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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
Walking on West 16th street at 2pm in the afternoon, I crossed paths with a man who said “hey, sweetheart” and reached out to grab me. I dodged out of the way and yelled, “Who are you? Get away from me!” I kept walking, but he said, “OK bitch, no wonder you’re by yourself.” I turned back and responded, “You tried to grab me, do you really think that’s ok?” He said, “Nobody tried to grab you.” (oh, gee, I guess you just extended your hand out towards my chest because you needed to stretch???)
I fished my phone out of my purse, and pointed the camera at him. For some reason he pulled his phone out of his pocket and put it to his ear (even though he hadn’t dialed anything). He said, “Whatever, I’m an attorney, so, what are you going to do?” I’d already gotten a picture, so I said “I’m going to put you on the internet with other assholes who harass women on the street.” Again, I started walking away, but I guess he still couldn’t let me have the last word, because he launched into a diatribe, calling me fat, ugly, a bitch, and a kike. Classy.
During this rant, another man came by pushing a cart full of construction supplies. He said to me, “Don’t worry about what he says, you’re beautiful.” I appreciated that he was trying to be nice, but I couldn’t help feeling that he was kind of missing the point. I think one of the driving impulses behind street harassment is the assumption that women desire/need/are required to build our identities and sense of self on men’s opinions of us. But you know what? Good OR bad, a stranger’s opinion DOESN’T MATTER to me. If I don’t know you, I don’t care what you think of me.
Anyway, I let the construction guy get in between me and the ranting guy, and took advantage of the distance to get another photo. During his rant, I realized this guy was actually slurring his words. Since he was so interested in listing all the things he thought were wrong with me, I asked him “Do you really believe I care what you think of me?” Then, as he continued on, I said, “You’re slurring your words. Are you drunk?” Strangely, this was the comment that actually made him angry. He came towards me and yelled “Bitch, I will fuck you up!” This would have been scary if it weren’t for the fact that he couldn’t walk without stumbling back and forth. Instead, it was just funny. I laughed, and said, “you are really funny.” He said, “Funny? You’re jewisss.” I laughed again, and said “You’re hilarious!” then, since there were a couple of other people on the block watching the whole thing, “look everyone, it’s Mel Gibson!” I kept laughing as I walked away.
Submitted by Nancy
I work nights and one night on my way in to my job,
I was verbally assaulted by a horrific man on Market St.
I heard someone make a noise and looked up, which was
probably a mistake. I try to never make eye contact w/
men who harass and just keep walking.
This guy was almost pure evil in the way he was talking,
though. He made racist comments, and then called me an
ugly bitch and a c**t. I kept walking. It felt like
someone took a knife and stabbed me. He tried to engage
me in some kind of argument sparring with this taunting tone of voice, and I just kept on going. I was tired and
had a long night ahead of me, and felt like breaking down
for real. This was the worst experience of harassment I’ve
ever had happen to me. As I walked away, this psycho
kept screaming the word c**t over and over, and I thought
he was going to chase after me or try to hurt me physically.
This may not have happened during the daytime, but my job
is at night, and I can’t avoid that. Also, I don’t have a
car. This was horribly disturbing. I dont think I’ll ever
walk down Market St. at night ever again.
Submitted by Trina
So here I am, a 17 year old girl, black (it matters) in her school uniform, just going to the mall to get some stuff, and I hear it.
“Hey-o, pretty girl, lemme holla! Why the long face? I got some stuff to make you smile!”
I was actually about to spin around and tell him to pop off, but when I looked at him, I saw he ran one of the vendors selling lotions in the hallways of the mall.
Why is it cool to act this way towards me? I watched this guy ask other women “Hey, miss, would you like to buy some lotions?” But as soon as a black girl walks by you switch up your game? And you don’t even care that she’s obviously underage? FUCK YOU AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON.
I just wanted to the MAC counter and get out, so I gave him the dirtiest look that I save especially for scumbags like him and kept walking.
Submitted by Mariel
I’m prefacing this story with the fact that I’m a person of color as race unfortunately comes up in this already crappy situation.
