I’m au pairing in Nantes this year, a city full of bicycles. Riding from work tonight, I just tackled the one hill on the way home and was stoked that I’m getting better at it when two scooter twats start catcalling and riding around me. Instantly too nervous to even try to decipher insults in a language I’m struggling with at the best of times, let alone when my mind is racing with the implications of where this could lead and calculating just what my odds would be… I felt threatened til one of them kicked the other on his scooter and the other fell, stopping them both to collect a piece of scooter and fight between themselves.
I’m not sure if this really counts as harassment, but it was something that really bothered me as a child. When I was younger, whenever I went out shopping with my mom she would point at other women, nudge me, and say “Am I as fat as that lady?”. My mom had some body issues so she would pick out middle-aged overweight women (or sometimes just slightly chubby ladies), and I’d always be put in the awkward position of having say, “No mom, you’re not as fat as her” or something similar. This was particularly painful because she almost always said it loud enough for the women to hear (maybe on purpose), and when I’d tell her she was being too loud and it was rude, she’d only speak louder and exclaim, “Don’t be ridiculous! She can’t hear me.”
This was harmful behaviour because not only did it do nothing to help my mom’s body issues, but it also taught me as young kid that your worth is determined by your weight (luckily I got over that). It also told the women she picked on that they couldn’t go outside without being judged by their appearance and put into competition with other women on the street… even when they were just trying to shop and minding their own business.
I was walking to catch a bus in Toronto when a man pulled up beside me in a convertible and said:
“hey, baby, do you like things that go fast?” he then revved his engine.
I flipped him the bird. He had friends in the car and they all said “boooo” and drove away (fast.)
So that’s what I actually did in that situation, but here’s how I WISH I had responded to the question “hey, baby, do you like things that go fast”:
“Sir, I don’t think you comprehend exactly how much you have failed at attempting to use what we refer to as the ‘innuendo’. You have asked me if I like things that go fast and then revved the engine of your car, suggesting that you not only care little for the environment, but also that your car does, in fact, go fast. The issue is that you are not only insinuating that I should appreaciate your car, but also you, the instigator of this poorly executed, yet entirely offensive act of sexual harassment. The problem with your innuendo is that you, as I mentioned, are using your car as a metaphor for yourself. This means that by implying that your car goes fast, you are also stating that you “go fast.” Thus, in asking if I like things that “go fast” you are asking me if I enjoy men who “go fast” in a sexual sense, meaning that they orgasm quickly. So, to answer your question honestly, do I like men that “go fast?” No, I don’t. In fact, I feel like most people prefer sex to last over long periods of time. Hardly anybody wants it to be over quickly. You and your car are both equally disappointing. Go fuck yourself.”
I didn’t get to give the above speech, and that made me sad. The moral, my friends, is that things that go fast lead to disappointment.
I feel better getting to write that here. Thanks!
Bad: driving out of the Barnes Crossing parking lot, I stopped at the intersection next to one of those lifted trucks with ridiculous shocks. Two young-ish guys were in the cab, & just as I was making my turn, the driver yelled, “There’s gonna be a party in my pants tonight, & you’re invited!” I know, I know, creative come-on, huh???
Worse: my BF was with me, & demanded I pull back around & chase them. I did not, partly because I felt embarrassed enough & just wanted to get away from the scene of the crime, but mostly because I didn’t wanna have to bail him out for assault (I don’t have the $!!!).
Worst: my DAUGHTERS were in the van with us. I now get to try to explain to them everything that was wrong with that whole exchange. F***ing fantastic!
By Robyn Shepherd, ACLU
Last month, the ACLU’s Louise Melling blogged about how street harassment shames and humiliates women, and is underreported because of the stigma attached to it. While that blog was making the editing rounds here at the office, I shared my own story of how I dealt with a particularly obnoxious harasser, and my esteemed colleagues suggested I share it. Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, after all, here it is. And there’s gonna be swearing. I’m really sorry in advance (Mom).
I was walking to work last April, listening to a friend’s CD and not thinking of much besides that I was a little late to work, and really ought to hustle to make my train. A dude passed me as I walked, and I didn’t think much of that either.
All of a sudden…WHAM! Dude WALLOPED me on the backside and ran off.
