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I live in Guatemala City and I cannot walk down the street alone without getting stares and comments. When I walk with my boyfriend, nobody ever says anything. But alone, every 2 or 3 men I pass on the street feels he has the right to call out to me, and it makes me angry and scared. Angry because it’s so disrespectful and they don’t have the right, and scared because as a woman walking alone, it could be so much worse than an obnoxious comment. I want to react, to call them out, but though I speak Spanish well (I’m from the States), I’m not so comfortable as to be able to challenge a random stranger on the street, especially since I can’t predict the way he’ll react. That feeling of powerlessness to call them out on their behavior puts me in an even worse mood. I tend to walk around on the street now *trying* to look angry enough to do some real damage in the hopes that it will scare some of them off. Today I finally lost my patience. I screamed the only Spanish-language obscenity I know at an employee of a fancy restaurant who called to me from the door, “Hola amor, where are you going?” (in English) It’s not the worst thing I’ve heard, but it’s what I get so many times a day it’s like a broken record. I’m not sure he heard, but the man on the street certainly did, which I felt a little bad about – it was not directed at him. And then not even 20 seconds later, a man on a motorcycle stopped at a light tried to get my attention with “ch ch! ch ch!” (The sound is used to get people’s attention here, and I cannot begin to fathom how many times I have heard it). Still fuming from the last guy, I flipped him off as I walked by, and then when he sped by he yelled something angry at me. I know that my reactions were immature and probably not the best way to deal with it, but I actually felt a little better afterward. I don’t have the energy or the responsibility to explain to every man who catcalls me why it’s inappropriate and offensive. And most of them probably already know it anyway. I get so frustrated not being able to react, and today, I *was* able to react. I’ll work in better responses, but I’m proud of myself for not feeling helpless in today.
Reading the entries on this site have made me so angry about street harassment, and given mine more context, but it has also helped me feel stronger to do something about it. Ignoring it doesn’t work. It doesn’t stop, it only gets worse, and the people who do it will just keep doing it if nobody tells them off. If they think will get away with it, there’s no incentive not to catcall somebody. Even if you just scream something at them, they know at least that it’s not appreciated nor tolerated by their target and maybe, eventually, they start to think about that… hopefully.
This story is 14 years old, but I never had anywhere to tell it before. I, like 99% of the world’s population, had been on the receiving end of street harassment ever since I was 11 years old, but these incidents occurred to me between the ages of 22 through 25.
I lived with my first serious boyfriend in an apartment off of Route 20 in East Greenbush, NY, but commuted across the Massachusetts border to my job in Pittsfield, MA…a 30 mile commute. Needless to say, I filled up at the gas station about 3 times per week at the station/convenience store right by my apartment complex on many mornings. There was also a bus stop right in front of this store and that is where my Harasser, Vic (I cannot believe I still remember this jerk’s name) found his opportunity to harass me.
I was young, slim, attractive enough so not surprised when men looked at me or shouted occasionally from their cars. I wore professional office attire – power suit or dress with jacket and heels. One morning, as I exited the store to return to my car, Vic was standing right by the door and he said softly, but loud enough for me to hear, “Oooh, those legs!” The way he said it was so gross it made me feel instantly sick to my stomach, like I could throw up. I got into my car without ever looking back at him, I wouldn’t even be able to describe him because I didn’t want to know who he was.
This continued EVERY single time I would go to the store in the mornings. Sometimes, I would see that Vic was getting on the bus before I reached the gas station so I learned that I could adjust my schedule by leaving home just 2 or 3 minutes later and he would be gone. If I saw him waiting on the bus and I needed gas or coffee I’d head to a different gas station just to avoid him leering at me, groaning at me, whispering his nasty comments at me. I hated Vic.
In 1997, my boyfriend & I moved to a different unit in our same apartment complex, then Vic figured out that he and I lived in the same complex! He took it upon himself to write me a letter and leave it on my car which was parked in front of my building! I cannot really remember the content of this letter other than the gist of it. “My name is Vic. I’ve been watching you for years. I want to take you out. Give me a chance. Blah, blah, blah… Please don’t run me over with your car.”
I find it interesting looking back on it now that he put in the line begging that I don’t run him over. He must have known that I didn’t like him or his advances. And I wished at the time I could have run him over, but then I would go to jail for vehicular homicide.
So I was totally freaked out that this guy knew where I lived. I remember expressing my fears to my boyfriend. Our relationship was slowly dying for many reasons, but his reaction to a strange man leering at his live in girlfriend and leaving notes on her car was this: “You can’t blame the guy for trying.” This man harassed me for nearly 3 years and that’s it? He’s just flirting with me?
This was just another one of our many disagreements so I decided to leave a few months later. I moved out in September of 97 and that was the end of dealing with Vic. I’ve never had another experience as creepy as him and I know he didn’t do anything “all that bad” on the scale of bad things. But if I had just had the courage to use my voice back then….I would have:
Yelled at him.
Told him he was a disgusting loser.
I would have reported his behavior to the store manager.
I would have reported his stalking behavior to the apartment complex managers.
I would have called police and at least filed a complaint on him.
