I’ve had a number of encounters with harassers, which I distinguish from men who just say “hi”, smile, wave or just move on. The first truly terrifying encounter I had was when I was in my twenties and living in a small Northern California town in the Sierra foothills.
Two of my closest girlfriends and I were walking down Mill Street on our way to some ice cream. It was high summer and we were dressed in cutoff jeans and sleeveless shirts. We heard the roar of a car engine, honking, and shouts and looked up to see a trio of young, shirtless men in a convertible with the top down coming up the street toward us, shouting, waving their arms and pointing at us.
“Three!” they yelled, pointing at themselves. “Three!” they repeated, pointing at us. While impressed that they could count so high, we shook our heads in unison and kept walking.
“Wanna go to the river?” they persisted. “We’ve got beers!”
“No thanks!” one of my girlfriends called. “We don’t drink!”
We kept moving and figured they would too. But no. The driver spotted a parking place up the block and his companions shouted, “Stay there! Stay there!” “Come to the river!”
We assured them we did not want to go to the river—shaking our heads and making emphatic gestures that were lost on them. (Maybe they thought we were signaling “no catch”—which was essentially correct, but in the wrong context).
We didn’t stay there, of course. We walked faster and ducked into a clothing store at mid-block. Behind us, the car pulled to the curb with a squeal of tires.
My last glimpse of the guys before I slipped into the shop was of all three jumping out of the car. We scurried to the rear of the store and tried to disappear behind the clothing racks. The guys loped by the front of the shop asking each other “Where did they go? Did they go in there?” They went up the street a few stores, then turned and came back, this time slowing to peer through the window.
My friends and I scooted into a changing room and pulled the curtain closed.
So eager were these guys for our company that they came into the store and asked the clerk if she’d seen three girls come in or walk by. She had seen us, but she shook her head no. “Sorry,” she said.
The guys wandered off at last and we emerged from the changing room only when we had heard their car engine rumble out of earshot.
Several summers later, the same friends and I were at the river for a girls’ day out, lying in the sun at a secluded pool. As we chatted drowsily, we heard a shout from the trail about twenty feet above us.
“Look!” cried a man’s voice. “Bitches! There’s bitches!” I looked up to see several young men in cutoff jeans looking along the trail for a way to get down to our beach.
We didn’t hesitate. We grabbed our shirts and shoes, dove into the river and swam to the opposite side. By the time the bitch hunters had reached the sands, we’d hidden ourselves in the rocks on the opposite bank.
“What do we do if they come after us?” one of my girlfriends asked. There was only one answer we could come up with; each of us picked up a rock.
We were lucky—they didn’t come after us. They didn’t know the river as we did because they were from out of town. I know this because one of them said, in disgust, “We oughta go back to Oakland if it’s gonna be like this.”
Years have passed. Not that long ago, my husband and I were waiting at a Southwest airlines gate for a flight when a group of about four college-aged men in shorts, tank tops and sneakers rambled into the waiting area. When they plopped into seats near where I and my husband and I were standing, all the hair on my body stood on end and I wanted to bolt and run. I was seized with a bizarre, visceral, completely unexpected fight or flight reaction to their presence.
I did not connect this to the first two incidents until I began to write my story down. But they are connected. I am afraid of groups of young, white men to this day.
As an afterthought, it occurs to me to wonder why any man would think a woman would find him attractive when the first thing he says to her or about her is “Look! Bitches!”
I was walking a few blocks to a friend’s house one evening. Immediately a man crosses the street, runs up to me, and asks if I have a man. He walks beside me all the way there, saying he would be my teddy bear and keep me warm at night. I don’t say any thing, because it’s night in the student ghetto. He gives me a hug when we arrive (yuck) and laments that he’ll never see me again because I won’t take his number.
Today started out like any other day. I left the house with my coffee, my laptop and my dignity. I walked down 10th Street, enjoying the sights and sounds of the early morning rush, never imagining that I would have to experience verbal rape at the end of the next block.
He was there, seemingly waiting just for me. His eyes tracked my every move, roving up and down my body as I neared the intersection. I had held my head high as I walked, but then I saw only the dirty concrete below my feet as I tried to avoid his lascivious gaze. The words came next, unwanted but heard.
“I’d f*** that. Mmm. Yeah, I’d tear that p**sy up! Every. Damn. Day. That ass.”
How was I supposed to respond to such disrespect? I wanted to say something, but I was afraid I would OFFEND HIM. But, I had an ace up my…well, sleeve.
My body chose that exact moment to rebel against me (although in hindsight, I now understand my body was only trying to protect me). I farted. Not silently. Not delicately. I knew it was me, and he knew it was not him. The sexual sneer on his face transitioned to disgust so quickly that he staggered backwards in shock. The illusion was shattered. I was no longer some beautiful, exotic creature at which he could shout crude, sexual remarks. I was flesh, I was blood, I was…flatulence. I was just like him. Human.
I do not know if it was a nervous reaction or the overly large bowl of black eyed peas I had eaten the night before, but I know it is unrealistic to think women can sustain the act of farting on every would-be offender. But maybe there is something there…
So here I am, a woman adrift in a world full of perverts – a fart fractured fantasy.
I was alone in a grocery store aisle. A young man passed me and stood at the end, saying something on repeat. I thought he was talking to someone I couldn’t see. Turns out, he was saying “You gotta man?” Over his shoulder. I told him that’s not his business. He said, “Oh. You fine.” He passed back behind he and squeezed my ass. I said “THAT IS NOT APPROPRIATE! ” and he was like “Oh. You gotta fat ass tho.” And ran out of the store. I was wearing loose jeans and boxy sweater, no makeup.
