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It’s 2:55pm and I’ve just gotten off the bus ready to get my son from school. I’m loaded down with shopping (board games in big, flat, colourful bags) and I’m clearly in a hurry.
I’m walking along in my typical “Leave me be” fashion – not making eye contact with anyone; keeping a fast, purposeful pace; trying to keep a look of determination on my face.
I pass a cook shop. There’s a guy in the doorway. “Good afternoon, Young Lady,” he says to me. Seems innocuous enough. For community’s sake, I reply “Hi” without slowing down. This was a mistake.
“Hey! Baby! Why so hurried! Get your ass back here, baby!”
I’m still processing this (In my mind, my cocky, confident persona is taking a bashing, “Does this guy know who he’s messing with?” I saying to myself in an Emergency Inner Pep Talk, “I’m going to ruin his ass come August”) as the guy immediately in front of me turns around to see what the first guy is yelling about. He stops right in front of me so suddenly I almost pile into the back of him.
Asshole #1 is still calling to me from his doorway. Asshole #2 decides to join in.
This is the first time in YEARS I’ve experienced a moment of panic; there’s no escape route. Major road to one side, buildings to my other. Harassing Guy #1 is behind and this other asshole is right in front of me. Better yet, I’m frozen in the spot wondering what the hell to do while Guy #2 is reaching his hand out toward me.
“Get the fuck away” I mumble. I move the shopping to my other hand, so it forms a barrier between me and his hand and push past him. Everything I’ve learned about rape and sexual assault is scrolling, Terminator-style, through my mind. My first thought isn’t to hurt him to defend myself; my only thought is to escape.
Five yards ahead is a shop where I go sometimes with my son. I fumble my way in there and stand with my back against the wall. Not quite sure what to do now, I wait a couple of beats while the guy behind the counter asks me if I’m okay. I am, I tell him so. I look at my watch – it’s almost time for my son to get collected.
It’s only this thought that gets me moving again. The truth is, I could have stayed in the shop for an hour, but my son needs me to be at school.
I step out, both assholes have gone: it’s just another rainy day in Bristol and while their days are continuing uninterrupted, mine has been marred. That same old feeling of powerlessness is back again, the “What Ifs” are playing in my head as I get to school and wait for my son to come out. Suddenly I can’t wait to get home, to log on and to Hollaback. And now I’ve written out what happened, I’m already feeling calmer and safer.
I’m starting a Hollaback in Bristol in August; I like to think I know enough about street harassment to remain cool and unflustered. Goes to show, you can never really be prepared – all the responses I’ve drilled in my head came to nothing. Now I’m home, fear has turned to fury – I find I’m blaming myself: did I overreact? Should I have answered the first guy? Did I really need to use that bus-stop instead of the next? Was I “asking for it” by reciprocating? Was my aggression really warranted?
The truth is, in that moment I was trapped between two guys who were giving me obviously unwanted advances: one was shouting for my attention, the other was making physical advances. I’m now feeling incredibly angry and more determined than ever to end this kind of culture that allows men to randomly surround a woman who clearly wasn’t interested in anything other than getting where she was going.
I’m more determined than ever to stop these assholes.
“I’m not your sweetheart.”
The other day, I got into a livery cab, which I often do when I travel from Washington Heights to go downtown. I indulge in this guilty pleasure especially when I’m going toward the East Side, which takes a monstrous amount of time to get to from the Heights. Typically, I do a “street hail,” because it seems to save time, as well as money. This means that I take certain precautions when getting in a cab, so that I don’t have any problems, which I’ll detail in another post. Well, this cab seemed alright, as in, the driver seemed courteous, and not creepy. So I got in and everything seemed to be going OK, when he decided to go a different way than the way that I had requested him to go, which unfortunately resulted in us missing several lights, getting caught in traffic etc. So I politely said that I really preferred to take the other route to the Harlem River Drive. He responded by calling me “sweetheart,” which, considering the circumstances, was pretty condescending.