No one saw it happen. But the gentle denizens of the Upper East Side sure knewsomething happened, because I let out an unholy yell and a good, throaty “FUCK YOU!!” I turned to see the dude hustling away in his blue and tan jacket and tan backpack.
I hesitated a moment. Did that really just happen? What should I do? Just go on with my day? I’m not sure I want to do that. And I’m pretty sure that if I just let this go, and act like it’s no big deal, or it was “just a smack on the ass,” I’m gonna feel pretty rotten about it for a long time to come. And my butt was really sore. He really went for it.
So I ran after the dude.
It’s possible this guy was crazy. This was something I needed to determine, and also I wanted to get a description, since by this point I had decided that if I was going to be late to work pursuing this mofo, I was damn well gonna call the police. I caught up to him as he was going into the Citibank.
“Hey asshole!” He looked up. He was about 20. Clean-cut. Like he was on his way to school. He did not look crazy. I think he was surprised. I think he figured the five-foot-tall redhead in the sundress and Mary Janes would have just said “Oh my stars!” and scampered away. He does not know this five-foot-tall redhead.
“You think that shit is funny? You like hitting women, huh? You think that’s the correct way to act? Whatsamatterwityou?” All of a sudden, I was Joe Pesci. I swear a lot when I’m nervous. It’s a terrible habit. Perhaps you’ve caught on.
“Ma’am I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You know goddamn well what I’m talking about. YOU DON’T HIT WOMEN, ASSHOLE.” At this point I was screaming into the bank. The whole lobby was looking at me.
Dude got in my face. And this is where it gets kind of hilarious. “How dare you disrespect me in public?” he said. Oh. My. God. He. Did. Not. “I mean, call the police or something, but don’t embarrass me like that. Fuck you.”
It was now clear I was not necessarily dealing with a lunatic. But I was dealing with a moron.
“Good idea, buddy. I WILL call the police.” I called 911 and told them about the incident and the coordinates.
While I was on the phone he got in my face again. “Fuck you, bitch.”
Me: “Fuck ME? Fuck YOU!!!…
Me (to operator): “I’m sorry, ma’am it’s just he’s antagonizing me.”
Him: “You calling the police?”
Me: “Goddamn right I am.”
Him: “Fine. Fuck the police. Fuck you.”
Me: “Tell ‘em so yourself!”
He started walking away after that. The 911 lady advised me to stay put. Good call. I figured I had enough of him without backup. The police came a few minutes later, and I told them the story. I told them I knew they dealt with bigger things than this. But if it doesn’t get reported, it will keep happening. And maybe we can scare this dude enough that that will be one less guy hitting women in the street. The cops had me ride around in the car with them to see if we could find them. (Incidentally, those squad cars? Absolutely no legroom to speak of. In case you ever need extra incentive to not get arrested. Not comfy.)
We couldn’t find him, but the cops (there were four of them by the end of this) took my statement and contact info. They commended me on my description. Which is good, as that validates a lot of Law and Order viewing.
I’m realistic. I knew they were never going to arrest this guy. But here’s the thing, and the point to this whole long, profane story. I know there are a lot of people who think it wasn’t that big a deal. But the truth of the matter is, what this guy did was sexual assault. “Forcible touching and harassment,” if you want to get specific.
Sexual assault doesn’t always necessarily mean something as horrible as rape. And too often street harassment is unreported, and douchebags like this think they can get away with it because the girl is gonna be too embarrassed or too meek to do anything about it. Or they think it’s “just a slap on the ass.” And that’s not right, you guys. I don’t know how other women feel about their posteriors, but you don’t very well get to smack the hell out of it willy-nilly because you feel entitled to do so. There will be repercussions.
To the NYPD’s credit, they did follow up, and the detective told me that if I really wanted to press charges, she would help me do that, even if it meant looking through a lot of surveillance tape and looking at lineups and all that stuff. I opted not to, figuring that they had this guy’s description, and if he did it again, he’d be in a lot of trouble. But something tells me he’s not going to. I think I scared him. Or as the detective said, “So you ran up and confronted him and screamed at him in a bank.”
I know what happened to me could have been a lot, lot worse. But someone doesn’t have to be raped to be humiliated, violated and hurt. Sometimes, all it takes is a smack on the ass.
