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I finally called the WMATA harassment hotline and reported the constant street harassment I’ve been receiving outside the New Carrolton Metro station, by the kiss-n-ride bus stop. It’s a gauntlet of leering, mouth-flapping assholes from the escalators to the crosswalk. I get on my best bitch-face, but it hardly ever helps.
The officer on the other line was very understanding, which eased my anxiety in calling. They took my complaint, told me they would be alerting their evening shift of the problem, and if I ever feel unsafe, if I call and let them know I’m on my way to the station, an officer will be placed outside. I asked if it would be possible to place some anti-harassment posters on the bus shelters, because if these guys are going to be standing around waiting for their buses, might as well educate themselves on how to (not) talk to women who just want to get home. My comment was acknowledged, but no affirmative was made.
Street harassment was a rude awakening for me. Much of my life, I had been very heavy, and while I experienced harassment going about my day to day life, it was mostly to bully or shame me about my weight, with the occasional spattering of comments on my shapely posterior or legs. It wasn’t very common, and I felt relatively safe walking around (though very insecure about my appearance).
Then I started losing weight. About 40lbs down, I started getting noticed more. The cat-calls increased in number and frequency. The “dayum gurl”s, the “hello sexy”s, didn’t seem so bad at the time. Low self-esteem and hunger for acceptance played a role in my tolerance. I stopped to talk to people, I was flattered, I was excited! When guys called out to me on the street I would respond positively. It quickly became uncomfortable. Walking home from the gym the day after Valentines 2011, I was stopped at a street corner by a group of men standing outside an apartment complex. I was happy to talk to them at first, about bicycling and life as mostly-pedestrians in the District. When I indicated I should continue home, the man who called to me originally began to try to get me to come inside. I politely declined, and in desperation, he offered me $500 to “keep him company”. I left quickly.
Two blocks later, I was stopped again by a different group of men, asking me to be their Valentines.
This was becoming a serious problem.
From then on, it never stopped being a problem. It was a cut that got infected. It’s now gangrenous and a constant force in my life.
Street harassment was a rude awakening. Over the course of 2010-2011, I lost 100lbs and had skin removal surgery. With every progressive step in my weight loss journey, the level of harassment I experienced continued to rise. Sometimes, when it gets bad, it makes me want to bury myself in boxes of pizza and tubs of iced cream and get so big I never have to leave the house again. But I can’t. I don’t want to let the harassment run my life, and I am certainly not going to let some dickbag who can’t keep his words/hands to himself ruin all the hard work I put into my weight loss and happiness I feel with my husband and our new home together.
It’ll be two years in September since my surgery. Street harassment colors my life outside the house like it never has before. My anxiety level has sky-rocketed. Anytime I leave the safety of my home, car, or office, I’m on guard, on alert. Walking by or through groups of men, I wonder if they’re going to say something. For a while, I thought it would be best to just ignore it. Keep walking, pretend I don’t hear them, because I didn’t want to confront them and face the possibility of physical assault. But just like playground bullies, silence gives them power. My shame and meekness gave them power. Because street harassment isn’t about whether they find you attractive or not, it’s about control, power, and dominance of women in public spaces. It’s a constant reminder that you don’t belong, that you are only there like a piece of meat to be examined and commented upon, like I’m there for their fucking eye-pleasure.
Having hardly experienced this prior to my weight loss, my tolerance for this disruption to my life and habits didn’t take very long to reach the point of confrontation. A few weeks ago, I began calling people out for their harassment using the simple phase “STOP HARASSING WOMEN”. I steeled myself and made it a point to fire back at anyone who thought it was okay to harass me. The anxiety is hard to deal with sometimes. I walk by and through strangers on the sidewalk and wonder if anyone is going to say something. I repeat the words in my head, and constantly reaffirm to myself that I will tell them off if they harass me. Someone walks by me and coughs, or clears their throat, or begins talking on the phone or to their neighbor and my heart jumps into my throat, only to settle when I realize what’s going on and leap again at the next person. It’s a rollercoaster and I want to get off it, right the fuck now.
Last night, I was harassed again leaving the metro. It was too dark to wear sunglasses, which I don whenever I can to avoid eye-contact. Judging by the number of men waiting for the bus, I considered walking through the kiss-n-ride to the sidewalk and avoiding the bus stop entirely. I told myself no, because I shouldn’t have to fear the bus stop. So I looked straight ahead towards the crosswalk and marched forward. I had almost made it through the gauntlet, past the first two bus shelters, rounding the corner, when someone decided to open their god damn mouth with a “oohhhh hey sexy” *leer*. So I told him off, “Stop harassing women!” He made a laugh, a derisive dismissal, so I continued. “It’s called street harassment. It’s unwanted sexual advances.” Was the only thing I could push out of my mouth as the heat filled my face and my heart threatened to choke me. He made a whatever and I continued, picking up the pace to the crosswalk.
