.
Thursday: I got leered and hollered at by some man on the sidewalk while driving to the grocery store. “Hey sugar!” Really? This was a first for me, actually. Typically I get creepy looks and comments from men on the street with me or in their cars while I’m walking, but never when I’m in a car and they’re on the street. It caught me off guard, but I felt safer than I do on the street because I was shielded by a car. God forbid I try to save gas by driving with all the windows down instead of rolling them up and blasting the AC. I gave into that idea, however, and drove with all the windows up on my ride back after getting groceries. Why is it that I have to constantly change my life in order to avoid stares and comments?
Friday: Went to the movies with some girl friends. During the walk from the parking lot to the theater an older man was exiting. I quickly scanned our surroundings and found us to be entirely alone. I immediately tensed up as our path with this man came closer to colliding. I started up a superficial conversation to try and break the silence, as well as deter any comments from him as he would need to interrupt us. He glanced at us, then glanced away as we walked into the theater. I did not relax until we were completely inside of the building with other people around. Although nothing happened, I still feel like something did, or is about too. The fear of being harassed isn’t easy to shake off.
Saturday: The only time I went outside was to run an errand, and I ended up walking by a construction site. I didn’t realize I would be walking directly through it until I was already there. Being harassed by construction workers almost seems too cliché to me at the time, so I don’t tense up like I usually do as I pass by. However, there is one worker in a truck who looks at me as I pass and makes me feel uncomfortable. He is very blatantly staring at my chest. I quicken my pace and continue down the street to my destination. On the way home I take a detour so as not to run into this man again. After I get home I realize I should have walked by again to get the name of their company to maybe call and complain, but in the end I feel best not being near the man who ogled me.
Sunday: The weather is exceptionally nice out today, and I have an abundance of free time. I grab a beach towel and lay it out on my lawn. Lying down with an iced tea in my hand, I start reading my book. It isn’t long before I hear someone say, “Hey!” I assume it is directed to someone else in my neighborhood, since I am very obviously occupied and enjoying some alone time on my fenced-in lawn. I hear it again, this time in a slightly more hostile tone: “Hey!” My head lifts up from my book and I see a man standing right behind my fence. I say nothing. He says, “Hey. How are you, girl?” My eyes go back to my book and I say without looking at him, “I’m reading.” He stands there for a few more seconds and then leaves. The whole thing freaks me out, and I go inside after I finish the chapter.
Reflections: This week was certainly not the worst week I’ve experienced in terms of street harassment. But I think it’s important to document the little things—the glances, the anxiety, the raised awareness. These things add up, and they make me feel unsafe. The little things are what motivate me to change my entire morning routine, whether it’s getting dressed or planning out the way I walk home.
Even when I try not to think about street harassment, I’m still thinking about it. It is a part of me that sometimes disconnects me from the men in my life. It can oftentimes be difficult to explain why I want to walk on the inside when we’re on a sidewalk, or why I want to leave the coffee shop immediately instead of hanging out inside because there is a man inappropriately staring at me, or why I feel like wearing jeans on a hot, humid day when we go out for a walk. Yet in reality it has nothing to do with the way I dress, or the route I walk home, or the side of the sidewalk I walk on because it happens everywhere, in all circumstances. Street harassment is not a “cultural” thing, only experienced in urban areas, or on particular streets, or late at night. It happens everywhere, at all times of day, in all environments and circumstances. I know this because I’ve seen it.
The lifelong street harassment I’ve encountered has taught me to be afraid. This week alone has taught me that I can’t even read on my own lawn without someone feeling the need to approach me from the street and ask me how I’m doing, as if I laid out there as a way to initiate a conversation with a strange man. I’m not here for you!
Yes, I think it’s vital to keep track of all these little incidents. This diary is proof that this “little” stuff matters. Street harassment may not be the “worst” thing women have to deal with, but it’s the fact that you can find these traces of harassment and gender-based violence every day, outside in public. I am tired of harassers thinking that they have power over me—on the street, on my lawn, or in my car—and that is why I Hollaback!
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