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On Thursday, I had planned to go to a cheap taco place, go meet up with friends for dessert at Junior’s, and have an enjoyable day.
This group of teens has said things to me on and off in my area for a year and a half. I’ve tried everything – calling 311, calling the local precinct, attempting to reason with the ringleader after separating him from his friend, calling the local precinct, videotaping an incident, and calling the precinct a third time.
When I saw a group of young men out, I put my point and shoot in video mode and turned it on in my bag. When one of them yelled to me, I pulled the camera out and got a shot at their faces. They taunted me more, and I was set to walk away and bring my videos to the precinct the next day, though lord knows bringing anything sexual to the police is a gamble. One of them pulled down his pants and showed me his (surprisingly hairless) ass, to which I yelled without thinking “OH HELL NO, I’M FROM BROOKLYN, YOU BETTER KILL ME OR LEAVE ME ALONE.” One of them threw his cigarette at me, and said, “You better leave before we decide to kill you.”
I called 911 this time, and the officers tried to be nice, but they were too slow to respond, and the butt-flasher and cigarette-thrower had gone. Their friend got a summons for being aggressive and spitting, but that doesn’t exactly help.
Jesus fucking Christ, I just wanted a taco. Whenever a man on the street says something too vile or personal to ignore, I get this intense adrenaline rush that would probably enable me to pick a car up off my foot. It’s really uncomfortable – my heart starts beating so fast, I shake slightly, and I’m just so angry I can’t think straight. How dare someone say that to me, treat me like I’m public property because I’m a woman, and truly believe they are entitled to my time, my response, their satisfaction. I shouldn’t need to feel prepared to die to run errands in my neighborhood in broad daylight. I’d rather die than live in fear, but I wish I didn’t even have to think that way.
I know I didn’t handle this in the best way possible, but it isn’t my job to respond well to groups of men who intimidate me – I didn’t choose to be their target. They were wrong to target me.
Everyone I told this story to has said I’m so brave, but I couldn’t leave the house on Friday because I felt so fatigued after all of that adrenaline the day before. I went out with my boyfriend on Saturday, but I’m having a panic attack over the thought of going outside alone today, even if I avoid the area. If it’s not these guys, it will be others, and if it’s not today, it will be this week. I’m afraid of what I’ll have to do next time, especially if the police respond so slowly. I’m afraid of dealing with being treated like public property for the rest of my life, no matter how I carry myself or respond. I’m afraid of what I’ll have to do next time to survive, and what that’s going to do to me.
This story happened quite some time ago, but when I think of stories apropos to Hollaback, it is these that jump out at me:
Three summers ago, I was living in Brooklyn with my boyfriend at the time. I am from a fairly small town; I’d certainly encountered my fair share of street harassment there, but nothing compared to the huge volume I encountered every day in NY during my commute to work. I would complain about it to my boyfriend and he would brush it aside with comments like, “well, you’re hot, baby,” and, “that’s just the city.” One day, on the way to work, a man I walked past growled, “I would ride that.” I told my boyfriend about it, and he turned it around later that day and used it as a joke, yelling it to me out the window of a car when his friend picked him up.
That same friend of his and I got into an argument another day about street harassment. He said that the catcalls, etc. were compliments and I shouldn’t feel threatened or stereotyped. “Being hot is not a BAD stereotype,” he informed me. “I’m Puerto Rican, and if someone yelled at me, ‘hey, you must play really great baseball,’ I would say, ‘thank you, yes I do.’” My boyfriend thought this was hilarious.
I should note that the boyfriend was NOT an asshole or a bad boyfriend or in any way abusive to me or disrespectful of me otherwise. He was and still is a caring kind and smart person who I genuinely respect. I would say the same of his friend. But they could not understand the feeling of violation that came with street harassment, and in not understanding, they invalidated the anger and fright and disgust I felt on a DAILY BASIS. To them, that was simply New York, and it was a part of the city that came along with all the rest of it. And who, after all, was I to try and question the norms of a city that wasn’t my own? I just had to learn, like all the rest of the women there, to deal with it.