He walked the same path. My worst fear- it looks like we’re neighbors. He walked into my community. I remained quiet and kept walking behind him. He would look over his shoulder to see if I was still there. Finally, he asks, “You live here?” In a confused way. When I affirmed, he apologized! I was.. shocked! I said OK and kept walking. He walked down the same hill I usually walk to get to my house, but still feeling pretty uncomfortable, I decided to walk one more street over and take that hill down instead. I was actually about to tweet that this guy apologized, holy shit guys, but then he yelled out as I walked away “Bye sexy!” and I wanted to bash my face repeatedly into a wall.
When I made it to the bottom of the hill, he was walking up the same block I live on. I waved at my neighbor next door and rushed into my house. I was safe. I was home. But all the joy and excitement from nailing the Extended Butterfly in pole class, the happy highs of my friends at the gym, had vanished. I moved from anxiety to rage, and ranted extensively about street harassment and rape culture to my husband.
I paced around angrily for a while. I showed my husband the Extended Butterfly, and ate dinner, still mad. By the end of dinner and the glass of wine, I was still angry, almost shaking, so I self-medicated. And I felt better by the end of the bowl.
But I shouldn’t have to do this. I shouldn’t have to fear walking from the metro, or from my office to the grocery store. I shouldn’t have to deal with the gauntlet that is the New Carrollton kiss-n-ride. No woman should. We deserve respect and to be left alone. Me leaving my house ≠ inviting strangers to comment on my body and make me feel uncomfortable.
The WMATA Stop Harassment campaign is a good start. I hope the transit authority takes my request to put the posters in the bus shelters seriously. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I decided to write the First Lady to see if she can lend a voice to this pervasive problem. It’s a pie in the sky that she may read my letter, but street harassment needs to become a regular part of our national conversation on respecting women’s autonomy.
She may never read my letter. The guys I tell to stop harassing me may continue to dismiss me. WMATA may never put up those posters in the bus shelter. But I, for one, refuse to be silent about harassment. I will keep telling men to stop harassing women, though I fear violent retaliation. Because silence helps no one.
Maybe if more people, men and women alike, speak up against street harassment, the cultural attitude will change. If children and teens are taught about harassment and consent, if women, men, the media, celebrities and people in authority decry street harassment and make it socially unacceptable, things will change.
Change is slow. But like my husband says – culture and the status-quo is a very large boat to turn around. Progress is slow, but the great thing about large boats turning is that once it starts to turn, it’s very hard to push it back around.
Today is my birthday. I am 29 years old. I will stand up to street harassment. Maybe if I keep standing, and keep fighting, and others keep fighting, we can turn this culture boat around so everyone can walk home without fear of harassment.
I was 18 at the time, and I was helping out a friend with her car wash to raise funds for a trip to North Africa by holding up a sign at the end of the block asking people to stop by. An elderly man stopped, and I walked up to his car window to talk to him.
He asked me, “How much?” I thought he was asking how much the car wash cost, and I responded that it was free but donations were encouraged. He added, “No, how much for you?” I was shocked, and all I could respond was, “I’m not for sale, so maybe you should leave.” He just leered and drove away. I was afraid he might come back, but I didn’t tell anyone about it. It frightened me that he didn’t seem to care how old I was; for all he knew I was underage.
Got street harassed walking into work tonight. When I told him to fuck off and that I wasn’t looking for his attention and that my body was not a commodity for him to enjoy, he got super pissed off and started yelling at me, saying shit like, “what the fuck’s the matter with you, i just called you pretty, you fuckin bitch”, etc. etc. This is rape culture. This is someone who saw me (mind you, dressed in a jeans and sweatshirt), and decided that I was something to be commodified and ogled, and when I rejected that desire, they got offended and acted like something they were entitled to was taken away from them. I’m just glad I was close enough to the door to get inside before anything could possibly happen. The asshole had two black eyes and looked strung out as fuck, so I’m sure he’s just a perfectly CHARMING individual.
I was going on a bike ride when I experienced some unwanted attention. Not that it should matter what I was wearing but I was wearing athletic shorts and a tank top. We were rising up a hill and there was a baseball field nearby. The occupants of the field found it necessary to call and whistle at me. Not only did I question myself but it really put a damper on my ride.
