Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Columbia MO, Des Moines, Durham & Chapel Hill, Fredericksburgh VA, Houston, Los Angeles, Muncie IN, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Richmond VA, San Francisco, Tucson, Twin Cities
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
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
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
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
I was on the L red line train when a disheveled looking man sat down across from me. I could feel him staring at me, but I didn’t want to look up and make eye contact so I kept my eyes on my newspaper. He held up a dirty, folded piece of paper and tried to hand it to me but I wouldn’t take it, so he opened it and shoved it in my face. I still didn’t look up at him, but I could see that it said, “I’m lonely and I need some loving. Will you join me in a group sex orgy?” I didn’t know what to do, so I shook my head very fast and still didn’t want to look at him. I moved to another seat, then got off at the next stop and waited for the next train.
Submitted by Heather
My story may technically fall under “domestic violence” but I think once you air your dirty laundry in public it deserves come under censure.
I was walking through my boyfriend’s apartment complex, headed towards his unit when I heard angry screaming echoing through the parking lot. I stopped walking, wondering if I could make out what was going on and didn’t have to look far before I noticed a girl sitting behind the wheel of a parked car, sobbing her eyes out. All the yelling was coming from her passenger seat. I was immediately concerned even though I didn’t know what was going on, but it looked and sounded like she was getting verbally attacked. So I head back to my car, hoping to buy some time and see if I needed to call authorities. Some scary guy is walking in and out of her car, screaming insults at her, making a scene, and even brought his room mate out to the car so he could justify whatever tirade he was on about (She had called him a liar or something? I would have called him unstable).
It’s only been 30 seconds or so, but I’ve already decided to call security when I see him grab her face, yelling “Look at me! Look at me, bitch!” I was so angry by this point I stomped over and started yelling HEY to get his attention off of her. It worked, probably a little too well. Luckily we were on opposite sides of the car but that didn’t stop him from trying to scare me too. Calling me names, and saying how this was none of my business. I said none of that mattered and “You DON’T. TOUCH. HER.” and that I’d be calling someone to the scene. Now that I look back, he responded in probably the most ridiculous way possible, “Go ahead and call the cops. I don’t give a fuck! I’ve BEEN in prison before!” If I hadn’t been so mad I might have laughed in his face. I gave him a pointed look, flipped open my phone in the bitchiest way possible, and stomped away to grab the number for security.
When I met the guards a minute later the couple was gone. Luckily, since I’d seen the Screamer pull his friend outside I knew which apartment they lived in. The guards confronted the guys but I saw no sign of the girl. I’m still worried about her and I only hope that by sticking up for her, maybe she’ll learn that no one deserves to be treated like that.
Submitted by Katherine
So when I was thirteen years old I lived in a terraced house set back from the road where my bus ran to my high school. At this time, they were building a small housing estate at the end of the road and I had to walk past the construction workers to go pretty much anywhere. The construction went on for forever; I’m pretty sure that they were building until I was about fifteen.
Now construction workers, like white van men, have a general reputation for cat calls and leering, and I developed pretty early, meaning that in the summer, when I walked past them in a tank top and a pair of shorts, a small chorus of wolf whistles and cat calling erupted from the site. Oh shit, I thought, is this going to happen all the time?
It happened more than once, which was bad enough. What was even worse is that they knew I was underage. Maybe they didn’t know exactly how young I was, but I’d walked past in my school uniform, they didn’t have an excuse. I told my mother about it eventually and she stormed down to give the foreman a piece of her mind, to which they responded like a bunch of naughty schoolboys: “Oh no miss, it couldn’t have been us, we’ve been down the other end all week.”
Bollocks, said my mother, you’ve been harassing my thirteen year-old daughter and I won’t stand for it.
The cat-calls stopped after that. I don’t know if it was the discovery that I wasn’t as old as I looked or the fact that my mother is a fierce bitch, but thankfully, it stopped.
Submitted by Milena
I had only recently moved to London from Nova Scotia, Canada, and had even more recently moved out of my cousin’s house in South London and into my own flat in North London. I spent the first few days exploring the area between Turnpike Lane and Seven Sisters stations, as you do in any new area I guess, looking at the shops and grocery stores, etc.
After being in the area for maybe two weeks tops, I was walking to Turnpike Lane station when a guy stepped out of a door stoop by one of the shops on West Green Road and blocked my way. I paused because he was in my way, and he tried to start a conversation about my Remembrance Day poppy. I tried to be polite and move along as I was late, but he was insistent that I *had* to have a conversation with him, and refused to stop blocking my path. Things quickly turned creepy. “I’ve seen you around,” he said, “I know you live in this area. You definitely live nearby. Give me your number, we’ll go clubbing. You’re pretty, you have to.” I had never seen this guy before in my life, and was severely creeped out by the fact that he had obviously been watching me, trying to figure out my routine. I pretended that I didn’t have a cell phone, but he made me write down his number before he’d stop blocking my path and let me continue on my way. No touching, and no verbal abuse, but still terrifying because of his insistence that I owed him something [my number, my time] since he had spent so much time watching me. I pretty much exclusively use Seven Sisters station now.
Submitted by Jade