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I was recovering from a painful/traumatic medical procedure, wearing a baggy sweater, loose coat, sunglasses and hat, not in the mood to be bothered. I came to Coney Island to volunteer with an elderly man who lives there, as I do every week. The man pictured here was hanging out outside where I parked my car and began loudly commenting on my appearance as I fed the meter. I really wasn’t in the mood, and just ignored him, going about my business. When I came back to leave, he was still there and continued where he left off, but when I didn’t acknowledge him, he began angrily shouting for me to “have a nice day.” Finally he yelled “don’t suck too much cock!” as I was getting in to my car. I snapped at that point, flipped him off and said fuck you, took this picture and drove away.
The first time a man exposed himself to me I was 11 years old in Cinncinnati, Ohio.
I am now nearly 50 and I have gotten so used to ignoring street harassment that I stopped thinking about it years ago.
The list of serious street harassment experiences I have had is so long that it is pointless to list them all. Everything from the city worker in city uniform in a city truck wiggling his tongue through the crotch of his fingers, to men brazenly grabbing my ass as I walk down the sidewalk, to the every day “you’d look good on me”, and nowadays:”You still lookin’ good for an old lady, you a cougar baby?”….and the kissing sounds, those are the most revolting.
I’ve learned to ignore them, stay aware from those parts of town, and not to use the train or bus because of the harassment. It’s just not worth it to deal with it.
Sadly: it is just become a background factor in my life. I just live accepting that this is the way it has always been and will always be: no one has ever done anything about it, bystanders often laugh or jump in and join the harasser. You can call the cops, but they do not take reports. I have even had them say “Why do you want to report this and ruin the poor guy’s life?” or some other version of “boys will be boys.”
Now I watch the same thing happening to my daughter and I am furious.
Night time in the Mission, I’m leaving dinner to meet up with a friend at a bar 8 blocks north. It was later in the evening, most businesses were closed, and the amount of people walking on the streets were fading with each passing block. I was near my destination, and after spending the entire day in Mission, I felt comfortable enough walking to my next destination alone. In San Francisco. I thought, I’m from Detroit and feel safe back home, how sketch can SF be?
It got to the point to where I needed up put my hood up. The only people left roaming the streets were those severely intoxicated to the point of not being able to hold themselves up, groups of men, and the occasional cooky stung out homeless character. Having my hood up and hands in my pockets you think would indicate I am not walking around to have a chat. This man walks up to me and starts walking the same pace as me. Comments on the weather and continues to try to make small talk. I do what Detroiter’s do: look him in the eye, give him a civil head nod, and continue on my way. Apparently this isn’t enough of an indication to this man that I am NOT trying to have a chat.
He asks me if I’m going home, and tells me how beautiful I am (I’m wearing a freaking hood, you can barely see my face). I pick up my pace, so does he. I slow down, so does he. We are the only ones on the street and there are barely any cars driving by.
Finally I look at him and put my hands in front of me to suggest “halt” and say look, I’m not trying to talk. He makes a couple more comments about my hair and my legs and continues to follow me (mind you, I am wearing jeans, sneaks and a baggy coat).
Suddenly he is gone, as if to duck behind an alley. I put my hood down to ensure my peripheral vision is clear. Then luckily see a cab across the street dropping someone off. In a bit of a panic I run across the street to catch the cab, and went back to where I was staying. There went my comfort zone, my plans with a friend I hadn’t seen in over 2 years, and my ability to feel safe in this beautiful city I was visiting.
My story is not specific, because it happens too many times a day to count. I currently live in Medellin, Colombia, currently one of the most notorious hubs for sex tourism, street trafficking, and child prostitution. Before I decided to come here to start a vegetarian food project with a friend, I traveled mostly solo or with one female friend throughout Colombia and Ecuador. Traveling on your own has its challenges, but traveling as an independent female is another story. You are always on the streets, and thus, are in a constant state of harassment. Before you set foot out of your own city, you are constantly reminded of ‘how dangerous’ it is for you, how you ‘should travel with a group, a boyfriend, or a male companion’, how you should ‘never walk alone’ because ‘you never know what horrible things could happen to you… as a woman’. Sometimes men (and women alike) like to take additional steps in making sure you don’t venture out to foreign streets. They say ‘you are being naive’ (thank you for completely undermining my intelligence), they say ‘there are safer ways to do it’, they say you could ‘just save up more money, and go someplace else’. Before I left on my trip, I had many people do everything they could to strip me of my confidence, condescend my abilities, and essentially tell me that I was setting myself up for a horrible demise. Me. It would be MY fault, if something terrible happened to me somewhere in which ‘wasn’t my place’.