I did learn to deal with it. The sexual slurs rolled off me like water by the end of my summer there. Or so I told myself. But then came one morning in August, by which point I felt myself much better suited to the city (I could not only navigate the trains, I could give directions). I was headed to work at about 7 AM, walking to the F train on Second Ave. The LES in the mornings is a very different place than the LES at night; rather than loud pretty twenty-somethings, the streets are filled only with the homeless who slept there the night before. I was walking past many groups of homeless men and was otherwise entirely alone on the street. Then I saw one homeless guy lumbering towards me. Here we go, I thought, preparing myself for an unpleasant encounter, kicking myself for never having bought the pepper spray I’d promised my mom I’d get back in June. The man got to about a foot in front of me, raised his head, looked me right in the face, and said, “Well at least somebody’s beautiful this morning, and it sure ain’t me!” He laughed, and I laughed from relief, and he went on his way, wishing me a nice day. I laughed at myself the whole day, thinking how paranoid I’d been and how prejudiced it was for me to assume that a homeless guy was inevitably going to harass me. The thing this made me realize, though, is that my prejudice was borne of a larger fear. The silence around street harassment DOES contribute to prejudice, and it contributes, too, to an overall feeling of worry, shame, and fear that had me walking to work in a paranoid state. And though the man did comment on my appearance, I was GRATEFUL for it because I had been so sure that what was coming would be explicit or a threat.
Looking back on this time now, I realize I was deeply misinformed and unsure in regard to street harassment. I am moving back to New York in a couple of months, and thanks in part to Hollaback, I am doing so with more confidence and feelings of empowerment than I otherwise may have. Had I known about this site three years ago, that summer could have been more golden than it was.
I’m only fifteen but these kinds of things happen to me and my friends all the time, from older men and from boys our age. Last summer I remember walking to the beach with my friend, we were both wearing shorts and t-shirt and bikini’s, and a car full of boys, at least in their twenties were screaming at us as they drove past, and they drove past more than once. I mean, we should be allowed to wear summer clothes without feeling we’re asking for it! We don’t get a lot of nice weather here so when we do, we should feel alright to wear whatever we want without people harrassing us.
Another night, we were standing outside a video stop when a car pulled into the parking lot, rolled down it’s windows and started shouting at us. We got quite scared and went back inside the shop but they drove right up outside it and it looked like they were waiting for us to come out. Luckily, my friends mom came to pick us up in time.
And more recently, I was at a teen disco when a group of boys came up behind me and smacked my ass. It was not only painful and embarrassing, but they then kept asking me to get off with one of them. I tried to give them a piece of my mind but they just seemed to think it was funny.
The thing I find worst about the harrassment is that young boys, my age do it too so that’s means it’s getting passed on to new generations. I think they should teach more respect in schools, so that men can be more respectful in the future and that girls can learn to respect themselves and stand up for themselves.
Bringing to two the number of advertisers who have agreed to pull funding from Argentina’s El Guardian, Fiat issued this Facebook post in response to campaign pressure:
“…we would like to make it clear that Fiat and all of its employees in any parts of the world condemn any form of violence – be it against women, children, ethnic or religious minorities, including any attitude inciting violence, as also set out in the “Pacto Global Compact”, of which Fiat is one of the signatories in Argentina. We are carefully evaluating the situation and we will keep you informed through our usual communication and conversation channels. In any case Fiat advertising campaign on El Guardian already terminated on April 7.”
El Guardian maintains innocence of wrongdoing and has refused to terminate its relationship with the journalist in question.
Rape-desirist Juan Terranova’s hateful writings have just cost his publisher, Argentina’s El Guardian magazine, major advertising dollars from Lacoste:
“Lacoste disassociates itself from the El Guardian journalist’s statements and more generally from any statement offensive to women and men. As we have already indicated, these statements go against our values.
We further confirm that we do not have any future advertising plan with this magazine.”
FIAT has not yet responded. Keep the pressure on:
In response to consumers’ outraged posts on Lacoste’s Facebook page regarding the brand’s association with a magazine that works with would-be rapists, they issued this statement:
Thank you for sharing your comments with us on this matter. Please be aware that the petition being circulated by Change.org wrongly associates the Lacoste brand and the offensive ideas expressed by a journalist in the Argentinian El Guardian Magazine. These ideas are contrary to the values of our brand. Lacoste has no advertising plan with this magazine.
But don’t be fooled, folks. The statement’s tricky language gives the impression us crazy non-rapists are wrong but does not explicitly say that they have never advertised in the publication. We’ll take “Lacoste has no advertising plan with this magazine” as a good sign they may not for very much longer.
We’re waiting for our Buenos Aires bureau chief to send over incriminating visual evidence of their advertising in El Guardian, and we promise to publish that here as soon as we receive it.
Thank you for standing up for civil rights today and showing your support for our leaders on the ground, everyone has a right to feel safe and comfortable when they walk down the street.
UPDATE 4/8/11, 7:46am: Here is proof that Lacoste advertises with El Guardian. What idiots they are.
