After spending a half an hour or so reading the stories on the Holla Back website and watching the videos (“and that’s why I Holla Back”) earlier today, my boyfriend and I went to the park. We were sitting on a blanket in the grass reading our respective books and eating food. I was laying down on the blanket wearing a knee-length summer dress when my boyfriend moved over and asked me to switch sides of the blanket with him. He whispered that the man eating his food about ten feet away from us was staring at me and he wanted to block the guy’s view. I thought he was exaggerating a little, but I felt relieved when the man left. Another 20-30 minutes later, he came back. He was wearing a backpack and had stringy blondish hair. I felt him looking at me, but kept my head down and continued reading. When I got up and walked across the park to get some water from the water fountain and walked back to the blanket, I realized he never took his eyes off of me. He even changed his seating positions to get a better view of me. It was enough, I told my boyfriend that I felt uncomfortable and he agreed that it was time to go, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this website. I stood up and looked him right in the eyes. “Will you please stop staring at me?!” I purposely said it in a loud voice so the couple sitting on the blanket near us and the mothers playing with their children nearby could hear me. He said “I wasn’t staring at you.” My boyfriend and I packed up our stuff to go, but before we left I turned around and told the creep “There’s a whole fucking park, stare somewhere else!” My boyfriend flicked him off and the jerk yelled back “Stop being so self-conscious!” I was being self-conscious? He was way more conscious of my ‘self’ than I was. As we left, a man laying on the grass said “Don’t worry about him, he’s always here. He doesn’t mean anything by it.”
Yes, he was only looking at me. Yes, it’s a public place and he is allowed to be there just as much as I am. But my gender is not an invitation to stare, to evaluate, to fantasize, to fetishize, to stare at my body. As we left the park, my boyfriend told me to stop talking about the incident, not to let that pervert ruin my whole day. But I said no. I want to talk about it, I want to discuss how to deal with a situation like the one we experienced. Is it better to ignore the harasser, allowing them to continue their creepy little game but not giving them the attention they so desperately want? Or is it better to do what I did, calling out their inappropriate behavior to bystanders but giving them more attention than they actually deserve? This website has taught me that the calling them out is more empowering, more influential, it proves that we are not the passive objects that these street harassers think we are. And the fact that he’s ALWAYS there? The fact that the women walking their dogs and little girls running through the water park area in their bathing suits in this park every day are doing so under the watchful eye of a strange staring man DOES NOT make me feel better. It doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t make me stop worrying. It makes me want to do more. So thank you, considerate bystander. Thank you for doing nothing, and for proving to me that I must do twice as much, ten times as much, because I live in a world where the only way to stop street harassment is to Holla Back!
To help build a world where the may laying in the grass would have said, “I’m so sorry that happened to you, is there anything I can do?” instead of minimizing the situation by saying, “he didn’t mean anything by it,” donate to the “I’ve got your back” campaign today. We’ve only got 11 days to go!
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