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I was walking home from work yesterday – in fact, on the very block on which I live in Astoria, Queens – when I felt a hard slap on my ass. Stunned, I watched a man whizz by me on his bike. I managed to sputter “fuck you,” but I was so shocked that it didn’t come out nearly as loudly or aggressively as I would have liked. He was on a bike, so I barely got a glimpse at him – although he did look back briefly and I flipped him off. I’ve been subject to catcalls before, but never had I been inappropriately touched by a stranger, not even on a crowded subway.
Later, I wished I’d cursed him out louder and with more anger, but I was too shocked at the time to form a coherent response. My first instinct was to just go home and lock the door against the outside world, but I realized that letting this man’s behavior affect my own wasn’t the answer. So I changed into my workout clothes and went to the gym like I’d planned, trying not to worry that another stranger would see my loose yoga pants and spandex top as an invitation to assault or harass me. I’m still furious that someone would touch me without my consent, but I’m not going to stop wearing what I like or worry about walking home by myself. I’m not the one who should have to change my behavior.
Submitted by Sara
Editor’s Note: Last summer, a man was convicted of a rash of “butt-slapping” (AKA assault) in the Crown Heights area. For more information, check out this and this. We’re hoping what happened with Sara is an isolated incident and the guy is not out and about again, but if you experience something similar please let us know.
I was sitting on the E train today, heading back to Queens from the city. I had a book out but I was taking a break from reading it. I was looking around the train and noticed this man mouthing “I love you” to me and then winking at me. I was pissed off from harassment my friend and I endured earlier in the day. So, I responded to him with a death stare. I had an angry, angry face that I made and I just kept staring at him for what felt like 10 minutes, meanwhile, he was still winking at me and mouthing “I love you”. I was completely creeped out because he’s old enough to be my father. I grimaced at tuned away from him and went back to my book. I took a quick picture of him when I left the train so I could hollaback.
Submitted by Mariya
Earlier this year on a chilly, windy day, I, a girl who had yet to turn 15, was walking through the parking lot of a store. I was wearing a dress and some thick tights but had no coat, so I walked fast to get to my car. As I am walking I hear a car slowly driving behind me but I think little of it, assuming that they only want the parking space that I am walking through. I notice that the car is still there but still don’t pay much attention. When I get to my car I turn around and see a van full of perverted men hanging out the windows ogling my butt. They start to drive away and I am so shocked that all I have time to do is give them an angry look. I wish I had done more but I was too embarrassed and angry to.
Submitted by Shelby
Recently I had the experience of traveling to Turkey with a university team. Being Canadian I was extremely excited for my first trip beyond North America. Overall it was a very pleasant adventure, and I could focus on one of the many positive memories that resulted, but there is another that always gets me.
Istanbul has a decent transit system, or at least the impression of one for tourists. After a day on the town we had accidentally timed our return on the train with rush hour. As warm bodies squeezed in, we huddled together as it can be uncomfortable isolated speaking only English and being the only white person to illicit stares. As the train started moving again I thought I felt something. I shrugged it off at first, with everything so packed the jostling can be confusing. Shortly after, my bum has been grabbed.
I was a little in shock. I moved quickly, to see an unassuming business man acting as if nothing has happened. The pervert just touched my ass! Not only that, he assaulted me in front of my friends AND boyfriend. I couldn’t believe it, told them in English, and everyone just stood confused. I wanted to punch him in the face, but by the time I had worked up the courage it was too late. If someone touches you and it is unwanted, that is physical assault, the end.
The worst part is that I started asking myself what I could have done differently. Knowing we were in a conservative country, we girls had dressed to show minimal (as in none) skin. I had a coat on at the time. Were my jeans too tight, was that asking for it in Turkey? I felt like it was my fault for trespassing with Western fashion in their country. Like the man just thought all white women were harlots. As if it was okay the man figured a woman should hide herself under swarths of cloth or be fair game for attack.
Even months afterward I still feel unsure of the incident. Am I bigoted for hating any Muslim stricture that has a line about being humble? I know that Islam is not exactly a feminist’s favourite religion, but we can’t liberalize such a widespread belief system by fighting it by banning minarets in Switzerland or whatever. But it feels right because I am so angry. All because some middle-aged pervert couldn’t keep his hands to himself, my views on so many issues have been changed.
That being said, I am thankful to be Canadian. There’s a long way to go, even here, but I can appreciate my daily commute far more now.