I immediately said, “Don’t call me sweetheart!” He seemed very surprised, and perhaps had never received that response before. As an older man, I suspect that he probably had called young women that throughout his life, and was never called to task for it. And honestly, I’ve been called that so many times before by men of a certain age, that I thought I had almost become insensitive to it ~ the operative word here being “almost.” It’s so common, that it’s easy to tell yourself that “they don’t mean anything by it,” which is exactly the response I received when I spoke up to this cab driver. But just because something offensive/patronizing has become normalized, doesn’t make it in the least bit acceptable. And I don’t think I’m alone in this view.
When I told him not to call me that, I elaborated the reason ~ not with the obvious one, of him being condescending to me given the specific circumstances, but of the real reason. I told him that it was considered a term that should only be used between a husband and wife, and a boyfriend and girlfriend, and that it indicated that the man had a sexual relationship with the woman. This statement of course stopped him dead in his tracks, so to speak. Now, I know that parents sometimes call their son or daughters this as well, as a term of endearment, but I wanted to drive home to him the fact that it was a term only used between people who had an intimate relationship with one another, and that it wasn’t acceptable to use in other settings. Well, he got the message, and at that moment professed undying love to his dear wife, saying that he never meant to come on to me. It totally worked ~ he understood what I was trying to say, and did actually apologize.
When will men learn that calling women whom they’ve just met, “sweetheart” is not acceptable? When we start calling them on it, each clueless person at a time. And that’s how change works.
The long train journey was beginning to wear me off. I dosed at my seat only to wake up at some sounds by a man sitting in the opposite seat. I knew he didn’t have a ticket and must have persuaded other travelers to share their seat with him. He was staring at my chest. My dizziness left me that very instant and I started staring at him. He saw I was staring but it didn’t seem to perturb him. I told myself there’s no way I am letting this creep win this power game with me. I snapped my fingers in front of his face. He seemed surprised. I kept staring, anger in my eyes. After some moments of exchanging stares, he looked away. A vendor came by and he purchased some eatables. I kept staring. He could no longer maintain eye contact. He started stuffing them in his mouth while i started. He looked here and there as if wanting to escape. I bet his ego held him at his place. But as soon as his eatables were finished, he got up and left.
Moral of the story: Most people who tease are cowards. Challenge them and you’ll find their hollowness.
I don’t consider myself particularly hot or sexy. I am 15, 5’9″, and a size eleven. I am not curvaceous, at least not compared to some girls at my school. But still, I get holla’d at. During school. The first time it happened I was walking through the quad during break, and suddenly I hear “How you doin’ gurrrl, you lookin’ fine to-day!” I look up, confused, only to see a large boy, (He was probably 18, but can someone who has the nerve to holla at a girl publicly be called a man?). He stared right back, leering. I didn’t know what to do. At the time I was 14, I had never received this kind of attention. I responded, “I’m fine, and you?” and quickly walked past him. I was shocked. Not only had it happened in the center of the quad, surrounded by people, I was wearing sweatpants, a loose t shirt and no makeup. I couldn’t understand why he had singled me out. I was definitely not “looking’ fine to-day”. Nothing like that happened that year, and I eventually forgot about it.
Then only a week ago, I was called into the office during class to clear an absence. As I was about to open the door of the main building, I hear “How you doin’ guuurrrl?” through the glass. I see a group of about five boys, all seniors I believe, standing just inside the door. If I had been farther away I would have turned around, but I didn’t want to show that they had any power over me. I entered the building to a chorus of how-you-doin’s. Like before, I responded “I’m fine, and you?” Again I was dumbfounded. Why had they chosen me? I entered the building, and turned down the hallway. Unfortunately I was wearing a team t shirt for lacrosse, and it had my name on the back. They started down the hallway after me, now saying “How you doin’ Maureen?.” Although they stopped after a few steps, their voices followed me down the hallway. I was so afraid, probably unreasonably so. I entered the office, and cleared my absence. I didn’t say anything about the boys. I was hesitant to go back out into the hall, and when I finally did, they were gone. But just to be sure, I took the long way back to my classroom. Now everyday I see them sitting in front of the lunchroom as I go to buy lunch, and I pray they don’t remember my face.
