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I recently had the painfully unpleasant (but all too common) experience of being sexually harassed by a man. I was harassed in a digital age, when creepy men can invade your personal space by sending their unwanted and invasive attention straight to you, regardless of where you are or what you are doing. I was sexually harassed while I was enjoying dinner at home with my family and friends, this creep’s crass thoughts and words flooding me with fear and shame in the comfort of the home I grew up in. I was sexually harassed while I was working at school, this asshole’s demented ideas trashing my consciousness and the innocent environment it was meant to be nourishing. I was sexually harassed and it was NOT OK. It IS not OK. But when I reported it to the local police force meant to protect me from this kind of creep- this ONE creep of an entire species of creeps pervading the male-world we live in- it informed me that this sexual harassment WAS, in fact, OK because it did not place me in any sort of direct existential danger, and that if he continued to harass me I should simply change my number and avoid the areas I typically see him creeping around.
When I hung up the phone with the police I thought to myself: Something here is terribly wrong.
Now let us be frank about this endemic plague called sexual harassment that male homo sapiens can’t seem to kick. It shares the same qualities of all of society’s ugliest actualities, but is experienced by an entire gender group, worldwide, and everyday. To be female in the world- today, yesterday and tomorrows to come- is to be subject to sexual harassment by men. For women, sexual harassment is as pervasive and (dare I say) NATURAL an everyday part of our realities as breathing: it is in us and outside of us from our youth on up to adulthood, a period through which we develop our own personal means of dealing with it while trying to fulfill ourselves meaningfully in a world built up against us. I have historically dealt with it through silence, ignoring the presumptive “hey baby’s” and “nice ass’s” by quickening my pace and turning my face from the eyes and mouths violating me. A friend of mine plays crazy, staring blankly or yelling incoherently at her perpetrators’ advances until they finally back off (needless to say, some don’t). Yes, we women have our ways of dealing with the sick and unfair reality our sexist history has constructed for us , and to varying degrees they allow us to get through the day to day.
But today our methods, my methods especially, are dated. Today, my (admittedly) passive silent reaction to a man’s harassment protects me from him about as much as a cigarette protects a smoker from getting lung cancer: Not only does my silence fail to protect me, it makes the situation worse. As I repeatedly erased the explicitly crude messages invading my phone and interrupting my life- my life as I was CHOOSING to experience it- I was giving this creep the power to manipulate my immediate condition and surroundings. When I simply closed out the digital garbage littering my laptop’s inbox and polluting my mind, I was allowing this jerk the liberty to control how I was feeling and thinking at that time. And when I reported this unjust robbery of my self-determination, I was told that silence and avoidance would be the only means of coping with the harassment until it transpired into something more “real”: a response which, rather than providing me a sense of comfort and consolation from fear, stirred in me a very deep sense of rage, and a firm new determination to never feel that fear again.
We live in a world today where people die from the lives they lead in digital media. Kids commit suicide from cyber bullying, people are trafficked into fatal situations, and women get harassed- and abused, and prostituted, and raped and killed- in a cyberspace that increasingly takes on the oppressive patriarchal qualities of the society that produced it. Not only do women now have the “real” male-oriented world to navigate and survive in, we also have the equivocally real, male-oriented cyber-reality to navigate and survive in, the latter’s very “unreality” making it all the more dangerous. Who we women choose to participate in our everyday “real” lives is something that is fortunately very much in our control, despite the abrasive harassment which inevitably invades them. We are free to pick and choose what male attention we wish to fill those lives with, while surviving the grimy reality of unwanted male attention because we are women and that is what we women do. Who we invite to participate in our digitized lives, however, is something entirely different completely. While our digital livelihoods are not something we are completely powerless over, they do involve spaces that make our digital (and real) selves more readily accessible and vulnerable to unwanted attention, gazes and words. Creepy men will, and are, invading those spaces, and it is not something that will stop by simply ignoring it or keeping your mouth shut. Cigarettes will kill you. Silence will make this harassment worse.