Yesterday, I woke up late for work and as I was scrambling to get out the door, I left my headphones and book at home – my usual way of blocking out street creeps. The whole day I was noticing that guys were just staring at my chest and saying creepy things. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t distracted by music that I was noticing it so much. After the third leering fool, I said to myself, “The next comment I get, I’m going to snap.”
On my way home from work, I had to walk through that long passage from the 1,2,3 trains to the L and I noticed that a guy was walking next to me and keeping in stride with me. I tried to ignore him but then he said, “You look like you’ve had a long day…” I continued to ignore him. Then he said, “Oh, that’s how it is? That’s how you get off?” And…I snapped. I said to him, “Leave me the fuck alone, dude. I don’t know you. Just get away from me and leave me alone.” He paused and then started to scream, “You stupid bitch. You stupid fucking bitch. Look at your converse – you want to be white, you fake white bitch!” I’m still in the passage way and there is no where to go but forward or backwards. I continue to say “Leave me alone.” and try to push through the crowd of people. He is still screaming until we get to the L train platform where he attempts to get into the same car as me but I duck into another one at the last minute.
I don’t regret saying something though I have this feeling of shame and failure as well.
Submitted by ACP
My two girlfriends and I were walking toward the Hotel Rivington on Friday night. We passed by a group of three guys who were catcalling at us and one of them grabbed my arm as I walked by. I said, “Ew” and shook him off. When we walked away, one of them shouted, “Go study for your SATs fucking Chinese bitch.”
I marched up to him and his friends and told them not to call me a bitch. The one who called me a Chinese bitch, who was probably about 6’2″ and over 200 pounds (I am just over 100 pounds) shoved me two or three times – hard. I was yelling things like, “Oh, you’re going to push me? You’re going to push a girl?” He kept threatening to hit me, and he threatened to sic his professional boxer friend on me who he said would basically beat me to a pulp.
Then he spat in my face and bolted.
My biggest regret is not getting his name or photo.
Submitted by Andrea
It has become a regular occurrence for me to get cat called as I walk to work, go home, or go about doing my business. I am a 29 year old Asian American woman who graduated from Columbia University with a Masters in Urban Planning. I find it deeply demeaning and offensive for men who are ignorant to call out to me in Chinese or some other Asian dialect, as if I don’t speak English. I hate being whistled at, called baby, being asked out jokingly on the street. It is disgusting, and there have been times that I have gotten hostile (throwing my ice cream at someone, or yelling at them) because their remarks just got to me so. How can I go about doing my work, when my day is interrupted by sexual hostility? This is a real problem, especially in a city where smart successful independent women are so visible. These cat calls need to stop. Men need to be made aware that this is an issue. It is not our culture here, and they need to know that what they do is abusive, and uncivilized. It is not enough that NYC is a hard place to find a good decent man to date, but that we have to be subjected to men we aren’t even dating as well?
Submitted by Diana
Despite the fact that I don’t live anywhere near New York, I’d like to submit my experience;
I’m a young caucasian girl and pretty oblivious at times. It was dark and I was taking the city bus home from a peer-education group meeting. I nearly always sit in the back of the bus because the drivers like to talk to pretty young girls if they’re sitting close enough. My city is pretty racially segregated and I happen to live in the ‘black’ part of town that’s up at bat for gentrification. The racial tension in the neighborhood is hideous and, at times, I’m ashamed of the color of my skin. This bus was predominately occupied by african-americans. I was feeling eyes crawling on my stupid whit skin and I was trying not to look as uncomfortable or out of place as I felt. I was listening to my ipod and texting my friend and trying to feel ok when I noticed these two older guys looking at my chest. One of them had dreadlocks with a receding hairline and the other had a cigarette tucked behind his ear. About thirty seconds after I noticed them, they both pulled their sunglasses over their eyes. They were talking to each other but I couldn’t hear what they were saying so I casually turned the volume of my music all the way down. Then Mr. Dreads pulled out his phone and they started talking about the camera function. Mr. Cigarette was saying something to the effect of ‘Oh that’s nice! Look at that resolution!’ The camera lens was pointed at my chest. I didn’t want to say anything and I didn’t want to move. I know that if the guys had been my same race, I’d have felt confident enough to yell at them but because of the pre-existing tension, I was unsure of how to deal with them. I didn’t (and don’t) want to be painted as racist but I felt it then. I was a minority in the situation but those men would have claimed me to be the aggressor. After a bit of thinking I worked up the courage to zip up my sweatshirt and turn my body slightly away from them.
