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I’ve lived in the Bay Area my whole life and have experienced all sorts of street harassment (cat calling, inappropriate touching, etc.), but what happened recently has really made me question if I should even bother responding to small talk from strangers at all.
On the night of 2/17 (approx. 8:30pm), I was making my way to the train station after my evening class and was approached by a man who looked to be in his late 30s-40s. He told me he liked my boots. I said “Thanks.” My wardrobe was basic: hoodie, scarf, long thermal + t-shirt, jeans and bright red Dr. Marten boots. He then proceeded to keep the conversation going by asking me my name, where I was heading and if we could walk to the train station together. I started to feel uneasy at that point considering that a classmate told me about a series of sexual assaults near the campus. However, despite my uneasiness, he looked harmless and seemed like he was lonely and needed someone to talk to. I was raised to be polite so I agreed to his request, but made a point to be very cautious by walking under the light and close to other people.
Once we made it to the station, we exchanged information about our goals in school, where we lived, just basic ‘get to know you’ stuff. The first red flag that I noticed was when I told him about my train exit, he responded with: “Oh well, I have the extra money to visit there so I’ll get off the same stop as you.” I was immediately taken aback and got really nervous since his train is on the opposite side of the platform. Earlier he told me that he was going home then all of a sudden changes his mind? I asked him “Do you even know anyone in the area?” and he said, “Yeah, I have a couple of friends who live there. In fact, I got my first car there.” I got my cell phone out of my backpack and started texting my boyfriend, unfortunately, since the train station is underground I couldn’t get any reception! I panicked, but did not show it.
The second red flag was when he started commenting on my looks and told me how pretty my smile was and that he was glad he met me. He sounded so OBSESSED and creepy. The way he looked at me made me feel dirty. With cell phone in hand, I told him that I had to make an IMPORTANT phone call and he should stick around so we could take the train together. He said “OK, I will be waiting for you.” I didn’t bother letting him finish his sentence and ran upstairs as fast as I could and notified the station agents about my situation. I could barely speak because I was terrified at that point. When I finally got reception I called my boyfriend and told him that I was really scared and asked if he could pick me up. The wait (about 15 minutes) felt like hours! The man never came upstairs to check on me (thankfully!) and finally my phone rang. I felt so relieved… who knows how the night could have ended if I would have never made that phone call.
I was pretty shaken up that night and still am. As I’ve mentioned in the beginning I have dealt with my fair share of street harassment, but nothing to this degree. This guy was willing to get off the same exit as I did even though he lives the opposite way! This story may not seem like a big deal, but I will never forget the look in his eyes. The last time someone followed me home I ended up being sexually assaulted so this incident brought back a lot of bad memories.
As of now, I don’t have any solid plans for my after school commute, but have decided to ignore compliments from strangers entirely. My politeness seems to be an open invitation for harassment or inappropriate behavior. I can’t dress up or dress down. Nothing seems to help! What’s a girl to do?
Thanks for reading and stay safe out there.
Submitted by S.P.
I’m often verbally harassed at gas stations by customers who tell me I “look like a video girl” while wearing a work uniform of khakis and a baggy t-shirt. A gas station employee twice my age offered to pay for my gas as he was bagging trash. Homeless men frequently “holler” as well. During a road trip with a girlfriend two men approached us as we were pumping gas and asked, “What are you two sexy girls doing in the middle of nowhere all alone?” I was terrified. Once an elderly man in a wheelchair blocked my way out of a Goodwill then FOLLOWED ME TO MY CAR, harassing me for twenty minutes insisting I “leave my boyfriend for a real man”. During a walk with my boyfriend a pick-up sped by and someone screamed, “FUCK HER IN THE ASS.” I used to wear a fake wedding ring while working to avoid harassment. It was ineffective. In fact, it may have made it worse. I almost snapped recently while walking out of Publix after purchasing diapers for my newborn son, when two men started heckling me. Instead of dropping multiple f-bombs I ignored them completely. I’ve been told to smile too many times to count, touched/grabbed forcefully while waiting tables, and much much more. It’s the equivalent of beating a dead dog.
Submitted by Jimi
It was about 7 in the evening the other day, and I was in a rush to get home. I had run for the bus but missed it. I had been standing at the bus stop with several other people for about 15 minutes until two large men appeared. I could hear them half a block away, they had been shouting so loudly. They stopped behind me, and started to call out to me. “Nice ass baby!” “I have something for you baby! A nice surprise!” I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t turn around. They continued to call at me, and at one point asked if I was legal. (I’m not.) I shook my head and one of them said in a awful voice that he would “do me anyways”. A older man at the bus stop finally turned and gave them an angry look and they left. I got on the next bus, and ran all the way home when I got off at my stop. I was so upset, I had never expected that men their age (they looked about late 30’s early 40’s) could be so rude and immature as to embarrass someone in public like that. It was a terrible experience.
Submitted by Rachel
I’m fourteen and a freshman in high school. This incident happened in seventh grade. I’m a bit young for my grade, so I was eleven at the time, and every day I would walk home from school. It was just a few blocks, and school ended at 3:30, so at the end of the day, I’d grab my bag and walk to my apartment.
One day, I was walking down the street, with no one else on the sidewalk but a young blonde woman and her two year-old daughter. Suddenly a white van full of maybe four or five guys between the ages of twenty and twenty-five drove by and slowed down.
“Hey bitch!” They yelled. The three of us kept walking, ignoring them.
“Bitch, I’m talking to you!” Another one of the guys yelled, while the others laughed.
When we continued to ignore them, they drove off, laughing, and I heard one say “Man I just fuckin’ pissed that bitch off!”