Nothing ruins a bike ride on a gorgeous summer day like creeps making sexual comments from the sidewalk. Harriet Walker discusses harassment and biking in London, and wonders why biking seems to draw harassers like a magnet.
Gawker posts their own hollaback, entitled “Have you seen this masturbating gentleman?”
The amazing Holly Kearl has an op-ed in the Huffington Post – check it out for a great introduction to the problem of street harassment.
One of the first questions people always ask me about Hollaback! is whether it is legal to take someone’s photo and post it online. Gizmodo reminds us that in public spaces, all photos are fair game. As anyone who has had a creepy guy with a camera phone take a pic of them knows, this can be a pain, but at least we can point a camera back at them. Let’s reclaim the gaze and Hollaback!
I was walking to my car from my apartment to pick up my little sister and I’m halfway across the lawn when I get a “Hey! Hey!” There is a group of guys loitering on the stoop of my neighbor the drug-dealer’s apartment that I haven’t noticed (how do I know he’s a drug dealer? because his girlfriend welcomed me to the neighborhood about a month before this incident by telling me if I needed anything to just knock on their door). I pause, turn and realize it’s not someone I know, turn back, and continue walking. I hear something along the lines of a “How are you doin?” and pause again to say “Fine.” I am going to continue to my car but then they invite me inside the leering doorway “Hey! Come over here! Come in here!” I stammer something about I can’t, I have to pick up my sister, goodbye. Is my Achilles heel the fact that I am pretty much always polite? I’m an introvert, quiet and timid with low self-esteem and know nothing of your website yet. I’ve been harassed before by men, usually in cars, and normally just put my head down and keep walking. But these are my neighbors–or at least friends/clients of them.Your neighbors know where you live, what car you and your mom drive, when your little sister gets off the schoolbus. I am afraid of retribution if I am rude. I just turned 18 a week ago.
So I get to my car and put my purse and cellphone on the passenger seat when one of the men RUNS up to the passenger-side window. He’s in baggy street-clothes and is mentioning me to roll my window down. I consider driving off but I second-guess myself and roll the window about 3/4s of the way to see what he wants. I am not totally paralyzed with fear until he sticks his head and arm INTO MY CAR. I want to drive away but that might decapitate him and then I will be held responsible for murder. I feel claustrophobic. There’s a big, scary, man, late 30s-mid 40s, in my car, and if he wanted to, could reach out and touch my face (which is stuck in an obviously frightened and pained smile, throughout our conversation).
His name is Jafar. I ask him if he is my neighbor. He says yes. He says he’s surprised that I didn’t just drive off (indicating he’s done this to others before, great…). He wants my phone #. I tell him I’m late, I have to get my little sister. But he wants my phone #. He is a fast talker, it’s scary. I tell him I have a boyfriend. I tell him that my boyfriend doesn’t want me giving out my #. He says that that “doesn’t matter.” He wants me to give him my #. I try to make an excuse about not having a phone but it’s right on the passenger seat. He’s staring at me. My brain is cloudy with fear, I don’t know what to do. I put his number in my phone instead. This has worked at parties with guys who I don’t want to bother me anymore. I tell him I’ll call him. He says to call him right then. An obvious “no minutes” excuse slips my mind. I call him and shit, now he has my phone #. His phone # has a strange area code, so I ask him about it (since I know he has my # and knows where I live, I want to get as much info as I can on him). A sketchy answer–that you could pick any area code you wanted at the cell phone store…so he picked an out-of-state one? I ask him again if he is my neighbor. He says no this time, that he’s just visiting. I can feel the blood in my veins. I guess he finally takes pity on me and extracts himself from my window, letting me go.
My heart is racing and I want to puke. I cry on the way to getting my sister. I warn her about the neighbors and park in the back of the building. In order to tell my mother about this I would have to wake her up. My mother works night shifts and needs her sleep. Plus this would make her worry even more about us. I cry and call my boyfriend and my boyfriend tells his mom and his mom says I should call the police. But by now this incident has happened hours ago. Jafar is no longer outside. Plus, what would they do, arrest him? For what? Isn’t it my fault, since I stupidly rolled down my window? I still feel frightened though. I double check all the locks and windows. I have trouble falling asleep the next few nights.
I still have Jafar’s # in my phone, so that I can choose to not answer it if he ever calls. He hasn’t. It’s been about 3 months. I not scared anymore but I still mostly park in the back. I don’t want any attention from my neighbors, ever again.