I’m nearly 40 years old (about the age Vic was I’m estimating) and I don’t get those cat calls or harassment as I used to. But I swear, if I see it happening, I will speak up, I will Hollaback at all the Vics out there….”Stop it! She doesn’t want to hear about how much you want to touch her legs! You are spreading EVIL with your words and leering glances! Leave her alone!”
I was crossing the street from Old Navy and going back to my car. As I was getting into the car, I noticed a man in a beige SUV filming me with his cell phone. It creeped me out and I just watched him in my rear view mirror for a minute. When I put the car in reverse, he sort of freaked and also started to drive off. I attempted to follow him for a while, but he must have seen me and was flying. I just couldn’t keep up. I felt sort of gross and told my husband about it later. I said I wasn’t sure if he was some kind of pervert or just some weird0 randomly filming people. I’m 5’11″ and 265 pounds, so I don’t fit the beauty standard. My husband said that, as a man, he thinks the guy was a perv. He said, “Pervs don’t just go for stereotypes. That you are visibly a woman is enough.” It still creeps me out to think that perv has video of me and what he’s doing with it.
A lot of folks in this town walk places – it’s a college town, we have roads, we walk. Usually I park where I work and walk down to class – I’ve been doing this for two years, no problem. Lately however I’ve been having work done on my car at a place farther up King street outside of the campus area, fairly close to where it stops being Downtown and starts being kinda rural. There are college student’s apartments in the area and some (arbitrary?) sections of the road have sidewalks.
Four times so far I’ve had to walk up a fairly steep hill, it’s a good twenty minute walk, in 90+ degree weather. I’m usually wearing jeans and a button-up shirt and sneakers. And every time at least three vehicles whistle, yell or honk. And I’m not talking just frat boys: these are State-owned trucks going to the construction site down the road, or big ol’ gravel trucks honking (LOUD) and scaring me. This doesn’t happen when I’m downtown but when I get to this part of the road, I get hassled. Every time.
I want to start throwing rocks at them. I flip them off or yell “fuck you.” A guy friend has told me I have a sexy walk and I’ve wondered if that’s the problem – I walk fast and I guess my butt moves too much? I don’t know dudes, I’m just walking. How else should I walk? I’m not the problem. A girl friend told me “They’re just trying to compliment you!” I said “They’re scaring me. If they want to be nice they could offer me a ride, and I’d make sure they know I carry a knife.”
Next time I’ll be throwing rocks.
I went to the beach with a friend and I didn’t want to sit in my wet bathing suit bottoms all the way home. There were no changing rooms where we were parked so when we were about to leave I stood next to my car with my towel wrapped around my waist and changed into a pair of shorts. I changed quickly and easily and I don’t see how anyone watching could have thought I’d expose myself in the process. There was a middle-aged guy standing behind my car fishing, with his back to me, and I noticed he was turned around staring at me. I made eye contact with him a few times in the hopes that he would realize his staring wasn’t welcome, but each time he would turn back to his fishing pole until I looked away, and I’d catch him staring again. Before I got into my car I said “hi” to him in a very sarcastic tone. He looked taken aback and said hi and then I left. The incident wasn’t the worst thing to happen to me by a long shot, but it was still irritating. It was like he had to be reminded that I’m a live person and not a paid actor in a porn film. Nothing is going to happen dude. You are not going to see my vag!
I’m an American living in Cameroon, and I have to walk 10 minutes to work everyday. I can do this by crossing a busy traffic circle and risk getting hit, or walking around and passing groups of guys hanging about. At least once each way everyday I get some form of verbal harassment unless I walk with my dad or brother. They yell ‘mon cherie’ or ‘ma belle’, and often openly gape at me in a sexual way. I’m 17, and needless to say this makes me extremely uncomfortable that I can’t even walk to work without being harassed. Sometimes I will just chance the roundabout to avoid them.
My friend and I were walking to get French fries down the street from her house. As we passed a shopping plaza a man in a car stopped and shouted at us “HEY HOES! HEY! HOW MUCH?? 5$?” and kept shouting. She yelled back that we weren’t hoes and I flipped the finger at him and kept going. And this wasn’t the only harassment we dealt with that night either. Walking home two other men in separate cars shouted at us and another stopped his car in front of us as we crossed the street and gestured for us to get in his car. We firmly declined and continued on our way.
Opening up fields of awareness, Part 2
Last week this column talked about the need to become more aware in public, in an effort to avoid being the target of unwelcome interactions with strangers. If we keep in mind that the people around us everyday on public transportation and out on the street could be in any mental state whatsoever, we can more easily pick up signals that something is wrong before we are victimized. But many situations that women in particular face are unavoidable, because the predator has singled us out for one reason: that we are women moving through the world alone. Today we’re going to talk about premeditated violence, in contrast to being “in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” One situation that many Hollaback! readers have experienced is being stalked.