To this day, I don’t know whether they were addressing me or the mother walking behind me, but it was not okay, and I ran home crying. I also can’t bear to imagine that little girl being exposed to such misogynistic slander at just two years old. It really shows what living in a city is like as a girl.
This year, I experienced worse sexism, although not directed at me. I’m in the Gifted/Honors program at my high school. To my dismay, this does not mean the guys in my classes are any less ignorant and rude. A few weeks ago, the guy who sits behind me, was talking to his friend, and I overheard this conversation:
Guy 1: I hate when ugly girls say they’re ugly, ’cause you can’t really disagree with them, you know? Same with fat girls who know they’re fat.
Guy 2: Yeah, but you should never tell a fat girl she’s fat.
Guy 1: Why?
Guy 2: You know, ’cause she’ll, like, become anorexic or get an eating disorder or something.
Guy 1: Well anorexic is kinda good…
Guy 2: HOW?
Guy 1: At least they get skinny before they die.
I hear conversations like this on a daily basis and it makes me sick. Pittsburgh, meet your city’s “future leaders”.
Submitted by Maude
By VIOLET KITTAPPA
Much of the media attention this week on the sexual assault committed against reporter Lara Logan in Cairo has been filled with two strains of hatred—misogyny and racism—and supported by ill-informed and undeserved measures of American superiority in gender equality. In place of meaningful examination of the crime has been flippant commentary from sources we’d hope have a better understanding of the real situation, not least among them Nir Rosen and Simone Wilson.
In an effort to denounce what happened to Logan, many commentators have lazily used one Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights statistic on the prevalence of harassment in Cairo over and over again, omitting statistics from other sources showing equal and larger numbers of women being harassed in America, Japan, France, Argentina, Jordan, Australia, and England, to name a few—barely stopping short of saying, But that would never happen here.
Others have indulged in waxing proudly on the freedoms afforded American women, using mainstream media’s favorite defense mechanism—ethnocentrism. Poorly.
“How many Bahrainian women, after all,” wrote the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, “would produce an ass-cam video,” referring to an irrelevant YouTube clip, sending readers off googling ‘ass-cam’ and thinking about all of the ways in which Egyptian and American societies are different, instead of prompting them to ask why rape is happening in both places, and what part of our society is so broken that it can’t been fixed?
Because it does happen here.
What better ‘American’ example than Woodstock 1999, where four women experienced sustained sexual assaults and rape during daylight music sets on festival grounds packed with Pepsi products, ATMs, and MTV cameras.
During the 2000 Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, a 29 year-old kickboxing instructor named Anne Peyton Bryant, out for some afternoon rollerblading along Central Park South, was doused in water and beer, shoved to the ground, groped, and partially stripped of her clothing. An eighteen year old nearby had her underwear ripped off and was raped by finger while the men screamed, chanted, and cheered their fellows on. Bryant fled her attackers as the crowd moved on to assault dozens of other women, and tried in vain to capture the attention of police officers assigned to the area sitting on the steps of the nearby Plaza hotel. She was told to come back and file a report when she had calmed down a bit.
Thirty men were indicted in the case on felony sex abuse, rioting, and assault charges, including a 14 year old boy. Among the worst offenders was the younger brother of a NYC cop who took part in more than 15 of the assaults. Bryant became the mouthpiece for the events that day, enrolling in law school, speaking publicly about what happened to her, and filing charges against the city and NYPD for failing to respond to her pleas for help. Seven years after the crimes, she settled for $125,000.
So Logan’s assault is not an isolated or uniquely Egyptian incident. Failing to acknowledge our own widespread, homegrown brand of misogyny ensures that the anger and hatred behind these acts of sexual violence will continue to exist unchecked. Subverted public opinion borne of sloppy language choice and hateful media commentary ensures we’re busy reading whatever afternoon doldrums-inspired rant some journalist with a return key could spit out instead of considering what sorts of social programs and comprehensive government-backed studies will be required to remediate our own rape culture.
When we include the color of a journalist’s hair and details of her sex life alongside coverage of her sexual assault, what we are effectively telling the American public is that she asked for it. And when we half-heartedly try to convince anyone that we’re lucky to be female in America and not Egypt, we draw an unfair comparison and avoid solving the problem, perpetuating the same crimes of which we write.
TheStar.com reports that a Toronto police officer publicly apologized after telling a room full of law school students to whom he was giving a presentation, “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
Toronto Police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said cautioning women on their state of dress is not part of any police training,
“In fact, this is completely contradictory to what officers are taught,” she said. “They are taught that nothing a woman does contributes to a sexual assault.”
Where else are we seeing embarrassed people and institutions apologizing for the bad behavior of sick and hateful employees? Apologies are great, but let’s start eradicating the hate mongering before it begins by doling out real consequences for real misogyny. Read the full article here.
I was walking home after getting off the streetcar on a nice day in late spring/early summer. A middle aged man in a convertible drove past and honked his horn. A few minutes later, the same man drove up slowly alongside where I was walking and started talking to me “hey, you’re beautiful, you look so good today. You should come have coffee with me, etc.” I politely told him no thank-you, repeatedly, until I finally had to tell him that I had a boyfriend (because I don’t deserve to be left alone otherwise, right). He finally drove away. But I was so disturbed by it, and because I was going home to an empty house, that I walked past my house and through a secret laneway, making sure not to go up my stairs until I was sure that the car was not in sight. Needless to say I locked the door.
Submitted by Angela
One of our holla’ers found this on Female Gazing. We’re thinking we’ll print a few and see what the harassers think. I am sure harassers love paperwork.
Here is the welcome speech that she gave at Hollaback Baltimore’s launch party! Hear Shawna talk about why street harassment matters to her, to Baltimore, and to the world. It’s pretty powerful stuff – it gave me chills!