I question why I didn’t just drive off, leave him in the dirt. (The meek will never inherit the earth.) I question alot of things–how he came to have such audacity to invade my personal space–either his complete and utter ignorance of my frightened eyes and smile, or his selfishness as he brushed my feelings of safety away to make room for his own desires. I question women’s gender role in society, to be submissive and pandering and timid and accepting. I question past wrongs: “Titties!” screamed out a car window, numerous car-honkings and tongue-flickerings from vehicles zooming past, a manager at the fast-food joint I worked at who took a plastic toy into the break room and rubbed it between my 14-year-old breasts.
Many, many questions, and I think I’ve come to a conclusion for one of them. I let Jafar psychologically screw with me because I was afraid that, if I stood up for myself, I would come back and he’d still be there, pissed and waiting for revenge. That I’d walk past him and be yelled at, or rushed at and chased after, or the door to my apartment would be scribbled with obscenities, the window cracked, the lock broken. I don’t know if this is an irrational thought or not, if I am just paranoid. I know it’s the coward’s way out (is this victim-blaming?). It’s not noble to do nothing, but I felt–and feel, remembering this–trapped. I want to stand up for myself, but when it’s so close to home, it’s not just big anonymous you. It’s your family, too. I don’t want anything happening to me or my sister or mother. In another apartment complex my little sister was raped. I don’t want it to happen ever again.
Submitted by Gianna
Editor’s Note: Sometimes staying quiet in the moment is the best, most noble defense that we have. It’s doesn’t mean that we’re weak. Street harassment oftentimes leaves us with very few defenses in the moment, but that’s why holla’ing back is so important. Gianna could of just stood up for herself in front of her harasser, but instead she’s standing up for herself on a much bigger platform: the thousands of you that are reading this right now. What’s more heroic than that?
I wasn’t sure if I should submit this story, because it involved me losing my temper which I don’t think was the most productive response, but…
I live in Astoria, Queens. One morning I was heading to work, walking along 23rd Ave to the train. I was just about to put my headphones on to listen to my iPod when I heard a low, drawn-out catcall from one of two guys sitting on chairs outside a barber shop as I walked past.
me: “What did you say?”
him: “I said you look very nice”
me: “You fucking pedophile, you’re old enough to be my father!”
him: “What? It’s a compliment!”
his friend: “What are you talking about, he’s only 30″
me: “Well he doesn’t look like he’s 30. And it’s not a compliment, no girl wants to hear some random stranger say that stuff to her, it’s rude”
him: “I’m giving you a compliment”
me: “no girl wants to hear your ‘compliment’, I guarantee it!”
him: “you aren’t a normal girl then”
me: “no, NO GIRL who is just walking to the subway to go to work wants to hear about you checking her out. you save those kind of compliments for a girl you’re dating, don’t harass women on the street”
him: “I have a girlfriend”
me: “I bet she loves the fact that you harass women on the street”
He kept insisting that I was a rare species of female, the only girl who did not enjoy his creepy, leering remarks! That every other girl appreciated the ‘compliment’! This made me angrier than the initial remarks themselves.
I lost my temper here… I made some insulting remarks about the size of his genitalia, told him to go home and pleasure his girlfriend with his inadequate genitalia and leave everyone on the street alone, and then picked up the coffee cup (nearly empty, unfortunately) which was sitting next to his friend’s chair and flung the contents at the two of them before walking quickly down the sidewalk towards the subway.
They yelled violent threats at me as I walked away, but didn’t move to act upon them. I realized of course that throwing the coffee cup at them had been a dumb move, but I was livid. The phrase he had said that upset me the most and that haunted me more then the catcall itself was “You aren’t a normal girl”. Like he wanted me to think I was a freak for being offended and upset by his gross leering comment. And the fact that maybe he really believes that – that it’s okay to say those things because “most girls” appreciate it. And that he’ll probably keep doing it because he thinks it’s okay, even though one crazy girl threw a cup of coffee at him for it.
Submitted by Anonymous
About two weeks ago, I experienced one of the worst incidents of street harassment in my entire 14 years of living in New York City, in which five men surrounded me on a sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon and proceeded to verbally harass me while not allowing me to continue down the sidewalk. There was no one else around, and I was truly terrified, because I was so outnumbered, and there was nothing I could have done to defend myself against so many if they had chosen to do worse than verbally harass. After a minute (that felt like an hour) I managed to dart around them and get away. Once I was far enough away that I felt a bit safer, I reached for my phone to take their photo (yes, I was scared, but I was also so angry at being treated like that!) and I realized I didn’t have my phone with me. I was so, so, disappointed.