Stalking is defined as “the willful, malicious and repeated following and harassing of another person,” and can occur in public or private spaces, over the phone, or even at work. Today we’re going to isolate our discussion to the kind of stalking that many women experience, which is being stalked by someone who you either don’t know at all, or someone with whom you have only very superficial contact. But first let’s discuss what stalking is, and what it isn’t: stalking is about power and control over the target, and it’s not simply about being fascinated with someone. Think back to a circumstance when either you, or perhaps a friend had been stalked by somebody, male or female, it doesn’t matter ~ you probably felt harassed, and that you were definitely giving the harasser clear signals that you didn’t want that interaction. I can remember being stalked by a security guard in college, and erroneously thinking that I could ignore the unwelcome advances ~ until the night came when that person entered my dorm at around midnight, banged on my door repeatedly, and slipped a picture of a place where that person wanted us to go on vacation together. I remember standing frightened and frozen inside my dorm room, which was locked, thank God, and then going to security the next morning to report the incident. The guard was fired, which I felt badly about, but considering the violation of boundaries involved, I now think it was a good idea. But I digress ~ you too probably have your own stories, and that is just one concrete example of how someone who knows you only in passing can not only get the wrong idea, but can take that idea to the extreme.
As a very young woman, I didn’t really know how to handle it at the time, and “nip it in the bud” so to speak, as I would now. If you have at least a superficial relationship to your harasser, give them a direct and firm rejection, immediately letting them know that no further contact is welcome or even permissible. This is often the safest approach. If they persist in their advances, you can then go to security, human resources, and so on. But what if you are stalked in public, which means that you don’t know your harasser? Many women are followed down the street, while they’re out jogging, or even in the grocery store. This is really the scariest situation, because your harasser is a complete unknown, who conceivably has the power and intention to do you great harm. So how to identify a stalker, and what to do about it: A stalker can look like anybody, but the feeling they give is one of menace, that they are the predator, and you are the prey. You often know when you’re being followed, either just with someone’s eyes, which can be uncomfortable, or if someone is literally going everywhere you are, no matter what your pattern of movement. The best way to determine this is to change direction suddenly, going in the opposite direction, or into different stores if you’re in a shopping district. Usually four to five direction changes would give you an accurate read on the situation.
If you are unable to avoid the person, and they start to catch up to you on foot in a public space, use the power of your voice. Turn around and yell, “I don’t know you! Why are you following me?” Make sure that others are within earshot, and can see that you are in distress. If you call attention to yourself, it will also call attention to the would-be harasser/attacker, which they definitely don’t want. Many victims of stalking would prefer not to have to “make a fuss,” but when someone systematically invades your personal space, you’ve got to assume the worst is yet to come, and get LOUD. If you make a mistake, so what ~ you probably won’t know, because the typical predator reaction is to deny that they were stalking you/harassing you/touching you in the first place. Picture a man’s hands going up in the air, saying, “Hey lady, calm down! Don’t flatter yourself, you crazy b____!” And fortunately it doesn’t happen that often, but wouldn’t you rather be called a crazy b for a moment, so you can get out of the situation safely? I know I would, and as you already know, I’ve already had to make that decision. Many times, standing up for ourselves is not easy at all, which is what a sexual harasser or would/be attacker knows and uses to his advantage. This isn’t a pleasant thought, and I certainly don’t advocate going around paranoid, but as women we’ve got to realize that there are malevolent individuals out that we need to be aware of, and act accordingly for our self-protection.
About 10 years ago (~2001) while I was living in Alexandria, VA, a friend and I decided to hit the Target store. I drove, and after parking we walked through the parking lot towards the store. As we neared the store, a car coming from our right slowed and stopped as we approached it I thought, “how nice, he’s stopping to let us pass in front of him.” How wrong I was. As we stepped in front of his car, I looked over to see the male driver with his penis out, masturbating madly with a huge grin on his face. I was still holding my keys in my hand, and I was so angry I acted without thinking. I jammed my keys into his car hood as we walked past, leaving a huge gouge in the paint all the way across. He didn’t do a thing…didn’t yell, didn’t honk, didn’t say a word, and we continued into a store. I still have fantasies about what I could have done with a can of pepper spray, given that his window was open!
I was groped by a man on a bicycle two days in a row in Astoria. Considering I have lived here for 3 years and have felt very safe, this is really shocking and difficult to comprehend.
The first incident happened on the corner of 43rd Street and 30th Avenue around 3:30 while I was walking to the gym. A man on a bike was riding on the sidewalk towards me. He stopped directly behind me while I was waiting for the light and smacked my butt. I was so shocked that I did nothing as he sped away. No one else on the street seemed to noticed what had happened. I daydreamed all of the obscenities I could shout at this perv if I could go back in time, thinking that that this was a fluke and would never happen again.
Oh no, the very next day I was walking down 46th street around 6:30 pm and a guy on bike sneaked up behind me, whispered “nice ass” and grabbed me. He then sped away. I screamed “Asshole!” but really, does this affect a person like this? I got a better look at him and assume he’s probably the same guy.
I called the local precinct and the cop who I spoke to said that other women in Astoria have complained about this guy, near the locations I was at. He told me I could file a report if I wanted to. I went but a different cop said that it would be a waste of time. “These things happen,” he told me. Thanks buddy, that sure makes me feel safer.