Walking back from a religious service in the evening my friend and I were shouted out by college aged men in an SUV with the windows rolled down.
This is just one of the many recent run-ins I’ve had with street harassers. I am a 27-year-old woman who has lived in New York for six years and I encounter these people just about every day. This one, was particularly scary, though, and stuck in my memory for many reasons.
I was just leaving my apartment building when a young man tapped me on the shoulder and made a sexual comment about my appearance. I was very put off by his comment and his physical contact so I told him to leave me alone and I went about my business picking up my dry cleaning. Like I said, I deal with street harassment almost every day so my tolerance and my patience for it has gotten very low over the years.
Minutes later, I was walking back and he was loitering outside of a housing project with some friends and they decided to start taunting me as I walked by. They made very lewd comments and I flipped out on him, called him a motherfucker and said he was raised by animals.
My harasser threatened to rape and to kill me. He also identified that he had seen me walking with my boyfriend in the vicinity before ( described him physically) and said he would kill him. I went to the police precinct and they were no help at all. The (make) officer told me that I was “very attractive” and that’s why get catcalled and threatened . He also told me not to “provoke” Street harassers acted like I was somehow at fault.
After spending all day with my husband and not hearing a word from strange men on the street, not minutes after I left him with friends to go meet my friend for dinner a man shouted at me from his car something about my butt in my jeans. When I didn’t respond he angrily yelled that I should at least say thank you. This is my first time back in San Francisco in years and my mood instantly changed from being excited to be here and explore to wanting to leave and go back to the small town I now live in where I drive everywhere and can avoid street harassment for the most part.
I was walking home from class in the afternoon. I always have to walk by the alley next to a junk and trinket store. I walked by with headphones on, and 3 guys on mopeds shouted at me. I ignored them, turned off my headphones volume to hear them. One guy shouted louder, I ignored him, and walked faster. I rounded a corner, and all three started following me, on bike and shouting at me to ‘join them for some fun’ from the road, I sped-walked toward this convenience store where I knew the owner, and they got mad, calling me every slur in the book. Eventually, I ran to get inside because the moped guys chased after me into the lot still screaming. I waited inside for a bit, cause they were still in the parking lot, shakily bought a soda when they left, and ran to my apartment, checking every street in case they came back.
We stand in solidarity with Lucy DeCoutere, Linda Redgrave, and others who have bravely shared their stories. We stand with Kathryn Borel, Reva Seth, Zoe Kazan, and anyone else who has reported harassment or assault.
This trial offered highly visible examples of injustice, but we recognize that there are many stories going unheard. Stereotypes and snap judgements privilege more powerful voices over others. Many do not feel safe or supported accessing institutions that claim to offer justice, particularly when facing discrimination based on race, ethnicity, poverty, ableism, and/or gender identity and expression. Many have reason to distrust and fear the police, the law, and the courts. These stories are no less true than the few that recently made headlines.
We understand that narratives are influenced by trauma, time, and memory. Too often, people are asked to push their own needs aside and ignore abusive behaviour for the sake of harmony. Insisting on automatic, linear storytelling ignores the realities of lived experience, and further prioritizes the stories of people who have access to traditional power structures and institutions. We believe in your process, whatever that might look like for you.
We know you’re out there. You believe. You remember. You find kindred spirits. You build networks. You share stories and skills. You open doors. You encourage resistance, resilience and persistence. You’re building a better world, one person at a time.
Not everyone is a survivor. We acknowledge the lives that have been lost because of this violence.
You don’t have to share your story with us, and you don’t have to give us your reasons, but we’ll hold space for you to breathe. We see you. We hear you. We’re so glad you’re still here.
With love and revolution,
I was on a tram and a young man, disheveled and a bit out of looking was next to me – standing up. He was swaying a bit and I had to move away so he wouldn’t lean on me. He touched a woman on the other side of him on the arm and she shrank back and said ‘don’t touch me’. I confronted him and told him off and that people don’t want to be touched. He said ‘I know, but she’s fascinating’ (!). I said, loudly and looking right at him: “no one cares about what you think stop touching people!”. I then got off. It was my stop. I wasn’t scared of him and I wanted the young woman he’d hassled to know that she had support. I’m a 51 year old woman. My 16 year old daughter gets hassled alot and it makes my blood boil!
