Athens GA, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia MO, Columbus, Denver, Des Moines, Duke University, NC, Durham & Chapel Hill, East Lansing, Flagstaff, AZ, Houston, Iowa City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Lubbock TX, Manhattan KS, Muncie IN, New Orleans, New York City, Oneonta, Pittsburgh, Plattsburgh, Providence, Richmond VA, San Fernando Valley, San Francisco, Twin Cities, West Georgia (University)
Sexual Harassment as a Daily Work Hazard
Imagine having a job that exposes you to sexual harassment everyday, merely because you are wearing a certain uniform ~ and probably not a very revealing one, either. It’s the symbolism of it, that seems to attract the unwanted attention. If you’re a maid, you might have to put up with all sorts of inappropriate behavior from your hotel guests. Just look at the major cases in the news lately ~ former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar, former chairman of Egypt’s Bank of Alexandria both accused of similarly heinous crimes involving maids. Both of them powerful men, who no doubt felt a sense of boundless entitlement, especially in the presence of a “lowly” maid.
And for the record, maids actually prefer to be called room attendants, and there are more than 10,000 of them working in New York City every day. Considering the way maids are still viewed by a certain segment of society, it’s probably a wise decision to distance oneself from that term. The maid profession and maids themselves have long been the object of sexual fantasy, and you can find myriad websites devoted to this fetish. Mostly the sexual images revolve around being a scantily-clad “French” maid, which would seem to preclude harassment of the modestly dressed, modern-day hotel worker. But erotic obsessions die hard, and this particular one is probably a throw-back to french theatrical farce. The master of the household would chase the maid around the bedroom, who would (of course) succumb to his advances, many times against her will.
This show of sexual dominance, in the form of a cat-and-mouse game, is still romanticized in popular culture. Go into any sex shop, and you’ll find racks of french maid outfits for role-play. And in movies and TV, there are plenty of examples of women getting into a maid costume to spice up their sex life, like in Friends with Money and 30 Rock, both with Jennifer Aniston. So the prevalence of these images, normalizing maids as sex objects, definitely does not serve the safety of room attendants.
Peter Ward, the president of the New York Hotel & Maid Trades Council, told The Wall Street Journal that while cases involving outright sexual assault are rare, sexual harassment is a daily hazard of the job. Room attendants often endure exhibitionism from male guests who decide to “surprise” them when they come in to clean the room. Propositioning is also a common problem, making workers feel degraded and unsafe. And there is something in the psychological set-up of it, of a woman coming into a man’s bedroom, that may subconsciously invite disaster: the bed is right there, the door may be locked behind you, and most hotel rooms are sound-proofed now. It’s a potentially dangerous work environment for women, and finally more is being done about it.
Legislation has been introduced to require New York State hotel owners to provide employee sexual harassment training, and establish a hotel employee bill of rights. It would also protect employees from retaliation if they speak up about abuses, which was a major reason why many room attendants did not come forward in the past. Many hotels are now issuing panic buttons as well, which will immediately alert hotel security of a threatening situation. It’s about time that the work force of room attendants, overwhelmingly female, can get the help they need to do their jobs in a safe and supportive work environment. It’s hard enough being the object of sexual harassment, merely because one is a woman in this world. It must be doubly hard when the image of your profession puts you at risk.
I was sitting on the subway, decided to take a 5 minute nap since the ride across the Manhattan Bridge is always a long one. As the train slows down I open my eyes only to find a man standing in front of me with his penis out, masturbating right in my face. This was in the early morning rush hour of barely 9am.
This man had a pony tail, tattoo sleeve on both arms. Looked to be in his 30s.
I was so disgusted and couldn’t even muster a response. I got up from my seat and moved to the other end of the train. I’m not sure if anyone saw anything but no one sure as hell said anything or warned me that this perv was doing this right in front of my face.
Q. Catcalled: What would you say to a young women who gets catcalled often during the summer? I live in the city, and as the weather gets warmer, catcalling gets more frequent. Although I dress normally (typically shorts and a blouse in the summer), I find that I’m yelled at by old men and young men, standing on corners, driving by me, etc. It makes me tense, and now when I walk down the street, I see every man as a potential threat. It’s annoying and demeaning, but I know I can’t haul every weirdo on the street to a sensitivity class. How should I deal?
A: Wait, my dear, just wait. When I walk down the street with my lovely teenage daughter, men passing in trucks will honk their horns and make appreciative kissing sounds at her. They apparently think the prune standing next to her is deaf as well as old. Yet, their catcalls spark a vestigial memory in me—a couple of decades ago I used to hear vocal judgments from men. At the time it was annoying. Yet given their absence, I have to admit it wasn’t all bad.Since today is apparently the “men are pigs” day at the chat, this also falls in the category of there’s nothing you can do but ignore it. And maybe a catcall is better than finding you’re being photographed and your image swapped around by horny married men.
