I am a surgical resident (physician-in-training). On one of the first days our NY hospital re-opened after Sandy, I walked into a perioperative area to interview a patient at 630am. I wore scrubs (not the tailored attire of Grey’s Anatomy, but the burlap-bag, unflattering uniform of hospital employees). A group of 6 middle aged men, contractors in hardhats, passed by, and the one in front says, “nice can, doc.”
I was walk to work (in loose slacks and a puffy coat mind you) when a man sitting at a bus stop reached out and grabbed my butt. I was terrified he was going to do something worse, but I still turned around and told him off. When I walked away he screamed that I was a “frigid bitch”
This Friday afternoon whilst trying to cross the road outside my street, a white van slowed down and stopped in the middle of the road in front of me to whistled at me and shouted slurs like ‘sexy’ and ‘hello love’. When I responded with a grimace because I felt offended by these slurs, I was cursed at by them, calling me ‘pussy’ and a ‘bitch’. I felt embarrassed, unsafe and vunerable, and this is the road where I live.
“Hold my dick” he says, standing across the street with the two other guys that just left the taxi van with him. The other jokes “What?” To which the first guy says, “No, not you,” nodding in my direction. As they start to cross the street, the other one says “Damn girl.”
I am prepared to destroy them all.
I’ve had a number of encounters with harassers, which I distinguish from men who just say “hi”, smile, wave or just move on. The first truly terrifying encounter I had was when I was in my twenties and living in a small Northern California town in the Sierra foothills.
Two of my closest girlfriends and I were walking down Mill Street on our way to some ice cream. It was high summer and we were dressed in cutoff jeans and sleeveless shirts. We heard the roar of a car engine, honking, and shouts and looked up to see a trio of young, shirtless men in a convertible with the top down coming up the street toward us, shouting, waving their arms and pointing at us.
“Three!” they yelled, pointing at themselves. “Three!” they repeated, pointing at us. While impressed that they could count so high, we shook our heads in unison and kept walking.
“Wanna go to the river?” they persisted. “We’ve got beers!”
“No thanks!” one of my girlfriends called. “We don’t drink!”
We kept moving and figured they would too. But no. The driver spotted a parking place up the block and his companions shouted, “Stay there! Stay there!” “Come to the river!”
We assured them we did not want to go to the river—shaking our heads and making emphatic gestures that were lost on them. (Maybe they thought we were signaling “no catch”—which was essentially correct, but in the wrong context).
We didn’t stay there, of course. We walked faster and ducked into a clothing store at mid-block. Behind us, the car pulled to the curb with a squeal of tires.
My last glimpse of the guys before I slipped into the shop was of all three jumping out of the car. We scurried to the rear of the store and tried to disappear behind the clothing racks. The guys loped by the front of the shop asking each other “Where did they go? Did they go in there?” They went up the street a few stores, then turned and came back, this time slowing to peer through the window.
My friends and I scooted into a changing room and pulled the curtain closed.
So eager were these guys for our company that they came into the store and asked the clerk if she’d seen three girls come in or walk by. She had seen us, but she shook her head no. “Sorry,” she said.
The guys wandered off at last and we emerged from the changing room only when we had heard their car engine rumble out of earshot.
Several summers later, the same friends and I were at the river for a girls’ day out, lying in the sun at a secluded pool. As we chatted drowsily, we heard a shout from the trail about twenty feet above us.
“Look!” cried a man’s voice. “Bitches! There’s bitches!” I looked up to see several young men in cutoff jeans looking along the trail for a way to get down to our beach.
We didn’t hesitate. We grabbed our shirts and shoes, dove into the river and swam to the opposite side. By the time the bitch hunters had reached the sands, we’d hidden ourselves in the rocks on the opposite bank.
“What do we do if they come after us?” one of my girlfriends asked. There was only one answer we could come up with; each of us picked up a rock.
We were lucky—they didn’t come after us. They didn’t know the river as we did because they were from out of town. I know this because one of them said, in disgust, “We oughta go back to Oakland if it’s gonna be like this.”
Years have passed. Not that long ago, my husband and I were waiting at a Southwest airlines gate for a flight when a group of about four college-aged men in shorts, tank tops and sneakers rambled into the waiting area. When they plopped into seats near where I and my husband and I were standing, all the hair on my body stood on end and I wanted to bolt and run. I was seized with a bizarre, visceral, completely unexpected fight or flight reaction to their presence.
I did not connect this to the first two incidents until I began to write my story down. But they are connected. I am afraid of groups of young, white men to this day.
As an afterthought, it occurs to me to wonder why any man would think a woman would find him attractive when the first thing he says to her or about her is “Look! Bitches!”
Today started out like any other day. I left the house with my coffee, my laptop and my dignity. I walked down 10th Street, enjoying the sights and sounds of the early morning rush, never imagining that I would have to experience verbal rape at the end of the next block.
