I have had so many instances of harassment its ridiculous. I’ve been asked, “Hey Slut how much?” while walking my dog and wearing sweatpants to having men twice my age yell, “nice tits!” at me to having a guy come up to me and tell me, “with boobs like that you have to be a porn star.” I naturally have a larger bust and I don’t want to feel like it automatically makes me a slut. It makes me feel powerless and angry. It got to the point where I started yelling back at men who screamed obscenities at me and they always respond with some horrible insult when I tell them to leave me alone. My friends and family have told me not to do so because the guys could retaliate and hurt me. I don’t think its fair that because I happen to be a women I have to let men harass me because they are physically stronger and bigger than me. Its gotten so bad sometimes that I dont even want to wear makeup or dress in a nice outfit when I am going to be walking because I dont want to be harassed. I take a lot of pride in my appearance and I dont want that to be taken from me but I dont want to draw attention to myself that will lead to harassment.
The worst incident occurred two Halloweens ago. I was out celebrating in costume with three friends. We were leaving a bar in Hollywood and walking to the lot where we parked the car. A group of five guys came up to us and started harassing us and telling us we should go home with them. We politely responded we were just going home and to have a nice night and they started calling us whores and one grabbed my friends butt. She told him to stop and he said he would “Do whatever the fuck he wanted.” I had a soda in my hand and I turned around and threw it at him. I kept walking when I realized one of my friend wasn’t with me. She was being punched and kicked by two of the guys. I ran over to help her and one of the other guys punched me in the chest and jaw and then started running away. I called 911 and chased the guy who hit me for four blocks. The other guys ran. The police pulled into the parking lot as one of the guys came back and was running into his car. He was arrested but they never found the other four guys. My friend had choke marks on her neck. One of the guys told her he would, “fucking kill her.” She was eight weeks pregnant at the time and suffered a miscarriage most likely due to the blows to her stomach. I was very afraid to go out at night for a long time because I was so scared of being assaulted again.
Since I was 12 and first started jogging on city streets, I’ve always encountered leers and comments. I’ve jogged in suburban neighborhoods of Silicon Valley, the capital of Costa Rica, Paris, San Diego CA, etc. As your research bears out, I perceive it to be a simple fact of life and my only response has either been retreat or anger. As a 12-16 year old, I would often yell back my age, hoping to expose to the adult male that he was my father’s age. My older brother believed I was exaggerating the extent of the staring and sexual comments, that perhaps I was flattering myself. Until, one day he ran with me. He was utterly shocked at how watched and violated he felt after experiencing the level of attention I received. He had an entirely new perspective on how poorly women and girls are treated in public, even with a chaperone. To this day, (25 years later), I will still reflexively flip off anyone who whistles or slows down to stare, etc. It sometimes makes me so angry I will chase after them and hit their car with my fists if they are forced to stop at an upcoming stoplight. I fully understand that some are raised to think that calling out sexual comments is a compliment, but I don’t think they’ve thought it through – to have every single moment on a public street be an invitation for being sexualized is simply not fun.
This actually happened to me multiple times, at the same mall: I go there with two of my cousins and my sister, and I don’t think there was ever a time when we were NOT followed. Once we were followed into a cafe and the stalkers just lurked outside — we had to wait an extra half hour for them to get bored and walk away. Another time we were literally being chased — we had to go into a big supermarket and weave through a bunch of aisles and go to a different floor ’till we finally lost the stalkers. Another time a bunch of guys caught up with us on an escalator and one of them tried to shove a slip of paper into my cousin’s hand! At one point we had to get the security involved, but all they did was tell the stalkers to stop following us, which was ineffective. I wish I could go to that mall without being harassed, for once. The thing is, it’s the only good one (in terms of shops, restaurants, etc) in the city.
I was in Spar on Douglas Street, Cork City, Ireland, and was approaching the queue at the till. There was a man there before me. He stared at me and started motioning me to take the place ahead of him in the queue. I turned down the offer and he only made more urgent gestures and widened his eyes and it freaked me out a bit so I thought maybe he’d stop staring at me if I just went ahead and took the place in front of him, even though there was no need. But then as I was paying for my stuff he kept staring at me and put his hand into his pocket and started moving it up and down really fast, panting really heavily. It was so disgusting. I felt sick. I got out of there as fast as I could.
And in the exact same shop on another day, a completely different man offered me the place in front of him in the queue. I wouldn’t take it. I knew that, worst case scenario, it would be some kind of sick sexual harassment again, and at best it was insulting to be offered unnecessary help just because I’m female.
I was on the bus with a friend of mine in broad daylight going to the subway. At our stop we got up to walk out and these two men were sitting by the doors. As we were standing there they started making comments about our clothes and our bodies so my friend turned around and told him to f*** off. They did not take kindly to this and started calling us terrible things. One of them came very close to us and said “you don’t appreciate my compliments, fine, you deserve this” and he dumped his water on both of us. At this point we had expected someone to intervene but nobody did. One man asked if my friend (who was now in tears) was ok but the other people on the bus just grumbled about the water that had gotten on them. I was so shocked at what had happened that I turned to him and said, “do you know how old I am?” and he said “you’re a stone cold b****” and then got off the bus. We followed and stood outside the station and as he was walking away I said “I’m fourteen” he turned and gave me a disgusted look and then walked away. Now both these men were probably in their mid to late 40’s and they hadn’t even shown the slightest bit of remorse when they found out they had just harassed two teenage girls. Before this I didn’t feel safe going places in my neighborhood at night, but now I don’t even feel safe going places during the day.
I was attacked this morning by a man: Keep yourselves safe.