I’m bisexual. What does this mean? I am physically, emotionally and mentally attracted to both sexes, male and female, as well as both genders, men and women (note: there is a difference between sex and gender, most people can’t differentiate between the two). Essentially, I’m queer-minded; I will not turn down any person because of genetics or orientation. That being said, I’ve been in several serious relationships with men, had casual flings with women and most recently, entered into a long-term relationship with a woman. At one point or another, both sexes have grabbed the attention of my heart, mind and body, not necessarily equally so, but why should that factor matter?
A few years ago, I took a Sexuality & Society course at Georgia State University. I wanted to learn more about human sexuality and its history, trends, expectations and media influence that affect people’s view. Naturally, this course was extremely controversial. Many students signed up simply because they thought we’d be watching soft-core porn all day. Wrong. It was definitely one of the most informative and eye opening classes of my entire undergraduate career.
And then came the discussion of sexual identity. Just as the professor was explaining how many people do not dichotomize their sexuality with ‘straight’ and ‘gay,’ one male student (who was extremely fond of his straightness) stood up and yelled, “You can label yourself! You are either straight or gay. If you like men and women, you are gay. Point blank period.”
This did not fly with me. Fuck raising my hand and waiting to be called on; this guy needed to LEARN and UNDERSTAND that you cannot just put people and their feelings and attractions into one of two boxes. Life is not that black and white. Life is not that square.
I tried to explain it to him. Yes, some people are 100% straight and some people are 100% homosexual, physically, emotionally and mentally. But not everyone, not me. Before I could even elaborate further, he was already yelling for the whole class to hear, but directing his dialogue toward me. “You’re just confused. You can’t be in the middle. Bisexuality doesn’t exist. Girls who say they are bisexual are just horny girls looking for attention anywhere they can find it. They want to have sex with men and entertain the men by having sex with women too…” – something along those lines. Imagine know-it-all college student in his very early 20s discriminating against an entire group of people without even allowing the discussion to set in. He didn’t want to hear anyone else’s opinions or even learn one single perspective on the variety of sexual identities that exist. The professor eventually kicked him out of class, and apparently he couldn’t handle it because he never came back.
It would’ve been to his benefit to not drop the class. By the end of the semester, he could have learned something new that may have changed his perspective. Yet another opportunity for growth and understanding down the drain. Unfortunately, many people do not make it through classes like these, or let alone through life encountering people of different sexual orientations and cultural backgrounds. Their only way of coping with something so opposite their own norm is to immediately bash it. They turn to hate and discrimination to make sense of something they just can’t wrap their head around. It’s selfish and disappointing that people are so quick and willing to immediately cast people off rather than take two minutes to learn about another lifestyle, another culture, another human being.
I’m grateful for HollaBack and other organizations that promote anti-discrimination towards all groups of people — not just gays, transgendered, lesbians, bisexuals, blacks, Muslims or anyone. It is absolutely uncalled for. Whatever life path we decide to take, it’s our own. No one should take that away from us. Share your story with the world – or even just one person. It will make a difference if they have the heart and consideration to listen before making judgments.
Cross-posted from HollabackATL!
I’ve had this body my whole life. I don’t remember the first time I got honked at or holla’d at, but it may have been as early as middle school. Because as soon as I hit puberty, wham! I had curves. Not that I can even say that is the full reason. It may lend to it, but the real reason is simply this: I’m a woman. If I’m walking down the street, then I’m fair game to any man who feels the need to holla.