I haven’t seen them since and hopefully won’t again. I’ve never been so uncomfortable and unsure of myself. I couldn’t even tell my mom about it for fear she would revoke the little freedom she gives me.
Submitted by Casper
NOTE: As part of our anti-racism policy, we do not identify the race of the harassers in the post, unless the relevance to the story is “clearly and constructively” explained. We felt this was a good example of that.
I have had my fair share of leering from the security guards at chelsea market. Being singled out in a crowd when I cut through the market on my way to work is always testing my patience. Being a woman of color I always wonder – is this racial stereotyping? Sometimes I cover my head with a cloth – so the reasons why people stare are multiple. When other people see the guards leering at me I feel so tiny- so humiliated like, “gee what will all these non brown people think…maybe I did something bad?”
….no, just trying to live in peace.
Today it was pretty clear I was being harassed. I was walking hand in hand with my bf. I was wearing a long shirt that covered my behind, non fitting… for those wondering. Sundays are crowded. The guard near the far entrance was lifting his head from far. I was not even checking to see if he would leer …he started to turn to me…nod his head up and down my body with those elevator eyes accompanying the head. For once, since I was not alone, I waived my finger saying “no”, he nodded his head fast “yes” and showed me his teeth attempting a “guilty smile” and looked up at my eyes and down to my butt nodding “yes”. I told my bf how it hurts that he is suppose to be protecting me- but is leering. My bf turned around and the guy was still leering.
My bf walked over and said quietly, “my gf feels uncomfortable with the way you are staring”.
He shouted at us both and said GET OUT OF HERE GET OUT IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT GET OUT.
Swear to god this is true, yes, a guard told us to get out of chelsea market if we don’t like how he’s leering at us.
I don’t have a photo but feel awful he said that to my bf. I intend on writing a letter, but to who to where? I hope there are cameras there, its all on tape no one has to “believe” me.
Well, thanks holla back at least I feel I can send this to you for now.
Submitted by Anonymous
I am a Bisexual Asian male who has experienced extreme harassment. My neighbor, the elderly man next door– Slandered, harassed and sexually harassed me for 2 years since I moved here from California. At first, when I got here, I was really thin and looked like a girl to most people. He told me he wanted to give me a sex change operation and rape me. For the next several months he slandered me, spread rumors I was a rapist, sex offender, child molester and people called me that in the neighborhood and on the train a few times. He was angry that I was a guy and not a girl and that I was making him gay. When I joined meetup.com and come home late at night, he would wait in front of my house every night ‘til I stop going. I saw him half naked filming me twice from his 3rd floor window a few months ago when I opened my blinds in the morning and I dare not to open my blinds in the morning anymore. People gossiped about seeing videos of me naked or me sleeping, etc in my bedroom on some pervert website. I overheard people talking in Chinatown and on the set of Fordham University during my filming of the “adjustment bureau” a Matt Damon movie where I worked as an extra.
Recently, He and his friends were yelling they want to castrate me, rape me. They called me a queer, fag and chink 2 weeks ago outside my house, heckling me.
I am a victim of racism and sexual harassment. I filed a harassment report by calling 911 on December 10, 2009 Thursday around 9:45PM when 2 female police officers drove to my house and alerted me to come outside to talk to them. The two female police officers is a female Black woman and a Spanish woman. I was told to call 718-627-6611 for Precinct 61 for the status of my complaint. I called again on December 15, 2009 and the officer who answered the phone said the complaint is closed and is on record and no arrests was made because my neighbor harassed me but didn’t assault me. I wrote to NBC news but to no avail. I don’t know who to turn to for help. I am a victim of sexual harassment and video voyeurism and slander and I think he is trying to get me killed because I look feminine and because of my sexual orientation. If this happened to a woman he work be arrested by now, but I am a guy, a bisexual guy and no one cares. I want the harassment to stop.
Submitted by Michael