BY EMILY MAY
A few months ago I got invited to go out to Bushwick Community High School to speak with a group of their students about street harassment. They told me that they were concerned about sexual violence in their community — and as a former Bushwick resident and community activist — their concern struck a very personal cord with me. When I lived in Bushwick in 2003, I would get off at a subway stop that was farther away from my home just because I thought it was safer. And I learned (months after moving in) that I was the first resident of my six-person-loft to not get mugged in the neighborhood.
After I moved out of the neighborhood, I continued to work in it at a community based organization that helped young folks that dropped out of high school get jobs and GEDs. Their stories, and challenges, reminded how privileged I was in so many ways. Many of them had kids, mental illness, trauma histories, and broken homes. But what I found so inspiring is that all of them had hope. They were resilient.
And when I spoke with the students at Bushwick Community High School, I was struck again by resilience. They could have done this documentary about anything. They could have kept silent, or tried to ignore what was happening around them. But they didn’t. They took the harder road – and the result is a powerful documentary.
In the film they talk about sexual violence stemming from culture — and I couldn’t agree with them more. But how to we change culture? There are a lot of answers to this questions, but I think one of the most important ones is that we change culture by making culture. These students have used the power of the brains and their video cameras to help us imagine a world without sexual violence. And thanks to them, we are one step closer to getting there.
I was at a local anime convention with a friend and we happened to notice an older man filming girls in costume…not that big of a deal at first considering there were a lot of photographers around but he kept aiming his camera at the butts of some of the girls in costume especially when they were going up some stairs. Most of these cosplayers are just 14.
We watched him for a bit just to be sure and then took a photo of him to show the security guys on site who dealt with him right away.
Next year we plan to really be on watch for people like this and try to make the convention a safer place to be.
I know this site is mainly for street harassment, but I really needed to get this off my chest. Last summer, my brother, a family friend, and I were watching a movie while our parents were out. I put a blanket over me because it was cold. The family friend was sitting next to me and started trying to hold my hand. I leaned over and whispered that we were just friends. Because I mean, I’ve held hands with plenty of people that I wasn’t romantically involved with, so I didn’t think it was too big a deal. Just kind of awkward, you know? But then he started rubbing my legs and before I could even say anything his hands were under my shirt and I didn’t know what to do because my little brother was right there. It was so awful.
Luckily, my Mom walked in before it got any worse. Of course, she didn’t notice anything because of the blanket.
I told her about it just last week, because I’m having to see him again this summer. She told me it wasn’t my fault but she acted like it was okay for him to touch me like that when I know it isn’t. I’m really scared that he will try to touch me again this summer.
I will fight back this time though. He’s not going to take advantage of me like that again without a fight.
This has been a pretty shitty month. From an ex-gay friend/one time girlfriend sending me harassing e-mails to a male from my past engaging in some, so called, “mild” stalking. I keep telling myself that’s why I didn’t fight back. This was one thing more than I could handle, and I froze. The truth is I’m angry with myself for reacting so passively.
I was taking the bus to class. A guy was standing at my stop and he asked a question about the bus time. I took one headphone out to answer him. After I answered my question he wouldn’t stop talking to me. I answered politely, looking for a way to end the conversation so as not to be rude. He said he was Cherokee and asked for my e-mail. I had my doubts, thinking: “right and I bet your great great grandma was an NDN ‘princess’ too”, but I have fair skin and light eyes, so I didn’t want to make judgments. I know how hurtful ‘not native enough’ comments can be. I know how hard it can be in the city, separated from land and community and often dealing with racism. I politely gave him a fake e-mail.
I began to get suspicious when he followed me onto my bus instead of the one he was waiting for. He proceeded to follow me onto the 2 when I transferred. I kept looking away but I couldn’t think of a polite way to end the conversation. So far he had been completely respectful. I though my misgivings were because I was on edge about the stalking incidents earlier in the month. I’d dealt with them assertively and I didn’t want to give the people harassing me the victory of making me afraid of strangers. When he went to get off the buss he offered me his hand. I don’t know why I took it. It’s programed in I guess. He garbed my hand and pulled me, off balance, towards him and kissed me. Then he got off the bus before I had time to process what had just happened.
I’ve been spending the last few months experimenting with my gender presentation. Gaining confidence to take up space and chose how I want to present myself. This was helping me regain my power after leaving a verbally and spiritually abusive relationship with a closeted friend. With one action I was placed back in the role of a sexual object. The worst part is I was the one who felt dirty after. Like he’d gotten his dirt all over me and I couldn’t get it off.
I know if I report the incident I will only be blamed for it. After all what was I doing talking to him if I wanted him to leave me alone? By giving him a fake e-mail wasn’t I “asking for it”? I’m a two-spirited Ansihinaabe Ikwe, and therefore considered unrapeable. I didn’t fight back. But none of that matters. My politeness was not an invitation for him to touch me in any way. The moment he touched me sexually without my consent he assaulted me. That isn’t complicated. There’s no gray area. No consent = assault. Everyone reacts differently, but freezing doesn’t mean I deserved what happened. For any one else who experienced this. NOTHING you can do means you’re asking to be assaulted or harassed. Let your abuser carry the blame, none of it should ever be yours.