I’m not a prude, I love my body, I’m comfortable in it. But I think about what I wear each morning in terms of what attention I’ll get as I walk down the street to the bus stop or work. Some days I just don’t feel like dealing with it, so I wear jeans and a t-shirt. I might not get honked at that day. But turns out, me feeling like I ain’t lookin’ cute–I still get honked at sometimes. I still have men pull up next to me trying to chat me up or offering me rides. But, if I wore a cute dress? It’s guaranteed to happen. In jeans and a t-shirt, it’s a question of whether I’ll have to deal with street harassment. In a dress, or anything slightly more “feminine”, it’s a question of when.
I live about a seven minute walk from the bus stop where I took the bus to school last semester, and about ten minute walk from my job. No, I wasn’t harassed every day. But a lot of days. It’s more annoying when I get honked at (from the front and from the back, but from the back most often), but at least that’s not coming into my bubble. It really creeps me out when men pull up next to me, try to offer me rides and crap. I mean, seriously? I’m not five anymore, but I pretty much still abide with the idea of not getting in cars with strangers.
I have very fortunately never had to deal with any actual assault. I am extremely grateful every time a man backs off and drives away. I hate that I feel fear every time a man pulls up next to me. What if all he wants is to ask directions? It’s never happened. I don’t even give them the benefit of the doubt anymore, and I hate that. I don’t want to be a feminist man-hater. But considering my work is primarily in the area of intimate partner violence, and my own experience with harassment–it’s hard sometimes. I know a lot of great men who treat women well. But I ask of them–do you call off your friends when they try to holla at the girls? If you don’t–then you’re just as bad–someone who stands idly by.
Anyone who thinks street harassment is harmless, ask yourself why the men are doing it. Do they really just want to tell me how beautiful I am? It’s a power play, showing me and and other women who walk down the street that men are still in control. In the society we live in, it’s accepted that you shouldn’t walk around at night, especially alone. But I don’t. This happens in the middle of the day. In broad daylight. In front of many other people in their cars. So don’t try to tell me it isn’t about putting on a show.
Race may be involved with street harassment for some, but you won’t find me saying that. My body apparently is equal opportunity trigger for men of all ages and races. I can’t even say one race does it more, because they don’t. Just depends what part of town I’m in.
I will not stop walking everywhere. I will not be intimidated by men trying to show me who is in control. And I am speaking up. You try to holla, and you better believe I will hollaback.
Hollaback is an organization speaking against street harassment by collecting people’s stories. My story was posted a couple of months ago. I invite you to take part in speaking up. You can also follow them on twitter.
It’s time to be the change.
Reposted from Dancing with Me
Last month, on a Friday after work I decided to go for a run, it was a cool evening and it was starting to rain, which quickly turned to sleet and then light snow. I was less than a 1/4 mile into my run when I heard yelling — my iPod was between songs, otherwise I might have missed the specifics of it. There was a guy (I am assuming high school age) leaning out the window of a car on the other side of the street who screamed out, “Nice ass………WHORE!!!!!!!!!” I have to be honest, it wasn’t just the words that upset me, it was also how he said it — there was anger in his tone, and it felt threatening.
I tried to shake it off as just a bunch of immature kids with poor judgment and kept running.
Maybe a mile later I was on Beacon St in Cambridge when the same car drove by me again with this guy again hanging out the window screaming at me — I had my iPod cranked up so I don’t know what he said but the tone was, again, unmistakably angry & threatening. I was freaked out that this was the 2nd time they’d driven by me, and I was getting into less residential neighborhoods where there were fewer people on the streets — I had visions of the next time they drove past me, what if they pulled over? got out of the car? pulled me into the car?? I decided to listen to my gut, cut my run short, and turn around & head back for more populated streets & home.
Unfortunately I was not wearing my glasses & did not get the license plate #. I am getting over this but had an anxiety dream about it Friday night that involved me being cornered by a large man and calling for help that never came. I remain disturbed by the fact that at some point in their lives, the boys/men in that car learned that harassing & threatening a woman in this way is somehow ok.