My morning exercize partner and I were walking in Palm Beach one morning at 530 when 2 men sped toward us in a car on the street, turned off their lights, and shouted, “Hey baby, come here and let’s have some fun!” Immediately, I ran away in the opposite direction. I realized after a minute that my friend was not with me and turned around. She was frozen with fear and the men were continuing their graphic verbal assault. I collected her and told the men to go away. We called the police, who took our numbers and said an investigator would call. Palm Beach police tend to cover up this type of crime to promote an image of safety and perfection on he island. In that way they undermine the safety of women who live there.
I was waiting for my friend to pay for her ticket as we got on the bus when a man started calling at me “eh eh eh” I was confused if he was talking to me but when I looked at him he said “Take off all your clothes eh?” and laughed I looked at him with total shock and disgust I assume because he said “It was just a joke” as if that made it ok, I told him in a loud and clear voice “That was not funny at all” we walked to the back of the bus and sat down but I was shaking I was so mad so I got up and walked back to where then man was sitting and told him “I just wanted to let you know that I am 15. And what you said is NOT OK, you can not speak to women like that, Never say that to a girl ever again” and started to walk back to my seat he called after me “It was just a joke I said I was sorry” he kind of went on like that for awhile getting pissed off, He called to the bus driver to kick me off the bus, The bus driver ignored him but a woman sitting across from him said “What she said was completely justified what you said was totally inappropriate, If anything you should be the one kicked off the bus” (Thank you random lady!!!) he shut up and got off the bus a couple stops later. The thing that made me the most mad though that the harasser was sitting in the seat closest to the bus driver and I made myself very loud and clear,there was no way the bus driver did not hear what was going on, yet he did nothing. I looked at what the id number for the bus was but forgot to write it down, and after coming back to these sites I should have taken his picture.
This is not the first time I’ve been harassed on that bus as it does go through the area that most parent wouldn’t let them on at night, but sadly I ave to take it every day to get home (I’ve had a guy try and sell me crack on that bus)
I called the bus company and asked what do I do in that situation of sexual harassment and they said tell the bus driver, I have gone to the bus driver and told him there is a drunk man who rolled onto the floor and was grabbing at me and another young girl. He did nothing. The only time I’ve seen a bus driver do anything is when he is getting mad at me for not showing my ticket. Is it not part of their responsibly to ensure the safety of their passengers?
Today, like every other day, I was sexually harassed by a man on the street. As I was walking to my university’s student association to draw money from the ATM, two older men were sitting directly outside the entrance door. As I walked into the association, one gentleman said “ooooOOOOOO siiiiiim Senhora” in a sexual manner.
I continued to the ATM, withdrew money, and walked back out the same entrance. The following conversation occurred (in Portuguese mind you).
Me: Can I ask you both a question?
Them: Yes of course.
Me: Imagine that you are walking and a homosexual man said “oooo sim senhor” to you sexually as you walked by.
Man 1: What? Are you a homosexual man?
Me: No. Imagine if a homosexual man did that to you. How would you feel?
Man 1: I don’t understand, where did this happen?
Me: No. Use your imagination. Imagine a situation where you are walking and a homosexual man called out to you sexually. How would that make you feel?
Man 2: I have a lot of gay friends, so I wouldn’t say or do anything about it.
(Sidenote: I find this hard to believe considering the amount of anti-gay sentiment. I find it hard to believe that he has “a lot” of friends who are openly gay, especially at his age. But hey, maybe I’m wrong, maybe he has a lot of gay friends. Who knows?)
Me: Ok. I don’t believe you. You probably can’t imagine it because it has never happened to you. But everyday that I go out, men call out at me in the street-
Man 1: Because you’re very beautiful.
Me: But I don’t care if old men find me beautiful. Why do I care if you think I’m beautiful? You are egotistical to think I want to know anything about you or what you think about me or my body. And I shouldn’t feel like I can’t dress the way I want -
Man 2: Yes you can dress however you want.
Me: No! I can’t! Because if I dress nicely then men harass me. I shouldn’t have to feel like I can’t walk on my own university campus without being harassed by creepy old men. How old are you?
Man 1: Me? uh… well..
Me: Exactly! You’re disgusting for commenting about me or my body. You are so old! And I nor any other girl wants to know what you think.
Man 2: Well you are in Portugal now and things are different here.
Me: No they are the same everywhere in the world, and it doesn’t mean that you have a right to harass me and it doesn’t mean that it’s okay.
Man 1: But I am not harassing you, I am telling you something nice.
Me: Objectification of my body is not nice. It is disgusting. I am a human being with intelligence, not a body walking around for you.
Man 2: Well Portuguese women like it.
Me: NO. They don’t. Every woman that I have spoken to thinks that it is disgusting too.
Man 1: No no no no. Women like to know they are beautiful. You are the only one with a problem.