This morning while walking to my car to get to work I passed two men on the street standing on a corner. One man made a B-line for me while the other called out to him, “Don’t go over there.” The man did not listen, he sped up to me, and grabbed me. I screamed, “Let go of me!”, he did not listen. “Stop!”, he did not listen. “Let go off me, get your fucking hands off of me!”, he did not listen.” I yelled, “Somebody help me!,” the man nor his friend listened. I kicked and yelled with no result, “You are just going to stand there while your friend attacks me. Help me!” The man grabbing me stared me down, he could have been drunk or high or whatever but he stared me down and made gestures to his pants. The other man slowly crossed the street coming up behind the man, “There are things you don’t understand,” grabbing his friend off of me. I immediately ran away towards my car and began to cry.
I am so violated and shaken.
This has never happened to me.
I hate this man. I hate his friend.
I hate my terrified screams.
Please keep yourself safe.
Last night a guy in a club stopped in front of me on the dancefloor, squeezed my cheek and told me to smile. I gave him the finger and walked off and heard him shouting about “WHY DID SHE GIVE ME THE FINGER” all the way to the smoking area. It was about as articulate I could be in a loud club environment where you can barely hear yourself think. Will prepare something wittier if there is a next time.
“Hey lady, wanna..” I said “come back and let me take your picture.” He came back and shielded his face when I took the snapshot, asking “why do you wanna take my picture?”
This post is part of our Nicola’s Got Nerve series by Nicola Briggs.
I believe that it’s vital to practice boundary-setting every day. You might think that that sounds like a lot of work, even a bit paranoid. But if you practice in environments that feel non-threatening, you’ll be gratified to see that you can rise to even the most surprising and stressful situation. Even if, God forbid, a do-or-die moment comes along, you will be ready. It’s difficult to think of getting into the right mind set to save your yourself from harm if you don’t continually work on establishing appropriate boundaries.
So what would some examples be in different settings? One could be refusing to allow your new boyfriend or girlfriend to show up at your house or work unannounced. You see, little transgressions like this, while seemingly cute and endearing at first, tend to escalate into even more violating behaviors.
Here’s an every-day example: Say you have a neighbor in your apartment building or on your block that continually asks about your private life. It always makes you really uncomfortable, but you seem to end up giving the information that he or she wants, just so you don’t appear rude. Well, that person is actually acting like a bully (even if they don’t realize it) and if you don’t want your privacy violated again, it’s time to look after yourself and set some boundaries in a polite way. Changing the topic of conversation to the person asking the questions, or even to another non-personal topic is a great way of deflecting attention away from yourself, thereby safeguarding your privacy. Information is power, and no one can take away your power without your consent.
Boundary setting is vitally important in the workplace as well. When I was fresh out of college, I once had a supervisor who tried to assert dominance over me by draping her arm over my shoulders each time she visited me in my cubicle. She kept doing it, until I had to tell her that it made me uncomfortable. Instead of respecting my request, she tried to save face and put me on the defensive, saying something to the effect of, “Well, everybody likes hugs, why don’t you?” It really doesn’t matter whether the someone doing this is male or female, if action is inappropriate and makes you feel uncomfortable, you’ve got a right to speak up against it. Or it will keep happening, and sometimes escalate.
I have seen so many people in authority do this so many times, that I’ve actually given it a name. I like to call it, “The Supervisor Hold.” Mind you, this is not simply a casual, friendly act between equals, because I have never seen an employee do this to their employer. Now, this is something you want to become aware of, because some supervisors might be doing it unconsciously, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a very effective method of coercion. There’s something about the touch of a fellow human being that we all respond to, and if that person is not a stranger, then we’ve already been conditioned on some level to accept that touch, no matter what it’s real intention is. So it behooves us to examine whether we really feel comfortable with this kind of contact, especially if its coming from a superior. Some people might not say anything about it, just because they feel it might put their position in jeopardy, not because they actually like the contact.
And if you want to speak up about it, how should you go about that? From my personal experience, if you want the unwanted contact to stop, but want to maintain a working relationship, the best way is to have a private, short, direct, but respectful conversation with the person who’s making you feel uncomfortable. By establishing boundaries in the home and work environment you won’t hesitate to make sure that someone on the outside of those “safe” zones doesn’t run rough-shod over your personal space, either physically or psychologically. This is vitally important for your safety, and will allow you to move about your world with greater confidence.
This has been an amazing week and I have lots to share. I’ll start here in New York City.
I feel incredibly honored to be chosen as a “Next Maker” in AOL’s Makers: Women Who Make America Awards. Five astoundingly powerful women and I were chosen out of a pool of 1,200 applicants. Our stories will be included in a documentary about the feminism movement then and now airing on PBS in February. Read up on the other winners and learn more about this initiative on the Maker’s website. Thank you to all the hollabackers, past and present, who have made this possible.
Also, I’ll be celebrating the arrival of the book “I still believe Anita Hill: Three Generations Discuss the Legacy of Speaking Truth to Power” at an event in NYC this weekend. The section about Hollaback in the book is accompanied by many other stories of feminist visionaries. Get your copy here.
Here’s what our sites around the world have been up to:
Hollaback Dublin is hitting the ground running with lots of press before they’ve even launched. Not only did they make the national news twice already, they were also on a major talk radio show. Even though radio host Ryan Tubridy was unabashedly rude to site leader Aimee Doyle (he actually said “to hell with the PC brigade, there isn’t enough wolf-whistling at women going on!”), she repped Hollaback with grace and poise. I couldn’t be more proud of Aimee and the Dublin site, our new family members.
Hollaback Richmond recruited some hollabackers this week too by hosting a volunteer interest meeting. RVA has also been actively spreading awareness about the street harassment that the LGBTQ community faces, especially transgender people. Each day in November they are sharing stories of the many transgender lives lost due to gender-based and hate violence. Please click here to learn more.
Let’s keep this movement going together.
HOLLA and out —