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Right now I am sitting on my bedroom floor, because I’m scared—I don’t have to stamina to go outside today. I don’t want to hear another “hey sexy” or “look at me gorgeous” again. I have only lived in New York City for a few months now, and have come to hate going outside alone. Don’t get me wrong I love New York City, but the catcalling, within it, makes me feel terrified. I am not a NYC native, like some of my friends who, having grown up with catcalls can simply call the verbal harassment “harmless.” But from my personal history, and the histories of some of my closest friends and family, I am terrified of what men have done and can still do to me—not to mention influences from media.
Still before this summer, I used to reply to a casual “hey how are you pretty lady?”. I was polite and if someone said “hello” or “good morning,” I replied. But then in recent months (living in an urban area for the first time), not only were some more sexual comments were directed my way, but the frequency of verbal harassment in general was more that I could ever have imagined. I am harassed like clock work, everyday within 5 to 10 minutes of leaving my building, I’m either greeted by verbal harassment or a honking taxi (I know they honk at me because when they drive by their windows are rolled down and they have their heads turned, undoubtedly staring me down).
As most would expect, in my experience, street harassment almost exclusively directed at me when I’m alone. However on occasion I have even been catcalled when I have been with a close guy friend. Perpetrators assuming we were together, gave my friend loud verbal props for “landing one of the finest little things,” on one occasion. My friend has yet to call attention to it when we walk together, although I bring it up a while after. I don’t know if I wish he would or not. I just know I’m honestly glad to be walking with him rather than alone—it’s much worse alone; they would be much more frequent, potentially more vulgar and less nice, and not to mention it’s always scarier alone. When I am by myself, I’m worried if my reaction to the harassment will set the perpetrator off. If I smile will he continue? If I ignore him will he keep going or worse get mad? I never replay negatively because I am too afraid of what the response might be. Often things don’t escalate, but I know it can, and has happened.
Catcalling or verbal harassment isn’t just a nuisance to a peaceful walk down your city block. For me is has become a rampant bombardment of images strangers threaten to do to my body, without the slightest thought or concern for the integrity or the wants of the person inside it. “Oh you’re a pretty girl, you’re a special one. Oh the things I would do to have you. I’d buy you everything you wanted, so I could have you,” was called loudly at me in broad daylight as I carried my groceries home, on a crowed sidewalk, and everyone and their lives went on, but imprinted in my mind was the image of me being trapped as his sexual servant just because he gave me expensive things –a cultural precedent then needs to be forgotten.
Additionally even the more quiet executions of street harassment can even be scarier. At least if things are yelled loudly on the street, sure if they yell descriptive words about how you look in that outfit (eg. “hey you looking fine! You got you’re hair down and everything. Yes you! Damn those shorts make your legs look nice too!” (Was yelled at me from across a street at 9:30 am. Also a “Public Safety” cruiser was standing right next to him.)) you might be self conscious and slightly pissed, especially if you’re still needing more coffee. But the more scarier instances of harassment this summer were much more silent, as men say things to me under their breath as they pass me on a sidewalk. Although those quieter slurs are much more brief, as I’m thankfully a fast walker, even a simple “hey sexy” said in a suggestive voice and facial expression, feels very violating. It gives me the chills knowing that absolutely no one but the two of use heard what he might have said.
All the examples above are not accumulated from a lifetime of street harassment, but they all occurred within the summer of 2014, and all of it accumulated and when mixed with my past, street harassment has become psychologically damaging to me. I feel conditioned to expect the worst from male strangers—like I said I used to reply with a smile and “good morning” to a “good morning pretty.”
Two friends and I were walking in town at around midnight going to a bar when two older men started speaking loudly about us. They were walking towards us saying “which one do you think is the hottest?” ect.. One of my friends said excuse me and I don’t remember what exactly was said but one of the men and I ended up telling each other off at which point he took a run at me and raised his fist.
I asked if he was really going to hit a girl when he was about a foot from me in a fighting stance and he spat at me and walked off. I was livid. The worst part about it is that we kept walking and saw some cops whom we told, they acted like they were going to do something but we saw them 5 minutes later walking the opposite direction so they clearly didn’t.
I walk from work to Green Square Station of the afternoon, around midday. It’s a 20 minute walk in which I always experience some form of street harassment – whistling, horn honking, and catcalling both from cars and from men on the street.
Today I was at a set of lights waiting to cross. A car with two males drove around the corner from behind me. The passenger yelled something out his window before splashing some type of liquid on my face.