Me: No. I am not the only one. Women don’t want to know if creepy old men think they are beautiful.
(Two girls walk by)
Me: Excuse me, girls, girls! If a man whistles or hollers at you, is it something good or something bad?
(At this exact moment another girl walks by)
Me: Excuse me, wait wait, if a man whistles or hollers at you, is it good or bad?
Man 2 stands up and walks to the entrance: Listen I wasn’t being mean to you, and now you are being mean to me and embarrassing us -
Me: Nooooo! Why do you feel embarrassed? Women obviously love that you comment on their bodies as they walk by! You are clearly right! Did you hear what they said? They said they love when men whistle and holler at them! There’s no reason to feel embarrassed! Feel proud of your behavior because you are obviously right!
Man 1 stands and reaches out to touch me: Listen, what is your name?
Me: Do NOT touch me [I put my hands up]. Do not come near me.
Man 1: Ok you are crazy and mean.
Man 1 walks into the association too.
I declare this verbal war: won.
Even if they think *I’m* crazy or weird, maybe they will think twice before they holler at another woman… and if they don’t, I will be ready again.
In any case, even if hypothetically I am crazy and/or mean (crazy, I will admit to, mean? I don’t think I’m mean), two old men should not be sitting outside the entrance to a University Student Association and then sexually harassing women as they enter.
I was walking to work this Sunday morning at around 7:45AM and a man comes up to me sayng “hey, hey, hey” trying to get my attention. Well I ignored him cause this has happened so many times I can’t even count anymore and I find that if I look at the person or respond they persist futher. So anyways I tried the unreponsive method and it just made him angry cause then he starts saying just awful comments (sexual in nature) and also racist things. I tried hard to not listen cause it was garbage he was spewing but they got really violent in nature(something about he hopes I choke giving a guy a blowjob) and I was so scared all I could do was walk faster but he was relentless and followed me. Nobody was on the street except a woman who was walking a bit ahead of me but she either didn’t hear or didn’t care( a typical response in every encounter I have had, sigh) . He didn’t leave until I got to a busy intersection where a couple of other people were and he left thank goodness. He was such a coward I knew it but at the same time, as much as I wanted to tell him off because he was the lowest person I have ever met, I couldn’t because I was worried he would get violent. I hate these feelings of humiliation, disgust but mostly fear. I should be able to walk in public without being afraid for my life. Street harassment needs to end! Thank you for listening I feel better now.
I was walking to work this Sunday morning at around 7:45AM and a man comes up to me sayng “hey, hey, hey” trying to get my attention. Well I ignored him cause this has happened so many times I can’t even count anymore and I find that if I look at the person or respond they persist futher. So anyways I tried the unreponsive method and it just made him angry cause then he starts saying just awful comments (sexual in nature) and also racist things. Not about my race (I am white and so was he) but about sterotypes about white women and black men. I tried hard to not listen cause it was garbage he was spewing but they got really violent in nature (something about he hopes I choke giving a guy a blowjob) and I was so scared all I could do was walk faster but he was relentless and followed me. Nobody was on the street except a woman who was walking a bit ahead of me but she either didn’t hear or didn’t care( a typical response in every encounter I have had, sigh) . He didn’t leave until I got to a busy intersection where a couple of other people were and he left thank goodness. He was such a coward I knew it but at the same time, as much as I wanted to tell him off because he was the lowest person I have ever met, I couldn’t because I was worried he would get violent. I hate these feelings of humiliation, disgust but mostly fear. I should be able to walk in public without being afraid for my life. Street harassment needs to end! Thank you for listening I feel better now.
I live in a town that discriminates against women. Without knowing this, I moved up here to pursue my B.A. I can’t afford a car, it’s insurance, or gas money so I take the bus. I have a lot of classes, so my book bag gets some weight on it. The other day a man was waiting with me at the bus stop in the middle of town. I am taking a lot of classes this semester and my bookbag has some heavy weight on it. This guy starts laughing at me and telling me that he has never seen a woman carry a bookbag this heavy before. He gets out his phone, takes a picture of it against my permission and says “Im gonna tweet this shit!” still laughing. I kind of brush it off, we get on the bus and he happens to sit in a seat adjacent to mine. He is going on and on about this bookbag. At this point, I’m getting angry. He starts saying things like I’m a robot and the bookbag is my battery pack and that the amount of makeup I was wearing made me look like a hooker so I must be one. He then starts ranting on about how women shouldn’t be in college and that they’re only good for “making babies”. He turned to a guy who happened to go to my school and asked if it was common for women to carry heavy bookbags let alone be in college. The guy said “Uh, yeah” and shook his head in disbelief. All this and all I was doing was minding my own business.