Next time I trust I’ll fight back. Thank you for letting me share my story and speaking up to say that this is never acceptable.
I just have to get this off my chest because I’m too ashamed to tell anyone else.
Today, around 4:30pm, I was walking home from lunch with my friends when I heard a car, blasting rap music, pull up next to me. It stopped at a stop sign but I kept walking to cross the street parallel to the car.
The car honked twice. I ignored it. Three more honks, I ignored it. They kept honking but I ignored it. Then the car turned onto the street I was crossing and cut me off. I went around the back of the car and kept walking, realizing they (the two young men driving) were targeting me. I kept walking down the sidewalk but the car kept driving slowly, steadily, next to me. They then turned into a driveway in front of me, cutting me off once again. The two guys smiled at me. “What?” I yelled. Now I was pissed. I wanted to get home and I didn’t know what to do. I turned back around and began to walk to the house on the corner. A girl from my school lived there that I barely knew, but I was desperate. As I walked away they called, “Hey sweetie, where you goin?” I walked up to her front steps and rang her doorbell. No one answered, but thank god, the guys drove away. I quickly walked home, checking over my shoulder every two minutes
I am angry that I can’t walk comfortably in my own neighborhood without getting harassed. I’m embarrassed because I felt vulnerable. I’m scared to walk by myself now and I hate street harassment.
Last night I was walking to the train from a movie with my friend Mia. As we were waiting at a corner to cross the street a guy came jogging up beside us and startled me. Once the light changed he jogged off.
A few blocks later I was grabbed from behind by the jogger [who apparently circled around to follow us] while I was talking and walking with Mia. At first I thought it was another friend, Dan, who had left a little earlier to try and catch a bus.
But then the guy grabbed my breast and started choking me. Mia started to scream. And I fought back. I elbowed him and just started to yell at him all of my feelings, telling him to FUCK OFF and to GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME.
And after he let me go, he just SAUNTERED AWAY like it wasn’t a big FUCKING deal that he just decided he could grab me and choke me on the FUCKING STREET. Like it was ok that touched me – like I was some FUCKING PIECE OF PROPERTY THAT HE COULD GRAB because HE FELT LIKE IT. It made me so angry that I started to chase after him for a couple of steps before I caught myself. He only started running when I started to scream that I was going to call the cops if he didn’t get THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME RIGHT NOW.
Mia and I went to the closest safe area and I was shaking. Mia convinced me to call the cops. We waited for them and once they arrived I gave them a very detailed description, showed them where it was at and where he ran off to, and they drove us home.
So. I have a lot of feelings. I’m proud that I fought back. I’m thankful that I took a self-defense class that taught me not to freeze. I’m thankful that Mia was there and I wasn’t alone. I’m so fucking angry that he thought he could touch me. I’m angry that he knew that I saw and noticed him before and still decided to come after us. I’m thankful for the two police officers who were compassionate, understanding, and not condemning – definitely not what I’ve come to expect from the CPD. But most of all I’m furious that I had to re-learn that no where is safe. Ever. Because I’m a female.
I live in southern Colorado and until recently have not had to deal with much street harassment. I generally commute using my personal vehicle and therefore am not on on the streets very often. However, recently a friend and I have taken up jogging at the Riverwalk, a very pretty newer development to our downtown area. In the last couple of weeks, we have been honked at and whistled at by people driving past, which happens so quickly there’s no chance to respond. Yesterday though, I finally got a chance. We had just started our run when a group of about 6 boys standing around with their bicycles (yes, boys, maybe around 12-13 years old) began yelling at us from across the river. They were shouting to get our attention and doing the classic “my friend wants your number!” and other things I didn’t quite catch. My friend and I initially kept going, but then it suddenly dawned on me that I had my phone. So I stopped dead in my tracks and walked back over. I pulled my phone out and told them I wanted to take their picture. They got nervous looks on their faces and asked why. I started yelling back that shouting at women (my friend and I are in our 20s) was not appropriate and I was going to tell their parents what they were doing. They quickly ran behind some trees so I couldn’t get their picture. I then yelled at them, asking them if they were so big and tough to holler at women in public why were they hiding now? They got pretty quiet then and my friend and I continued our run. I didn’t feel threatened at all, but I did want to embarrass them by loudly calling attention to their inappropriate behavior to all the other pedestrians around. It must have worked, because we did not see them anywhere around again as we finished our run. One thing that did bother me, though, was that immediately afterward I felt like I needed reassurance that I had not overreacted. My friend was very supportive, which helped. But it wasn’t until I told the story to my husband and he agreed that my reaction was okay that I felt better about it. I knew in my head that I did the right thing in calling out harassing behavior, but it was uncomfortable to realize that the social pressure to stay quiet, not make a scene, etc. is still so ingrained. I don’t think this one incident will change the behavior of those boys overnight, but I hope that next time they will think twice and be nervous that their target will react like I did and not let them get away with it. I only wish I could have actually talked to their parents. Unfortunately, I suspect that as long as I continue jogging in public (which I fully intend to do) I will have plenty of opportunities to continue to hollaback.