Yesterday, I was sitting in Westgarth on High Street, at the 86 tram stop at around 6pm, waiting for my tram after seeing an inspirational movie at Westgarth Cinema, feeling great. There were a couple of people at the stop, but plenty of room to sit. A large, bald man, mid-forties came up to my seat and sat so close, falling so heavily next to me, he nearly sat on top of me. I flinched and moved away immediately along the seat to the side, annoyed someone was invading my space so rudely. He then noisily moved towards me again, and put a drink he was carrying down between us, lightly brushing my upper thigh. He was staring at me intently all the time and then started making low, moaning noises.
This all happened in a couple of seconds, like in slow motion. I stood up abruptly and angrily glared at him, then walked to the other end of the tram stop, very shaken and so furious someone had invaded my peaceful space to leer and moan, and make me feel so uncomfortable. I climbed onto the 86 tram and looked out for him, but thankfully did not see him at all.
On my way towards Northcote, at another tram stop, I heard a loud bang on my window. I looked up startled to see this man, standing outside the tram, staring at me through the window with his hand formed like a gun, pointing at my head, pulling the ‘trigger’. I was so shocked, and shaken and was a real mess by the time I got home – disgusted and angry. This kind of behaviour makes me feel sick. I resent being made to feel threatened and not safe inhabiting my own space, doing something as ordinary as catching a tram home after seeing a movie. Only one person on the tram asked me if I was ok, and said, ‘that guy could be dangerous, take care’.
I was walking towards the CBD down Lygon St when I heard someone making kissing noises. I was the only person on the street. The noises were coming from a male in his mid to late 20s hanging out of a silver Mercedes Benz Coupe (2005 model). The man did not stop when I saw him, however his female driver (who did absolutely nothing to her male passenger that his behaviour constituted sexual harassment) had to stop at the intersection.
So I took some photos.
Stop expecting pregnant women to respond to your rude, stupid questions and comments about pregnancy
When I got into my third trimester of my first pregnancy, I figured out why a lot of women finish up (paid) work earlier than others. It’s not the exhaustion, headaches, sciatica, heartburn, indigestion, nausea, meralgia paresthetiica or anything to do with the physical discomfort of pregnancy. Nope, I don’t think it is any of that. We are women after all, and therefore tough.
It is ultimately, the QUESTIONS AND THE COMMENTS.
This moment of clarity hit when I was at work, busy, and a GP that I barely know swaggered up exuding the usual superior attitude, interrupted me when I was clearly working, to blurt out –
‘How much longer to go now?’
Even though it is of course none of his business and I had zero desire to discuss it with him, I told him I was two and a half months away. Then, to my disgust but unfortunately, not dismay, he guffawed and remarked
‘Wow, REALLY? Gee, you look ready to POP!”
Then he started laughing, as though he had said something hilarious. This was in the middle of the Reception area of my workplace, where other people were in direct earshot of his smug, authoritarian tone.
I felt like shrinking into a ball. Then I felt angry, and I realised that the anger had been building up for a while, as a result of constant, unwelcome comments about my body and pregnancy that I had been subjected to almost every day for months.
Comments like these are demeaning and trivialise what women go through when they birth a human being. For starters, ‘About to pop’ is the most condescending expression and is completely dismissive of the inevitable pain that I will likely endure for hours on end. Labour is not a matter of simply going ‘pop’ and out comes the baby. Like most first time mothers to be, I am quite anxious about the pain of labour, in fact I have lost sleep over it. I don’t have to have given birth yet to know that labour is absolutely not a matter of simply ‘popping’ and out comes the baby.
Secondly, I barely know this man. I am certainly not his patient, and yet he clearly felt entitled to information about my pregnancy. He clearly felt that it was his place to comment on my ‘condition’.
