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I studied abroad in Holland and loved almost every second of my semester in the country of gouda, tulips and tall, tall men. Almost. It’s sad that I’ve grown to accept the fact that verbal street harassment will forever be a part of my transit. I reluctantly came to terms with their format – usually verbal and often racial. I learned that the word “ni hao” meant “hello” in Mandarin, not through a book or friend, but because from an early age, it was so often shouted at me in passing. Of course, I no longer expect any of these men to suspect that they actually coexist with a diverse range of Asian Americans, but that never prevents me from responding with an forceful, “I’m not Chinese!” or keeping it sweet and simple with a flip-off.
It’s true that aggressively responding to such harassments can be reckless and lead to escalated incidents, but I’ve never been able to shut up the voice inside my head, which tells me that no man should be allowed to make a woman uncomfortable in her own city and not at least have his stupidity met with clear resentment. This is weird, but I seriously think about my nonexistent/hypothetical daughter during each catcall and refuse to think about her growing up in an environment where these actions aren’t met with some consequence. I don’t want her constantly on guard and uncomfortable in her own world when the only thing she should be thinking about is getting from point A to point B.
So, I might have not been fine with the state of street harassment, but for the most part, I felt physically safe when confronted in public areas and city streets. Unfortunately, my perceptions were skewed when my mom and sister came to stay in Amsterdam and my sister and I were making our way back to the hotel. We were taking a very crowded tram when I noticed that a man was staring at me from across the car. I glared back at him as he continued peering around people to continue smiling at me, raising his eyebrows up and down, etc. When it got to the point where I felt the need to mouth something obscene to him, his smile faded and he became noticeably irate. My sister and I exited the tram on one of the busiest tourist spots in the city and were immediately followed by our new friend, who began shouting obscenities and things like: “What’d you say to me, China?!” He followed us down the street until we took refuge in a theater venue. We made the decision to ask for security when we saw him pacing back and forth outside the box office and were directed to a back door exit. We made our way back to the hotel with our eyes darting around faster than our feet and never relayed the message to our mom.
I may not be proud of my gut reactions and the situation wasn’t all that bad in retrospect, but what if my sister wasn’t there to back me down or what if we had chosen a more desolate tram stop? Words cannot describe how disparaged I feel when faced with the harsh reality of what my gender so often deals with on a day-to-day basis. Much of my frustration is rooted in the simple fact that we cannot retaliate without taking at least some physical risk. I hope websites like Hollaback! continue to act as a channel for women who want to retaliate with a cell phone photo or simply share their story. I remain optimistic that more people, both women and men will empathize and understand the need to shed serious light on the issue. After all, I’m not the only one with a nonexistent/hypothetical daughter in mind, right?
Submitted by Melanie
I don’t even know how to classify this assault type.
When I was 18 I went to Rio for a job interview and I was going to meet a friend afterward to catch a movie in the Odeon cinema. The interview was postponed last minute and my friend was busy so I decided to go ahead to the cinema and watch one of the previous movies from an animation festival going on. It would be finished just in time for her to arrive. The screening room was quite full and I sat in a seat I managed to find and left the aisle seat spare. I regret this so much now…
As the room got dark and the lights dimmed a middle aged man — around 40-50 years or so sat next to me. I was very interested in the movie but in the corner of my eye I could see movement in his groin area. I was too afraid to look directly or do anything but in could tell his cock was out and he was masturbating right there! His hand was on his thigh and he would extend his pinky to touch my leg and I would move away. It felt so gross. A million things went through my head, I was afraid to get up and walk past him, I was afraid he might follow me, I was afraid he would start touching me more, for some reason I was embarrassed to ask for help from the person next to me… I was just stumped and scared. The whole time I wanted to punch the guy and stomp on his balls or do something to cause him physical pain but instead I stared at the screen and moved away from his gross stretching finger.
At the end of the movie as the lights went on I did something! I yelled PERVERT at him and as he walked away and blended into the crowd people asked me what happened, if i was ok etc… I wish I had done it AS SOON AS he pulled it out… word of advice: HOLLABACK! the sooner the better!
Submitted by Lissa
This is on the tamer side but worth a mention here. I sell vintage clothing online and I was having a photo shoot with a friend, who looks young and is 21, at the town beach playground of the rural New England town I grew up in. Around this playground is a road and fence and a couple houses at the far end away from the beach. We were standing by my car parked on the far end while I was picking the next outfit and a man who looked to be in his forties was walking a dog and started to chat with us. He didn’t say anything obnoxious, just kinda being annoying continuing to talking to us and we were like ‘go away’ in our heads, and being short with our answers to him. So he continued down the trail and we went back to taking pictures. A while later he comes back around while I’m taking pictures of her and is leaning over the fence and says ‘that’s the one right there’ (like that shot you just took) as I’m shooting and she’s modeling. Needless to say, who asked for commentary? So annoying. So then he asks me ‘Hey, do you ever take any bathing suit pictures?’ So I had had enough of him at this point and said ‘Dude, that’s creepy.’ And he said ‘It is?’ And I say ‘Yeah, you KNOW that’s creepy. Asking if we take BATHING SUIT pictures? come on” and I was pretty snotty about it because I could not be sicker of older men that are delusional enough to chat up younger chicks and interrupt our day with it. So he kinda put his head down and and ambled away. He definitely got the point. Me= 1, Creepy Guy= 0! My friend was relieved as you can imagine how uncomfortable she felt having this guy ogle her as we were minding our own business trying to have fun and get a job done. I intend to always speak up for myself, my friends, and any woman being harassed. When it’s safe, creepy guys need to be called out!!!! You have a voice, so use it and you might just embarrass some a-hole who will think twice before harassing some girls in the future!