This was the response a man gave to me on a Paris metro car, after I shouted at him, “Why are you bothering me?” For the past several minutes, he’d made sure to stand too close to me, causing me to move away from him twice, and put his hand on top of mine, while holding the support pole in the middle of the car. All threatening behavior ~ claiming space, pushing my boundaries, seeing how far he could go. I remember looking around, but no one else was in the car to see what was happening. It made me so angry and resentful to think that I would have to change cars and essentially run away from this creep, but I did.
At the time, I was just twenty years old, living abroad for my junior year in college. I had come from the protected and respectful environment of my college campus, Sarah Lawrence, and wasn’t used to this type of treatment at all.
However, it was his WORDS, perhaps even more than his actions that shocked the hell out of me. I’m embarrassed to say that instead of instantly recognizing his statement for what it was ~ a dangerous manipulation ~ I immediately took stock of what I was wearing, which I still remember to this day: black opaque stockings, black high-heeled Mary Janes, a black turtleneck with a cream-striped wool skirt with attached suspenders that my grandmother had made for me. It was above-the-knee, but I thought the sensibility was more cute than come-hither.
Now admit it, did you find yourself, even for just a second, evaluating the modesty of my outfit, even if it was to agree with me about the “un-sexiness” of it? If so, you are not alone, because it’s the tendency of every human being to wonder how WE could have controlled circumstances better, how WE could be less vulnerable to attack, and of course, to ask ourselves why WE were the unlucky target of a predator.
We, We, We, indeed.
We are assaulted in the street because we are women, not because we are “packaged” like women. Assault and harassment are about domination, not about sexual attraction, but it’s still so easy to fall into internalizing responsibility for an attack. One of the reasons that it’s so hard to get beyond this, is the fact that so many powerful segments of society still believe a woman can defend herself merely by putting on the “right” piece of clothing when she walks out the door.
Just this February, a member of the Toronto police force was censured for making the comment to Osgoode Hall Law School students that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Yes, he really went there. Let’s take yet another ride on the victim-blaming carousel. This did not occur in some backwater, but on the campus of a major metropolitan center which had been the scene of violent sexual attacks in recent years.
Mistreating people, then informing them that it’s their fault are the actions of an abuser. This manipulation is designed to cause guilt, shame, and a sense of responsibility in the victim. If there are even small pockets of law enforcement that still feel the way this officer did, then we’ve got an entirely new class of abusers to deal with ~ the second tier, so to speak, which we’ve got to educate and at the same time, mentally steel ourselves against, if we are victims. This is imperative, because it’s clear that predators are just one link in the cycle of violence against women.
What will it take for us to wake up, to stop shifting responsibility away from predators? Perhaps a sense of empathy for others, and the certain knowledge that self-expression in the form of dress can never be an acceptable excuse to victimize someone, not in a truly free society.
Peace and Balance,
Hi. I am a pre-op transsexual woman, and I have lived in West Hartford for over 11.5 years. I have been ‘out’ since May of 2006, and have worn women’s clothing 100% of the time since then. My life has been about transition since coming out.
Some people read me as ‘guy wearing women’s clothing,’ and other people read me as ‘woman,’ or ‘girl,’ it is hard to tell.
I am writing because I read about this website in Marie Claire earlier this afternoon, and was catcalled at about 2:10 pm today not very far from where I live. The people who catcalled me were roofers working on someone’s house. I was walking down the street, which I do quite often, and I was starting to feel good on my walk. I had just passed a woman who was on a bicycle and she smiled and said hello to me. I started to feel better and was going over my thoughts in my head when I looked across the street to my right, and there was a man staring at me. I quickly looked away, but not before they had seen me and I heard a loud yell from one of the roofers on the roof, responding to me. I tried to get a gauge of the situation but I could not, there were three or four of them and I wanted to look away and get out of there. I felt lower energy after they catcalled me and had a frown on my face. Before they did that I was smiling and I felt good about myself. West Hartford is a very negative energy place, and there are lots of these types of people around here. I usually avoid them, but I cannot always.
I had an experience a week ago Friday, as well.