So consider this my own little vernacular vendetta against the creep who thought it was OK to fuck with me, to make me feel belittled, ashamed and afraid (to protect the integrity of his identity, I will refer to him here as “the-guy-you-all-know-if-you-go-to-the-Starbuck’s-on-Monroe-Avenue,-Monday-through-Friday,-anytime-from-about-7-a.m.-to-5-p.m.,-who-wears-a-yellow-jacket-and-rain-boots-and-sits-in-one-of-the-larger-comfy-chairs-pretending-to-write-a-math-textbook-while-actually-sexually-harassing-women-all-day-long,-who-is-reported-to-have-done-this-to-countless-girls-before-me-and-will-unquestionably-continue-to-do-so,-so-long-as-all-of-us-girls-stay-quiet-and-choose-not-to-stop-taking-this-BULLSHIT!). But it’s more than that. It’s a statement that this kind of harassment is more pervasive and less tolerable in today’s digital age than the former kind was, currently is, or ever will be in the future. It is ubiquitous and just as menacing, dangerous and unacceptable as any other form of harassment or abuse for the very real and tragic consequences we’ve seen it create. Why should a woman being sexually harassed on the street be given different consideration than one being sexually harassed in the privacy of her own home? Why must a woman feel the direct physical fear of a man for her fear to be taken seriously by the law, and why have our laws failed to acknowledge this fear manifesting itself in new forms, through our new medias and in our new digital selves?
Freedom from fear is not a right limited to the world we actively live in, but one that extends into the worlds we create with our language and means of expression. The fact that the digital worlds we populate are not real in a corporeal sense does not absolve us the moral responsibility we have to endow those worlds with a bit of humanity. The fear I felt every day the aforementioned creep harassed me was unquestionably real, though that fear’s source was “not.” If fear can blur the lines separating our “real” selves from our digital selves” and our “real” worlds from our digital worlds, freedom from fear can do it too, in a very loud way.
My friend and I were walking in our neighbourhood, not far from where we lived. A car came up beside us. A man probably in his late 20’s and another teenager who couldn’t have been older than 17.
The Teenager: Hey girls
Him: Where you headed?
Me: To my house
Us: Oh yeah, where you live?
Me: Oh, just around there…ish… (With my open hand waving vaguely over an area)
Him: Oh you live close then? Why don’t you girls come down to Limberlost tonight?
Him: We’ll show you a great time. See you ladies later.
During the summer vacation, my friend and I were walking through a relatively empty parking lot. As were walking, I hear a car going really fast nearby. Like – Right behind us – nearby. I looked over my shoulder and a white SUV pulled up right beside us. If I hadn’t grabbed my friend out of the way, the car might have grazed her. To our left five or six early 20’s men smiled at us. The driver said “Hey Ladies” to us and looked into our faces. Our just turned 14 year old faces. The driver sheepishly said “Oh, we thought you were someone else” and just as quickly as they appeared, they disappeared. My friend and I stood there for a few seconds. Still stunned by what happened. Eventually we laughed it off. I mean – no one got hurt and that’s just a funny story to tell at parties, we joked. But when I got home, I thought about it. They could have hit my friend. They could have easily dragged us into the car. There was no one around. That minor incident could’ve been something huge.
But of course, it’s just a story that I tell at parties.
Hey Hollaback y’alls,
So, I like this. I like this because I thought of waging my own anti-street harassment campaigns the same time you were building this website. Awesome.
I lived in San Francisco, in the deep mission. The men stared at EVERY woman under 30 who walked by. They’d visually stalk me every time I walked out the door.
I had seriously high anxiety in San Francisco because I was always being watched. Walking down the street, men would see me from a block away, and literally turn their bodies toward me while still talking to each other & stare. As I walked past them, they’d turn their bodies so they could watch me walk away.
This was a daily thing. I dreamed of putting up posters that said, ” Staring is rude.” “We think men who stare are unattractive.” Knowing they were total homophobic pigs…”Would you fuck a 68 year old man? Neither would I. Stop Staring.”
I didn’t do it, but I think I still will.
I was walking down the street and a boy tried to talk to me (he was with a group of other boys). He asked if he was “valid” (or good enough) to talk to, and I responded “no, I have a boyfriend.” He then said “f@ck your boyfriend, what does he have to do with me, I’m not talking about him. This is why I can’t stand harlem b*tches (the boys joined in by laughing).” I asked “harlem what?” and his friend responded “harlem girls.” The boy then repeated “harlem b*tches” and went on to say, “your on my block talking, I should get you jumped. I’m about to violate you right now.” I tried to verbally defend myself, but then decided to cross the street.