Submitted by Sara
Whenever I’m minding my own business and a dirty old man says “Hey angel, you’re lookin’ fine” or a man in a car honks at me, I am reminded that nowhere is safe for a woman. It is scary and humiliating to feel like every stranger who sees me on the street is imagining me naked.
Street harassment has made me extremely jaded to the point that I don’t never talk to strangers, and whenever they talk to me I assume they are trying to get in my pants, which is no way to go through life. Because of being harassed on the street, I understand why a woman would choose to wear a burqa, but I don’t want to feel like I have to cover my entire body in order to be safe when I’m alone in public. Is that too much to ask? Of course not.
Submitted by Heather
Was on the way home at around 9:30. I look up, this guy across me is already staring at me and I continuously stare back at home and he starts smiling and starts mouthing some words to me. He gave me the most disgusting and perverted looks ever. He did this for the whole ride and kept looking back and staring at me, and if I stared at him longer, he would smile. Who does he think he is?
When I left, he told me, “Bye.” Wish I cursed him out.
Submitted by S.T.
The guy is the one sitting in the picture.
About a year ago, I worked for sometime at a big box store as a cashier. On one particularly slow afternoon, a man who had to be at least in his 50’s (I was 19 at the time), came through my checkout line. At first, I didn’t really think anything of his comments, which seemed friendly and casual enough, but then he asked if I had a boyfriend. I laughed and said no, and then he handed me a business card with his phone number and address on it and proceeded to tell me all about he was remodeling his bedroom. Then he kind of leaned in and said “Have you ever been in love?”
“No,” I said, thoroughly creeped out.
“Well, I have,” he said, “And it’s amazing. Boys your age only want one thing–just some ass. But I’ve been around. I know what love really is. You call me sometime.”
Thankfully, by that point, another person had come into the line, so he left. Afterwards, while walking through the parking lot during my break, some guy drove past me, circled around the parking lot to drive by again, rolled down his window and shouted “Nice ass!” at me. I flipped him off and glared at his back bumper of his pickup truck until he disappeared.
When I got back from my break, I told my supervisor that I’d been harassed twice by customers and wanted to know how I was supposed to handle that. She, a woman who should have an idea of how wrong this all is, told me she would set up a meeting to discuss it. It never happened, I found a better job, and I got the hell out of there.
Submitted by Kate
across my buierlding in lebanon beirut.. theres construction work going on.. i was standing on my balcony.. and the constructoin worker.. startd to masterbate… i no longer go outside.. h continues to watch into my apartment.. i have to hide in my own house… once on hamra street.. a man came from behind me and slapped my ass an continued walking off while lookin me in the eye.. with satisfaction that he had done that… many more… incidents which happen in lebanon beirut continue toh appen every day with th eamoun tof construction workers.. who come from foriegn countries.. cause what the fuck do they care if they harrass th elebanese woman.. and its not like i walk around naked in my house i live in a strict religious area.. of jnah .. sigh this needs to stop
Submitted by Lu
A friend of mine and I had taken a taxi from a movie back to our hostel while visiting Boston. Because of one way streets and odd intersections, the taxi dropped us off near but not at our destination. On that short walk however, two guys in a car started going really slowly and calling to us. We told them we weren’t interested and asked them to just leave us alone and go away. Rather than comply, their cat calling just got more aggressive and lewd so we told them to fuck off. They flipped out at that and started screaming insults at us. We saw two other men up the street and ran to them and asked them to please just stay for a minute. They were terrified and so were we. The jerks stopped the car, got out and proceed to call us whores and bitches but our power in numbers (and I’m pretty certain it was only that) forced them to eventually back down and drive away. In retrospect we probably should have reported it but we just ran to our hostel and we thankful we weren’t hurt.
Submitted by Kate
I’m studying abroad in a foreign country so my looks are very different and apparently all the men in this country think that since I’m an American, I must want to sleep around. I’ve been followed, had men sit near me in class to try to touch my hair and one guy actually started smelling it, as well as multiple guys hit on me and proposition me. To tell the truth its really ruining my view of the country, I glare and shout at them, but it doesn’t seem to do anything. Now every time I leave my room I always have my hair pinned up and hidden with an ugly hat. I’m going home soon though, and I can’t wait.
Submitted by Rebecca
This happened several years ago when I was attending USC (as an older student). As I was walking to class one day, I passed a house that was having some construction work done on it. A guy up on the roof yelled some stupid remark at me (can’t remember the exact words but it was something like, “Hey, baby, why don’t you come up here and blah, blah, blah.” I thought about just continuing to walk on and ignore him, but it just made me mad that someone would think that they had the right to try to degrade me in public this way and it was so obvious that it was about a man’s ability to exert power and control and to feel entitled to humiliate a woman. So I stopped, showed him my backpack of text books and yelled back, ” And I’m a college student while you’re up there working for minimum wage, you loser!”
It probably didn’t change him in the long run, but for that one moment, I felt totally empowered and proud of myself for standing up to him.
Submitted by Susan