I was coming out of the salon, where I had just gotten my haircut, and I had had a very good appointment. I walked about 30 feet down the street and I heard someone from the corner of my awareness say ‘Hi Sweetheart.’ I knew immediately that it was a deadbeat in a truck, and so I didn’t look. He then moved his truck closer and I heard him say ‘Hi Sweetie.’ I looked, and he had his window rolled down and had slowed down to do this to me, and I gave him the finger. He seemed to feel some sense of fulfillment, then he went on his way.
I have been catcalled by young girls on that street, as well.
I have also had a young girl take my photo, as well.
I have had truckers honk their horns, a man shout from his pickup truck in a busy Blue Back Square, men who were working for the town whistle at me across the street, a man catching my attention to blow kisses at me from his pickup truck, and I have had a man stalking me in his van in Avon, CT.
These experiences leave me feeling unsafe, uncomfortable, nervous, frightened and scared, and I often will have difficulty sleeping at night after an experience like these, depending on the severity and the situation.
I rarely seek help with these experiences, although I do talk in therapy, and often will talk with friends about it.
I feel as though I cannot control what these people do, so I try to ignore it.
Today I wondered if those men who had catcalled felt better after doing it, or worse. I know that I would feel terrible if I did to someone what they did to me. I know that I felt slightly less after they did that to me than I did a split second before they did, so it confuses me as to why these men do this.
I can only hope that men like this will become obsolete over time, and have to either change their ways or be outcast themselves.
I would like to see catcalling, bullying, ridiculing or otherwise verbally harassing someone = mandatory 2 years in jail.
Thank you for the ability to write this information.
A white car stopped to let me cross the street at El Cerrito Plaza. Suddenly, I start to hear strange noises that sounded like animals. The animals were the two men in that white car who screamed aloud so that anybody in the street could notice I was the “cause” of all that noise (at least that’s how I felt). Then they said something about my ass.
I’m not American, English is not my mother tongue and I felt so desperate that I couldn’t find the words to respond to that assault. I just crossed the street as if nothing happened, as if no stupid animal full of testosterone was in that car.
I’m really only sharing this story for two reasons:
1. I said nothing at the time and venting about it here with be something of a catharsis.
2. My mom is an old-school feminist. For context, she joined the boy’s track team back in the day–despite hearty protests by parents and staff–in order to force the school system to instate female sports teams. In other words, my mom is awesome and I want to express why.
My home town is a pretty nice area, but it’s also the hub of a lot of tourist activity. My basic rule is to avoid downtown at all costs because while the locals are typically upstanding folk, the tourists we attract are usually… well…
My mom and I stopped off at a gas station the other day on our way to go shopping and when we were returning to our car we saw that a van of at least four guys had parked beside us.
I’ve had so many experiences with cat-callers that I was filled with dread at the very idea of walking by. The driver even had his door opened, blocking my way to the passenger door. “Oh great,” I thought. “Here we go.”
But before I even got close, he pulled his door closed and for a brief moment hope filled me. Perhaps this was not going to be yet another story I’d share with my friends to the tune of “Why in God’s name do men behave like–”
“HEY BABY! WHOOO!”
And it was not simply one of them, but all of them howling and shouting and trying to get my attention.
I ignored them, got in the car, and pulled the door shut.
But my Mom? She didn’t say anything. She never has to. She simply gave them one look–a look capable of melting steel–and IMMEDIATELY the abuse stopped. The driver even began to wave his hands in a way that highly resembled someone pleading to not be shot.
This is not the first time my mom has put an end to abuse without saying a single word. She is only 5’2 and 100lbs, but if you holla at her daughter, she will rock you with just one look.
By LAUREN ZINK
“…we need to highlight the fact that most men are not violent or abusive in their relationships. To these men I would say — speak out. Let it be known among your peers that you do not support or condone abuse. This is important, because men who use violence in their relationships often assume that the men they know do too. We need to change that belief system, and it’s other men who can most effectively get that message across. In some of the gang rapes we have heard about, many people knew what was happening, but chose not to intervene or get help. I know that it is not easy for men to step forward, but it can make a real difference.” – Lynn Rosenthal, first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women
Hollaback Atlanta’s Lauren Zink discusses the importance of male allies and responsible bystanders in the movement to end sexual violence: Let’s Hear it For the Boys