Meet Colombia and Ecuador, two of the loveliest countries on Earth. Meet Colombia and Ecuador, where I didn’t manage to escape unscathed. I cannot make less than a 5 minute walk without being catcalled, hissed at, or looked up and down in any city I have been in. 5 minutes. That’s about 3 blocks. And I’m a fast walker. I have been called (translated from Spanish): my love, my heaven, my life, my sky, my little thing, my princess, my queen, my sweet, baby, girl, white girl, beautiful, pretty, delicious, and ‘wow’. While those might sound like more than compliments to some, I am not a fan of the comments. I did not ask for them. I do not want them. I do not have a choice. These men disgust me.
That’s the cakewalk. Then comes the hissing. You know that sound you make to call your dog? Well they use the same one for women. Hissing. Don’t worry, they still call their animals the same way. There’s not much of a difference. And there won’t be later either. It is symptomatic, and no one does anything about it. Women are dogs here.
What do the comments turn into? The hisses? Oh it doesn’t stop there.
I’ve been followed for blocks multiple times. I’ve had to hide. I’ve had to turn around and yell at men stalking me. They smile. Or laugh it off. Or ignore me. Or point at me and say how much they’d like to fuck me. Or ask if I have a boyfriend. Or if I will marry them. But it still doesn’t stop.
I’ve been groped in the metros. I’ve had my hips, my arms, and my ass squeezed. I’ve had every inch of my body purposefully pressed upon. I’ve had stiff dicks and sweaty hands invade my space too many times during rush hour. It never stops.
The winks, the catcalls, the hissing, the squeezing, the stalking, the sexual comments, they are everything that signifies the complete lack of respect for women where I currently reside, and that is on all levels.
At one point at a festival, I was drunk… like almost everyone else. I was talking to a guy whom I had never met. I do not know him still. I do not remember his name. I don’t know what we talked about, and I don’t know how any of it happened. I remember flashes. I remember walking into a filthy bathroom with him. Horrible things happened. One flash I have was of him pulling his pants down. No condom. My feeling of fear, disgust, entrapment, helplessness, isolation. I could do nothing. The friend I was with had no idea… I never had the heart to tell him. I was crushed. My soul was gone. I was dead for a long time.
I was so traumatized, I couldn’t feel anything for awhile. I didn’t want to exist, or move, or speak. I was a changed person. I went from vivacious, funny, friendly, and wild, to a shell in moments. No one knew what happened, but the friends I was staying with knew it was something terrible. I didn’t know if I would find any part of my old spirit again. That was the worst part. But a different me is back.
I refused to be defeated. Before, I almost always reacted to street harassment. I would yell, I would silently put up my middle finger, I would fight back. I was strong. I was vigilant, careful, and conscious. No one thought I would be the one, but 1 out of 5 is pretty staggering.
For women, going out into the street is a gamble. I lost just one time. But honestly, I’m glad it was me, and not someone else. I still react, but in different ways. I harness all of my intensity to shock men, to scare them, to let them know without a doubt, that what they are doing is wrong. Often, I am successful. But It doesn’t stop. You can’t get everyone. Street harassment is a gateway to vicious assault, denigration, and decimation of female integrity and safety. If there is anything that I have learned, it is this: IT IS ALWAYS YOUR PLACE TO SAY SOMETHING. YOUR BODY, YOUR VOICE, YOUR DIGNITY. It belongs to you. Be strong, fight back. This is your world as much as it is anyone else’s. You might not be next, but someone you love will find their time… it’s always when you least expect it.
A man (who had harassed me once before) started following me and asking many personal questions – do I have a boyfriend? well ok you have a boyfriend but you’re not married right? etc.
Guy on a bike grabbed my ass as he was cycling by.
As I’m walking home a man pulls up to the sidewalk with his car and in russian asks me to get in. He then drives off but I see him turn so he drives past me again.
As I’m walking through an underground tunnel I see 2 men walking towards me. One of them reaches out towards my boobs and says “iedod pupu pačamdīt” (meaning let me feel your tits), sneers and walks on.
I am not a native Oregonian and most locals are surprised to hear me say that I am excited for the dreary wet winters. Its true that I do enjoy the rainy weather, but the weather comes with an added bonus: the park where I walk my dog multiple times a day is finally deserted of the men who typically hang out there and harass women. It is a daily occurrence during the fair weather months and was something that I had not experienced with such frequency before. I have been followed and had my personal space invaded, a man screamed in my face about “how good I would get it” from him… all in broad daylight since there is no way I will set foot outside my apartment alone after dark. I always ignore the harassment but it always makes me so angry and frustrated and it is not an emotional state that I can simply “let go of” once I had moved away from the incident. I began wearing my headphones with my music turned up as high as I could stand and wearing sunglasses. If a man passes me on the street I keep my head down and do not make eye contact. This behavior served to discourage verbal assaults and my sunglasses make me more intimidating and unapproachable. Having my headphones in gives me the added bonus of not being in an emotional funk for the rest of the day since I cant hear an assault if it does happen. At first I was proud of myself for coming up with these tactics to make myself “impervious” to verbal assault, but now I have realized that I am not empowering myself, I am hiding. And I should not have to hide from anyone in broad daylight two blocks from my apartment.