The extent to which men in the medical profession feel that it is their prerogative, their ‘right’ to push their ideals, their perceived authority, their male privilege, onto us women is staggering and indicative of a society that is hell bent on controlling and demeaning women in pregnancy. (It is for precisely this reason that I tried to book into a birth centre where myself and the midwives would have been in charge and control of my body, rather than have my baby at a hospital where doctors are likely to insist on unnecessary intervention that wold inevitably lead to problems for both me and my baby, but I was unable to book into one in my area due to funding cuts. The government and the men who make the majority of these decisions, don’t want women being empowered and having their babies in a natural environment. They want our babies to be born in a clinical, sterile environment with medical intervention. They want to treat us like we are sick)
Do I care what dickheads like this think of me? Well, no, not really. But I am nonetheless fed up with being expected to simply put up with it, to ‘just ignore it’ to ‘lighten up’, and ‘get over it’ to ‘just be thankful I’m pregnant’
Why should I accommodate the rudeness of the general public, bite my tongue and ignore it, to spare their feelings, because ‘they mean well’ when they are the ones being inappropriate? I am exhausted by my pregnancy and preparations for the baby as it is, without having to put up with the additional stress and pressure of having members of the general public push their sexist, idiotic, unsolicited comments onto me.
The judgements, the scrutiny, the way in which the general public feel entitled to constantly leer at, stare at, remark, judge, touch and comment on your body, appearance and attitude, is exhausting. Everything from what you eat to how you exercise, from what you wear to what you do in your spare time, is up for public scrutiny and discussion.
Being pregnant makes society feel even more entitled to offer unsolicited opinions and/or comment on your appearance than usual. As a woman, I am used to this, but one thing is for sure – I am sick to death of being expected to put up with it. Why should I accept that because I am a woman, people are therefore entitled to comment, remark, and judge me, on my appearance? Why is it not ok to go up to men and say things like ‘gee, you’re a bit of fattie, how long have you been eating like a pig for?’ but it is perfectly acceptable to go up to a pregnant woman you don’t even know, and say idiotic and hurtful things like ‘wow, you are HUGE! Are you having twins?’
Some other examples:
‘Shouldn’t you be resting?’
‘You should try to stay as active as possible’
‘Should you be lifting that in your condition?’
‘You shouldn’t be pushing that trolley in your condition’
‘Wow you’re brave, getting in a bathing suit at your stage!’
‘You shouldn’t be drinking coffee you know’
‘Gee, you look big, but if it’s a big baby you just have a caesar’
(Really? ‘just’ have a caesar?)
All of this advice is unsolicited, much of it is outdated and ALL of it is insulting and completely unhelpful.
And the worst part is that replies like ‘it’s de-caf, fuckwit’ and ‘I’m not consenting to being induced or an unnecessary caesarean because childbirth isn’t a medical procedure, it’s a natural part of life’ are generally frowned upon.
The unsolicited advice about motherhood and pregnancy is of course inappropriate and completely irritating, but not as insulting as the way in which people you don’t even know, feel 100% entitled to information about your pregnancy, and the way they feel entitled to comment on your body.
The thing that makes it even worse is the way they fail to comprehend why you might not want to talk about it with them.
It’s the way people assume that it’s all you want to and/or are capable of talking about.
It’s the way people, men in particular, find pregnancy to be one big hilarious joke for them to poke fun at, trivialise, control, and in some cases, shame.
For example, I was at the bakery the other day carrying bags of shopping, tired/flustered, ordering a loaf of bread. I dropped a five note on the ground without realising. A man behind me pointed out that I had dropped it, and I said ‘would you mind please picking it up for me, I’m pregnant’ which he seemed to find hilarious. He laughed out loud unabashedly and said ‘óh yeah I know what that feels like, hahaha!’
As if this wasn’t bad enough, everyone else in the queue laughed along with him! What is it about pregnancy that people find so funny? The general public, but men in particular, regard it as is something to poke fun at, to ridicule, to demean, to trivialise.
“Óh (giggles) wow Lucy you are looking very pregnant haha!!’ As though I don’t know that.
“Öh wow, starting to get fat now, haha!’’ As if I hadn’t noticed that I am expanding because I am growing a human life inside my womb.
“Are these hallways getting a little long for you now Lucy? Hahah!”
‘Oh my god! Look at your boobs!’
“Ís that desk getting a bit too far away now Lucy?” (whilst chuckling)
“Gee, you are really getting the pregnancy waddle now!’