He was there, seemingly waiting just for me. His eyes tracked my every move, roving up and down my body as I neared the intersection. I had held my head high as I walked, but then I saw only the dirty concrete below my feet as I tried to avoid his lascivious gaze. The words came next, unwanted but heard.
“I’d f*** that. Mmm. Yeah, I’d tear that p**sy up! Every. Damn. Day. That ass.”
How was I supposed to respond to such disrespect? I wanted to say something, but I was afraid I would OFFEND HIM. But, I had an ace up my…well, sleeve.
My body chose that exact moment to rebel against me (although in hindsight, I now understand my body was only trying to protect me). I farted. Not silently. Not delicately. I knew it was me, and he knew it was not him. The sexual sneer on his face transitioned to disgust so quickly that he staggered backwards in shock. The illusion was shattered. I was no longer some beautiful, exotic creature at which he could shout crude, sexual remarks. I was flesh, I was blood, I was…flatulence. I was just like him. Human.
I do not know if it was a nervous reaction or the overly large bowl of black eyed peas I had eaten the night before, but I know it is unrealistic to think women can sustain the act of farting on every would-be offender. But maybe there is something there…
So here I am, a woman adrift in a world full of perverts – a fart fractured fantasy.
I was alone in a grocery store aisle. A young man passed me and stood at the end, saying something on repeat. I thought he was talking to someone I couldn’t see. Turns out, he was saying “You gotta man?” Over his shoulder. I told him that’s not his business. He said, “Oh. You fine.” He passed back behind he and squeezed my ass. I said “THAT IS NOT APPROPRIATE! ” and he was like “Oh. You gotta fat ass tho.” And ran out of the store. I was wearing loose jeans and boxy sweater, no makeup.
Running Encounters in Beechview – Part II
Saturday morning I decided to do a run in my neighborhood – Beechview. I left the house around 7am. Heading South on Broadway Avenue, a man (I would guess him in his 60s) gets off the “T” and is walking toward me. As I approach, he asks “How’s that concrete treat your knees?” I respond “they are fine.” As I pass, he turns and begins running with me, asking “Do you mind if I run with you a little while?” I look him up and down (he’s in street clothes, but is wearing some sort of New Balance type shoe) and slightly baffled say “Are you kidding me?” No, he says. “I’d rather you didn’t. This is my time.” Oh, okay, he says I will just follow you for a while. Then I hear his voice trailing off – have a nice day… As I’m heading North by the No. 28 Fire Station, I see a guy walking on the sidewalk and I move over into the street, as we pass, he says to me “Keep on runnin’, little girl.” “Why do you think it’s okay to say that to me?” I ask. “uhh, I was just trying to be encouraging” “It’s not okay”, I respond. I’ve continued running so I hear some unintelligible yelling and then very loudly “F*** YOU! F*** YOU!
So, in case you don’t understand what is wrong with this – a good rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t say it to a male, don’t say it to a female (ESPECIALLY ONE YOU DON’T KNOW). I highly doubt either of those encounters would have happened if I was male.
I was only baffled by the old guy – Sir, I don’t know you, you are in street clothes and I’m trying to exercise. This isn’t social hour. A good morning is appropriate, but keep moving. The other guy, I would guess at 30s – 40s. What you said, could be interpreted as menacing – Keep on Running – like if you don’t I”m going to get you AND calling me a little girl is wrong on every conceivable level. Calling a grown woman whether you know her or not a little girl is sexist and demeaning. My husband was mortified that I spoke up to this second guy, but my argument is if we don’t speak up, how will anyone get the message? I can’t keep my head down and pretend like I didn’t hear it and I’m not going to fake smile at the guy awkwardly like “aw gee thanks”.
I used to live in South London, I have moved out of this area now because of the amount of street harassment I used to get. I would get it at least three times a day. It varied from men staring, to wolf whistling, to walking along side me, making rude and inappropriate comments. I have received comments such as ‘c*m on my face you f***ing slut’. I have never known these men and the ages always very from about 18-40. I have been ‘stroked’ when walking past and one man went to grope in between my legs while looking me directly in the eye; luckily I saw it coming and managed to dodge a little and he grabbed my thigh instead. It makes me so angry when it happens but, I never know what to do. I have to bite my tongue as I want to say something to them but, realistically I’m too scared. It’s not worth it, I don’t know who they are or what they might do – and this is the most upsetting thing.
Walking back to the train in a group of three from hanging out with some friends, and some guy on my left says “so beautiful” so I make a disgusted noise and continue my conversation with my friends. He says “nice ass” and makes a grab for my butt, so I spin and scoot almost out of his reach so he just grazes my ass. I keep walking and he shouts a string of insults at me, including “bitch” 3 or 4 times. My friends don’t say anything, and keep talking. It completely ruined a night of laughter and de-stressing that I badly needed. Now I just feel ashamed that I didn’t knock him out, didn’t escalate the situation or do any of the things I always think I’ll do, and I don’t feel great about my friends I spent the night with either.