…and El Guardian doesn’t mind publishing stuff from a neanderthal who calls himself a journalist; that is, El Guardian publishes the hateful, B-grade writings of Juan Terranova. And Juan Terranova publishes rape threats.
Help us out. Tell Fiat and Lacoste their advertising dollars shouldn’t pay for the promotion of hateful, sexually violent scribblings, before the magazine gains any traction. Still in its infancy, El Guardian doesn’t even yet have a website. But as advertising dollars grow, so will this publication—and if they’re publishing this sort of crap now, imagine what they might publish later?
Facebook bomb FIAT and Lacoste and let them know where their advertising dollars are going, and what sorts of writings they are promoting. El Guardian might not mind doing favors for men who publish rape threats but they’ll mind when funding is cut off.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has been a key ally in our efforts to raise awareness about street harassment.
Please join the Domestic Violence Task Force on Wednesday, April 27th at 12pm at 1 Centre Street, 19th Floor South for the Manhattan culminating event for Denim Day New York.
Denim Day Manhattan will be a forum on Best Practices for University Sexual Assault Prevention, where university representatives, students and community-based organizations from across the city will come to share ideas, network and strategize about the best ways protect New York’s college students from sexual violence.
In the spirit of Denim Day, please wear jeans!!
I want to ask if you have a category for non-gender/sexuality based harassment? Because I’ve seen a lot of the same general kind of power dynamic in the verbal harassment given by some able-bodied people to people in wheelchairs, people on crutches (except if it looks obviously temporary, like a leg in a cast), people with visible challenges of cognitive function, people with speech issues.
Is there a Hollaback for those folks? Because some of those stories need to be told, too.
Thanks for your awesome question! We totally accept and welcome stories about street harassment in all its forms. While we focus on sex and gender based harassment, we know that street harassment is one of the most basic ways our culture keeps oppressed people of all kinds down, and that we are all in it together. We’re basically interested in the way power dynamics play out in all aspects of life in the public realm.
In terms of other resources that are more specifically geared toward people that are visibly physically challenged check out our friend Eva’s blog that focuses on the way people treat her as someone who’s physically disabled. It’s an amazing blog!
This story is not about being harassed, though I have experienced that to some extent.
This story is about a time when I tried to express to my peers how bad it felt to be called out or intimidated by strangers because of my appearance or maybe even just because I’m a woman. I was perhaps 15 at the time, sitting in high school drama class. As a group (mostly girls) we were having a candid discussion with our teacher about self-esteem and about how important it was as a dramatic group to support and respect each other. Towards the end of class, this turned into an open-forum discussion where people shared how they felt about their appearance and how tough it was living with impossible standards of female beauty (this was also roughly the same group of people who took the Media & Writing class and a lot of us were new, passionate feminists).
I decided I wanted to express how it felt to be yelled at in the street, called pretty/sexy/a whore, and to be propositioned by strangers. I felt so ashamed over these incidents, disgusted, convinced somehow (I assume by systematic patriarchal programming) that it was my fault and I had somehow invited the attention. I’m sure many people would agree that it does not make you feel good about your appearance or your body, even if the attention is “approving.” So the one thing I didn’t feel about these incidents was pride.
I received overwhelming dislike and disgust from most of my female classmates and immediately after class several of them lashed out at me. I can’t remember exactly what was said, but they belittled my feelings of disgust and shame and overall seemed to feel that I should take it as a compliment, that I should be happy that strange men found me appealing in this way. They felt (perhaps justifiably) that it had not been the time to tell my sob story about being “pretty” when so many of them had been struggling with feelings of being “ugly.” They were very mean about it and started a bit of a smear campaign against me.
Perhaps they were right and it wasn’t the best time to tell my story. But what they missed completely was that it made me feel BAD about myself. This incident kind of perverted my view on street harassment for a long time, and for several years afterwards I tried to be pleased over the dirty little comments. When my drunken neighbours would hang out on the front steps of their building all day and yell things at me as I passed, I would try to smile (though most of the time it was more like a grimace). Looking back, I am now ashamed over the fact that I tried to enjoy the attention!
I’m not sure why I felt the need to post this here, but to this day it is the experience regarding street harassment that still hurts the most. I wonder if anyone else has experienced something similar? Did you fall for it like I did?
To the girls out there who may be inclined to smile or accept catcalls as a compliment – it’s not. It’s disrespectful and degrading. It gives them the encouragement they want or need to continue harassing people. I, for one, will never miss another opportunity to hollaback.