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I had moved to Philadelphia just a few days before and I was out exploring. I love my neighborhood. I’d grown up in the suburbs, but my family has a 70+ year history in the Federal St row-home where I live now. I decided to go check out 9th St (only tourists call it “the Italian Market!”) and start to learn what all is around, make myself at home here. There is a produce stand at 8th & Washington that, like the others further down, straddles the sidewalk. My path between the wooden crates of fruits and vegetables was partially blocked by a white-haired man with an enormous belly. He leered at me and looked me up and down. He smirked. I felt immediately angry at his intrusion into what had been a wonderful walk so far. With that simple act, the million other things on my mind and the beautiful day itself were suddenly and forcibly replaced, against my will, by this man, his body itself coupled with his very violent gaze. The rage in me was overpowering. It felt like the seconds it took me to walk up to, by, and away from him were stretched out into minutes. I started to shake, but I looked him in the eye and spit something awkward out like, “I bet it’s been a looooong time for you, huh?” I don’t care that it was ineffective (it always is, because his power is not about sex, it’s about asserting that the street is HIS turf and NOT mine,) I just wanted to keep my head up and try to look undeterred. I wasn’t, of course. That was 2 years ago and I still get so mad just thinking about it. I’ve avoided that intersection as much as possible even when it put me out of my way, and when I couldn’t avoid it, I’ve struggled to smirk back at him (he’s ALWAYS there, but I don’t know if he’s the owner) and look strong. I AM strong. I try very hard to maintain a balance in this city between keeping an eye out for potential dangers and just going about my life, but people like him make it harder. I don’t want this to be normalized anymore. I know it’s not always safe to hollaback, but I want us to get there. Advertizing individual perpetrators is tricky because it can help feed a myth that these are isolated incidents, but if we use the great opportunity set up by the folks here and tell our stories, the bigger picture will become clear. I know confronting is not always safe (and, please, always have your safety in mind,) but any action from giving the finger to snapping photos surreptitiously that will make you feel even slightly less powerless is worth considering. I’ll have your back.
Here is the video of my confrontation with him today. You can see the camera shaking, but it did feel good: http://youtu.be/oh417ONbwPg
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