This seems to be a fortnightly occurrence and I am unable to escape it.
Thank you perverts!
Women are just as much to blame; the social power dynamics have shifted and while employment may be regulated by male approaches dating definitely has a blurred line.
I seem to fairly often be a victim of somebody grabbing or slapping my behind, I have had my testicles cupped and on many occasions experienced inappropriate contact and remarks.
This weekend a young lady pinched my behind while I stood at the bar in the Victoria pub, Birmingham, I turn around and give her a filthy look and ask her to stop but as I turn back to the bar she decided to grab me again; this time when I turn all of her friends are staring at me and making remarks like ‘hey handsome’ or ‘hello cute ass’
Unfortunately as a man I have little support so when I open my mouth to criticize I am immediately set upon by the eyes of every person in the room and offered tokens of aggression by some woman and men who stand up, but why?
Because the power dynamics of a 6″3 athletic man standing over four much smaller females dictates that indeed I should be the aggressor.
So I am oppressed twice simply for buying a drink and standing up for myself.
Power dynamics exist in many facets and social normality, especially for the socially responsible, is damaged when certain power dynamics are ignored; the main reason I wrote this.
The truth is a lot of this is about social molding and in my experience, women can be just as bad as men because they realize how strong the social power dynamic is in supporting them.
Because I’m always late to work, and I always like to wear lipstick, I often find myself applying makeup on the bus en route to my job. Usually I just get a few glares for primping in public, but last week, it got nasty. I was sitting on the bus (22 outbound) and two middle-aged men sat down near me – one across from me, one in the seat beside mine – and immediately began harassing me. “You look real good tonight, honey” said one. The other: “That’s some sexy red lipstick.” I turned to him and calmly said, “please don’t talk to me” while making eye contact.
Immediately their tone changed. “Ugly bitch!” “My sister told me pretty girls know how to take a compliment and only the ugly ones don’t!” I responded, “It’s funny how as soon as I speak up, I go from being beautiful to ugly.” One scoffed and said “Oh, you’re trying to be funny, bitch? Shut up.” I just kept glaring and eventually they moved but were still within earshot and continued complaining to each other and other passengers about how “rude” and “ungrateful” I was. It really rattled me and I had to call a friend to calm down, but once I got off the bus I felt really good that I had spoken up. Thanks Hollaback!
BY JULIE LALONDE, DIRECTOR OF HOLLABACK OTTAWA
excerpt from Being the Change since 2007
Ottawa had its own SlutWalk and you better believe I was there. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I was asked to speak at it, too. But that’s where it ends, for the record. I’ve never organized a SlutWalk, have no part in organizing future ones and quite frankly, spent 5 minutes at the Ottawa one talking about systemic violence against womyn.
I must admit that I was initially a little apprehensive about the whole thing. I’d heard about it in its planning stages and felt that it might have been a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to highlight an issue.
But I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.
It seems that people want to talk about sluts, sluttyness, slut-shaming, slut-positivity and all things slutty. People love sluts, other people love to hate sluts and some people hate that they love sluts.
And that’s the fucking point.
See, the organizers knew that if they organized another “Take Back the Night” or “Anti-Sexual Assault” or even a “Stop Victim Blaming” march, you’d get the same little handful of diehards, maybe a blip or two in the media but not much else. The unfortunate reality is that the average person and media outlet doesn’t give a flying fuck about violence against womyn and sexual assault. Because only sluts get raped, and womyn falsely accuse men all the time and feminists are whiny and don’t know how good they have it and on, and on and on.
A name like SlutWalk catches people’s attention, provokes a reaction and is just downright impossible to ignore. The sight of stiff journalists on the nightly news saying “And now, let’s go to Marcie who is over at SlutWalk” can’t help but solicit raised eyebrows.
And once again, that’s the fucking point.