I was still trembling by the time I got back to work, but I called the business these men were employees of to complain. The managers I spoke with surprisingly took the incident very seriously, stating that they did not accept this type of behavior from their employees, and would speak with the men involved.
But still, as I’ve processed the incident since then, the biggest regret I’ve had is that I didn’t have my phone with me to take a picture of them. I’m glad that they probably got in trouble with their bosses, but the immediate impact of having their victim take a photo of them – I’ve done it before, and it really does have an affect. The bottom line is, when you do this, you’re taking the power back from the harasser. And that’s what street harassment is really about – the power. Holla-ing back with my camera phone is the only thing I’ve done in response to street harassment that actually made me feel less like a victim, and more like a human being.
Well, this morning I witnessed an incident of street harassment directed at another woman. She was walking a few feet in front of me, and a man was walking in the opposite direction (towards us). The sidewalks on this block are very narrow, and under the best of circumstances, it’s difficult for to people to pass each other. When the woman in front of me got to the point where she had to squeeze by the man, he stopped, staring really hard at her, and turned his body into her as she passed. There was less than an inch of space between them, and he was doing his best to make it even smaller. She ignored him and kept going, but I guess he didn’t like that, because then he called out to her “I am going to bite you.” I was so grossed out, but also scared he would turn his attention to me as I passed. So, I took advantage of the fact that he was still staring at her as she walked away to get past him myself. As soon as I was past him, I grabbed my phone out of my purse. After a few moments of fumbling to get to the camera feature, I turned back, and saw he was going down a flight of stairs. With my camera in position, I realized I would only get the back of his head, so I said “Hey!” He turned, and I snapped a perfect photo.
Him: Why did you take my picture?
Me: I’m putting it on the internet, with other perverts who harass women on the streets.
Him: What? Come here. [motioning with his fingers] Why did you take my picture, bitch?
Me: [starting to walk away] It’s too late! It’s done! It’s a good picture, too, it shows your face real good!
He did not look happy. But me? I felt … empowered.
Submitted by Nancy
My friend and I were riding the 6 train downtown together. As we’re chatting, I feel something brush on my backside. I thought that someone was bumping into me cause the subway conductor was breaking every two seconds and people kept falling over and losing their balance. But, there was something about this that was different. It was really low on my backside and it was warm. I look and the guy behind me has a fucking ERECTION. It was right up against me. I freak out inside, but I’m trying to remain calm. I look at him, he had his head turned away from me
I was in the middle of talking when this all happened. I immediately stop what I was saying and turn to my friend and said (loud enough for the guy to hear) “can we SWITCH POSITIONS?” my friend switches with me, so now my friend is next to this guy. The guy gets off at the very next stop, and my friend asks me why I look so nervous. I whisper to him what happened and he was disgusted and angry, not to mention really weirded out. We both noticed that the man was wearing these blue shorts that had “pockets” but instead of fabric is was just a hole that showed his skin, and the man was clearly not wearing underwear.
I’m cat-called every day of my life. I take it as a part of living in this city. I literally cannot go out by myself without getting lewd looks or comments, most of the time by men who are old enough to be my father. What is saddening is that I am used to this. I should not have to “get used to this”, because men should never be doing this to begin with. This was my first ever physical encounter with one of these creeps. In the end I felt like I needed to take a shower.
Submitted by Susanna
This evening I was walking down Christopher St, which is ironically like the gayest street in NYC. I passed a group of young dudes and one whispered at me some shit like “Hey, you looking fine. Why don’t you say hi. I’d like to see that body.” I was so pissed, I turned around and charged him like I was going to kick him in the nuts. He dodged me and shouted “I’ll press charges!” Then I looked him in the eye and said “Why did you say that? It’s an insult and you know it’s an insult. Why did you insult me?” At which point the fucking dude started staring at my cleavage and saying something about how he wanted to be my friend. I decided to make a big scene so I started yelling “You insulted me because you think you’re better than me. You’re a stranger and you insulted me!” His friends were laughing and I was so angry, but I wasn’t really going to fight him so I just turned and left.
It probably wasn’t the most productive reaction, but I was enraged. The whispering really drives me nuts, because it means the dude doesn’t even have the nerve to really talk to me.
Submitted by Rachel