I live in UP, North India. It’s a bad place for eve teasing! In my home town which is so small and peaceful, you still get roadside romeos who think it’s a big turn on to follow you home on their bikes yelling things at you all the way. Then when they’ve had enough and are bored they say “Sorry, just having fun!” and zoom off!
Also get all kinds of harassment from every guy who walks past when you go to a park. No matter what you wear, they are drawn like moths to a flame. In shopping malls I have been followed and harassed. These guys just can’t understand why you are scared and have no desire to talk to some stranger who is following you around!
Even older men are up to these tricks. And once common thing you will get is that when you walk past someone will start to sing or play on their phone a raunchy song from some movie. It’s horrible. You feel like everyone is staring at you like a piece of meat.
In places other than my hometown, I have experienced groping. Some guy once followed me trying to talk to me and when I told him to leave me alone he lunged forward and grabbed my breast hard for a moment before racing away. It was painful physically and frustrating too because I didn’t even have time to yell. I felt so used and abused afterwards.
These men should understand how frightening and humiliating it is to go outside on your own streets and be treated this way. It is not a compliment to be noticed, it is exhausting and frustrating to only be seen as a sex object. Would they like their sister, mothers, wives and daughters to be treated that way? I am sick of so many noticing that I am a female with a female body and staring at that as if it is theirs for the taking. I dream of a world where my mind and my actions are more important.
Jeep pulled over, called me a whore like 4 times, and when I turned around and said what did you say? They said one two three, “WHORE you retard.”
Today on my way to the bus stop after school, a man offered me money to sleep with him, and I ignored him and kept walking. Then he offered money to see my boobs, and I still tried to ignore him. Then he took out his phone and took a picture of me from behind and claimed that he was going to jerk off to it later. I felt humiliated and degraded and didn’t know what to do. It’s amazing how something like that can ruin your whole day. I really hate people sometimes =/
As I arrived at my bus stop several people (all women) were already standing there. There is another bus stop at the other side of the street, where a young man was standing.
As soon as he noticed me he started yelling all these derogatory things, he called me a dirty slut, said he was going to rape me, … I was really scared but he didn’t cross the street and I had to take my bus so I tried to completely ignore him. This went on for about 5 minutes, when his bus arrived and he left.
That’s when I started crying.
You don’t have a “HollaBack” in my city, Kathmandu, Nepal, but I think this story is important none-the-less. Even if it’s just to get it out of my own head and heart, and shared.
I’m really moved by what you do at HollaBack, and think it’s an incredibly important and smart movement. It’s great timing for me, as I just learned about this website today, and was harassed 2 days ago, with (I feel) little I can do about it here.
While walking down my dirt road, I was feeling more confident and attractive than usual here. It was warm outside and for the first time in months I was able to wear a long flowing skirt and a v-neck t-shirt. (Nothing revealing by any means)
I was only maybe 20 feet away from my house door, when a motorcyclist came speeding by. On his way past, he stuck out his hand, and grabbed my breast. He passed by so fast, I really had no defense against it. Even when I turned away to yell at him, I realized, I speak English, he most likely speaks Nepali, my words were of no use. If he had been going any slower I think I would have tried to push over his motorcycle. I was furious at his nerve, and the fact I was defenseless against it.
So, he went speeding away. It happened so unexpectedly I can barely remember what he looked like, much less felt there was anything I could do about it.
Since the incident, I’ve felt less safe in my own neighborhood. I think, “what if he lives near me?” “what if he sees me often and I’ve just never noticed him?” I don’t like this feeling of fear and lack of safety in the area in which I live.
I also feel like my fears aren’t helpful. What IS helpful is being aware of my surroundings, learning from my experiences, and sharing them with other women to move forward to fight against this sort of street harassment that happens every day.
Since hearing about HollaBack, I feel more comfortable discussing this with people in my neighborhood as well to keep from it happening again. Thanks HollaBack for giving me an outlet.