Whether you want to reclaim the word ‘slut’ or not, you can’t help but perk up your ears when you hear the word being used in mainstream, every day conversation by your average folk. And the organizers knew that. They knew that the only way to ensure this cop’s comments didn’t go unnoticed was to shock people into reacting.
They hoped maybe a couple hundred people would show up, they’d find some solidarity and be able to sleep better at time. Instead, thousands of people showed up, an international media machine was started and there are Satellite SlutWalks around the world. Not bad for a handful of novice organizers in Toronto.
But what about this reclaiming business?
That part is tricky and complicated.
Many womyn of colour have commented that it’s not easy for them to do, considering how slut-shaming and labeling is so tied into racism, colonialism, etc. Makes sense.
Others (including myself) think it’s also classist and rather ‘in-crowd’ to assume that everyone can safely embrace the label. Tell that to poor, 16 year old rural girls who are just trying to survive gym class.
But that’s okay. See, SlutWalk isn’t really about everyone embracing the label Slut because like most things in life, if everyone is one, then nobody is.
But you can embrace the name on a political level while still recognizing how problematic it is at the individual level.
Example: We can embrace Ottawa’s annual “Dyke March” while recognizing that a 16 year old high school girl has no desire to embrace the ‘dyke’ label that is thrown on her daily.
Ideally, everyone who identifies as ‘dyke’ could choose to do so and others who don’t could escape the labeling. But we’re not there yet, although we’re working towards it.
SlutWalk is not an end, but a means to an end. It’s a way to rip open the universal covers on sexual assault and to expose the deeply entrenched stereotypes that enable it to continue at epidemic levels. It’s meant to prompt discussion, to test your knee-jerk reaction.
You don’t want to call yourself a slut? – Why?
You don’t think it can be reclaimed? – Why?
Regardless of what your answer is, it got you thinking and that’s the point.
As someone who has been doing anti-sexual violence work in Ottawa for close to 8 years, I’ve been to every conference, march, demonstration, letter-writing campaign kick-off, red tape cutting, award ceremony, you can imagine. I’ve been there, I’ve spoken at them, I’ve shaked my head at them and I’ve marched in them. And none of them had the turn-out that SlutWalk did.
Ottawa is an extremely conservative city with a small, (too) tight-knit feminist community and here I was, standing amongst a thousand other people, many of which I had never seen before. The crowd was diverse in age, background, gender identity, ethnicity, etc. And despite what you might have read or seen about the celebratory nature of SlutWalk, it was a rather sombre event. People were angry, not laughing. As they should be – sexual assault isn’t funny.
So you’ve got a conservative community out on a Sunday afternoon, talking about womyn’s sexuality and sexual assault in a constructive and meaningful way. Regardless of how you feel about reclaiming language, you have to be impressed by the power it had that day in Ottawa.
(Say it with me) and that’s the fucking point.
I have no desire to call myself a slut. None. My reasons for this are many but include the fact that I don’t want to define myself by my association with other people (ie: how many people I sleep with, who I sleep with, etc). It’s also difficult to call yourself something when a definition doesn’t exist. We know that a slut has something to do with sexuality but ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers.
I was called a slut for holding a pro-choice sign at an anti-choice rally.
I was called a slut for attending a new school in grade 10 with no friends or history in that city. A rumour was started that I was chased out of another town for having slept with someone’s boyfriend. The truth? I was a virgin who’d had to move for her dad’s new job.
Hell, I was called a slut for defending SlutWalk. (The irony.. it hurts…)
But even though I do not long for the label doesn’t mean I fail to see its importance. As Jaclyn Friedman so amazingly said, we must all stand under the banner of ‘Slut’ and recognize that when it is used against one womyn, it is used against all womyn. Because we can all be called a slut by someone at some point and in many cases, the sting of that word not only offends us, but decides whether or not our rape is convicted properly, whether we get access to housing, a job, a promotion, a reference, or even someone’s Facebook friend request.
So even if you don’t want to call yourself a slut, learn to respect those who do.