Comments from women are particularly exasperating because they are mostly coming from those who have been subjected to this kind of idiocy throughout their own pregnancy, reinforcing the cycle of ‘well I had to put up with so so should you’.
Comments from men are particularly offensive because they reinstate male entitlement to women’s lives and bodies, something that is compounded in the context of pregnancy, despite the fact that it is an experience that men could not possibly have any real insight into, for the same reason I don’t have much insight into sperm counts.
‘OH! You’re pregnant, congratulations, I guess you will have to be careful of what you eat from now on.’
Really? That’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear I’m pregnant?
‘Gee you’re getting bigger every week!’
Well yes, that is what generally happens; babies do grow inside the womb.
That’s why they stay in there for nine months.
‘Are you having twins?!’ Urgh.
Aside from the obvious lack of insight into how a human life is grown that these inane comments indicate, it is how tiring they are that is the hardest bit. It is near impossible to go down the street or walk down a hallway without some halfwit making an offensive, nosy comment and/or completely unfunny joke.
Example – I drop something which exasperates me. A man walking past laughs out loud, finding the prospect of me bending down the right way in order to not squash my baby’s head to be hilarious, and then acting as though I should ‘lighten up’ for
not finding it funny.
Another example – ‘How much longer to go’? – asked by a complete stranger. I ignore them. Assuming that I didn’t hear, they then ask the same question, but LOUDER this time.
‘Eight weeks’ I reply.
“Did you say eight weeks? (laughing) OH MY GOD, hahaha!”
These are just some examples from dozens of infuriating encounters that happen on a daily basis.
Why are we still conditioning men to believe that it is ok to regard pregnancy and pregnant women being in physical discomfort, so bloody hilarious?
The comments, the judgements, the scrutiny, the looks, the way people try to touch you…. It is all just one big reminder of how women are subjugated to ornamental status and objectified, judged and scrutinised even more than usual, during what can be one of the most vulnerable times of their life.
Am I saying that we should tip toe around pregnant women and treat them as though they are sick/weak/vulnerable? Absolutely not, because that can be just as insulting. But we absolutely must stop treating them as though they are public property to be poked at, objectified and mocked.
As a pregnant woman, I know I’m expected to just ‘get over it’ and/or ‘be grateful’ I’m pregnant, to not ’cause a fuss’ and to basically shut up and put up with people’s rubbish, but I am not doing that anymore because I shouldn’t have to cater to the needs of people who are making unwelcome comments about my pregnancy and my body. I do not accept that my body and my affairs are subject to public scrutiny and judgement.
So…. Stop assuming that women want to hear your dim-witted opinions about their pregnancy! It is none of your business, pure and simple and we don’t care what you think anyway, so please…. Understand that you are NOT entitled to information about a woman’s pregnancy. You are not entitled to touch her, and she does NOT owe you anything, not her time, her smile, her ‘sense of humour about pregnancy’ or anything at all. If a woman wants to discuss her body and her pregnancy experience with you, she will broach the subject.
Pregnancy is a tough gig for many, so please just be a respectful human being and treat women with the respect and dignity they deserve when they are carrying a human life.
This is the story of the first time I was sexually harassed at the age of 9, maybe 10. It was school holidays and as a kid of working parents, I was hanging out with a female friend from down the road. She was a year younger than me, and it was January, because I was holding a stuffed monkey that my grandparents had given me for Christmas.
We were waking around, wearing knee length skirts and teeshirts because it was hot. Three older boys from another school in the area approached us on a deserted street and ordered us to ‘lift up our skirts or they would bash us.’ My younger friend burst into tears and started to comply, but for some reason I just went nuts, and started hitting them in the face with my stuffed monkey (I’d like to think that the glass eyes hurt them). They ran for it but I followed shouting that I would tell their mother.
For some reason at that young age I realised that that was wrong and that retaliating was my way of deflecting it.
Alas my monkey is long gone, but if I had it as an adult for the so many times (I’ve forgotten many of them) I’ve been harassed since then, I would have gleefully smacked my harassers in the face again because only terrible human being harass girls and women in the street, and only terrible human beings make excuses for them.