December 1, 2014 I was getting out of my car to go shopping at the strip mall on Airport Blvd in Pensacola. There was a man who was putting his groceries into his car and took notice of me. I could hear him making comments about me as I walked past.
I walked into the shoe store and noticed he walked in behind me. He followed me throughout the store and then walked out. A moment later he walked back in and I left to go to another store. He walked out and began stalking me again. I walked into Marshall’s and immediately ducked behind a spinner rack. He walked in and I saw him looking for me. As he walked further up the aisle, I dashed back out the front door and walked to my car.
I am 5’10” and 55 years old. I have been followed before and I am not afraid to confront a stalker. I was prepared to confront him if needed, but was glad I did not have to.
As a woman, I’ve obviously faced a lot of cat calling. All of us have, from whistles to grabbing. This one instance isn’t about flirting though… It was about sales! On opening night at the state fair, I was out with my parents and kids. My kids needed a bathroom so I wandered off from my parents while they checked out vendors. No big deal, since I’m an adult after all! On the way to the bathrooms, a salesman for a popular Dish company decided to try to sell me on the service. I didn’t make eye contact, said “no thanks”, and kept walking. He decided that he was going to have my attention, so it was ok to grab the double stroller I was pushing with my two small children in it! Normally I ignore the harassment, but he brought out the crazy mom in me and I lost it on him. He had my attention alright! Stunned, he just walked away, no apology. If I were a man or with a man, he wouldn’t dare physically try to stop me for a sale!
What made this story worse is that I contacted the company they were selling for, and the reply I got? “It was a third party seller.” No investigation. No apology.
Street harassment doesn’t JUST take the form of half-assed flirting. The entitlement isn’t just related to trying to get into bed. It extends into every aspect of a woman’s life. We deal with unwanted contact in our daily life, from “compliments” to sales techniques! It was unfortunate that my daughter’s experienced the gender inequality at a young age, but I am happy that I showed them it is ok to stand up for yourself. We all need to stand up for ourselves and for other women when these types of things happen!
Running Encounters in Beechview – Part II
Saturday morning I decided to do a run in my neighborhood – Beechview. I left the house around 7am. Heading South on Broadway Avenue, a man (I would guess him in his 60s) gets off the “T” and is walking toward me. As I approach, he asks “How’s that concrete treat your knees?” I respond “they are fine.” As I pass, he turns and begins running with me, asking “Do you mind if I run with you a little while?” I look him up and down (he’s in street clothes, but is wearing some sort of New Balance type shoe) and slightly baffled say “Are you kidding me?” No, he says. “I’d rather you didn’t. This is my time.” Oh, okay, he says I will just follow you for a while. Then I hear his voice trailing off – have a nice day… As I’m heading North by the No. 28 Fire Station, I see a guy walking on the sidewalk and I move over into the street, as we pass, he says to me “Keep on runnin’, little girl.” “Why do you think it’s okay to say that to me?” I ask. “uhh, I was just trying to be encouraging” “It’s not okay”, I respond. I’ve continued running so I hear some unintelligible yelling and then very loudly “F*** YOU! F*** YOU!
So, in case you don’t understand what is wrong with this – a good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it to a male, don’t say it to a female (ESPECIALLY ONE YOU DON’T KNOW). I highly doubt either of those encounters would have happened if I was male.
I was only baffled by the old guy – Sir, I don’t know you, you are in street clothes and I’m trying to exercise. This isn’t social hour. A good morning is appropriate, but keep moving. The other guy, I would guess at 30s – 40s. What you said, could be interpreted as menacing – Keep on Running – like if you don’t I”m going to get you AND calling me a little girl is wrong on every conceivable level. Calling a grown woman whether you know her or not a little girl is sexist and demeaning. My husband was mortified that I spoke up to this second guy, but my argument is if we don’t speak up, how will anyone get the message? I can’t keep my head down and pretend like I didn’t hear it and I’m not going to fake smile at the guy awkwardly like “aw gee thanks”.
This morning I noticed the man next to me on the subway had taken a creepshot of the woman sitting across from him and was sending it to his friends to mock her. I immediately thought of confronting him, telling him what he was doing was not okay; telling her what had happened. What I actually did was take a creepshot of him as I disembarked, shaking with rage. I’m still really upset about what I saw, but most of all, I’m sorry to her for not helping her.
I was at Starbucks with my female friends sitting by a giant window next to the sidewalk and a group of teenaged boys came walking up. One of them thought that it would be hilarious to start making dumb faces right in front of the window at us. We all felt so awkward and tried to ignore them. He put his hand on the window so one of us could oh-so-romantically have our hands touching with the glass between us, which none of us obviously did. Then, one of them came inside and put his hand over me to touch his friend’s hand and his arm was touching my chest. I told him, “Okay, you’re touching me and I will fucking scream.” He backed off, but it’s absolutely repulsive that boys start doing this so young and that victims feel awkward because they don’t know how to respond. Why should we learn how to defend ourselves when we aren’t the problem?
I used to live in South London, I have moved out of this area now because of the amount of street harassment I used to get. I would get it at least three times a day. It varied from men staring, to wolf whistling, to walking along side me, making rude and inappropriate comments. I have received comments such as ‘c*m on my face you f***ing slut’. I have never known these men and the ages always very from about 18-40. I have been ‘stroked’ when walking past and one man went to grope in between my legs while looking me directly in the eye; luckily I saw it coming and managed to dodge a little and he grabbed my thigh instead. It makes me so angry when it happens but, I never know what to do. I have to bite my tongue as I want to say something to them but, realistically I’m too scared. It’s not worth it, I don’t know who they are or what they might do – and this is the most upsetting thing.