I just want to be able to get home in peace!
I was walking down the street, holding hands with my Dad. A driver in a passing car evidently mistook us for a couple, and shouted at my Dad “Hey mister, nice bird”. What really annoyed me was that he was complimenting my Dad on having a nice possession, in the same way one may say “Hey mister, nice car/ jeans/ dog”. He shouted this as he drove away, leaving us standing dumbfounded with no means of retaliation.
I was working one Friday night until close. Throughout my 5 hour shift, 4 men had stopped at my desk to talk to me. After a certain point (usually after 45 minutes of them standing there) I would kindly say that I needed to get back to work and EVERY SINGLE ONE stayed and kept talking to me. The conversations turned into asking when I would be off work, where I was from, and if they could have my phone number. After I explained to one that I had a boyfriend, he replied that he didn’t want to be my boyfriend… He was just “trying to get it in.” It is not right that I went to bed that night with fears that one of those men followed me home. Women should not be scared to go to work because MUCH older men don’t know how to keep it in their pants.
I was crossing the street at 10pm on my way home when two guys stopped at the stop sign said, “Hey baby, why don’t you put a smile on that pretty face!” I yelled, “Don’t ever tell me what to do!” Over and over and they drove away yelling, “Relax!”
We shouldn’t have to live in fear of going for a simple walk or jog, but many people do. A walk can quickly turn into being sexually harassed ten times in all of twenty minutes. This harassment would not be acceptable if it was done within the walls of a classroom, or a place of business. But for some reason, many people consider it acceptable when it is done from a car or on the street. The victim, always a stranger. Always someone minding their own business. Always a person who simply wants to get their morning exercise done, or reach their destination to buy lunch for themselves. And when they try to recount their experience, they are often told to suck it up, or that it was probably just what they were wearing. Or – perhaps worst of all – that they should take it as a ‘compliment’.
The first time I experienced street harassment, I was only twelve years old. Think about that for a moment. Twelve. Years. Old. I was not yet old enough to understand that I was more developed than most of my other twelve year old friends. I seldom wear skirts now, because I identify as transgender. Back then, I tried to deny my identity and I tried as hard as I could to be normal. To ‘fit in’. I borrowed a mini skirt from my friend who was less curvy than me, and I wore it. I wore it with the matching top. I was more filled out, too, but I never noticed. I didn’t notice until adult men – read that again. Adult. Men. Slowed down long enough to call me a slut. I was twelve. I did not even know what the word meant, but I quickly found out. One would think my refusal to wear skirts has to do with my gender identity, but it actually has more to do with that day.
That was only the beginning of many years of street harassment. I wish I could say it has gotten better, but it has only gotten worse. Within the past year, I have taken up exercising. I want to be healthier. So, I walk daily. Sometimes, for an hour a day. Sometimes, more. It all depends on how busy or not busy my day is. Living where I do, it is hard to avoid walking on the main streets. I am literally harassed – on average – three to five times a day. There are some days where that number is easily ten, depending on how busy traffic is. The harassment ranges from honking (which is mostly just an annoyance – I startle very easily and do not appreciate being ‘honked’ at), to having kisses blown at me (degrading and rude), to having words shouted at me (which I can never hear regardless), to downright obvious harassment (such as being offered a ride by a creepy man at LEAST thirty years my senior [I am only 23, and I am often told I look even younger], to being asked ‘Yo, girl, how old are you?’, to being questioned about my sexuality, and on the worst days even rape threats when I ignore my harasser). I used to just keep walking, and take it in stride.
I realized that doing so just gives them permission to keep doing it. I realized that if I didn’t stand up for myself, I was teaching these men (and occasionally women, too) that it was okay to harass me. That calling me sexy, whore, or making humping gestures at me is ‘okay’. But when I was walking home from college, and a group of at least six men were following me, asking me how old I was… I realized that it is NOT okay. It was terrifying to me. It is annoying, and it makes exercising hard. So, I have started to take a stand. When a friend honked at a pretty woman, I asked him why. He explained that he thought it would make her feel good. When I explained that, often, the only thing it does is scare us or annoy us… he was honestly surprised. Education is imperative. As many of these people don’t really mean harm. Then again, there are many more that do. And when we experience harassment daily, we can never tell the difference.
The other day, I was walking home from the Kangaroo after just filling my Roo cup, and an older man in a white truck honked at me. I ignored him. But when I crossed the highway, I caught him from the corner of my eye turning around to chase me down. This happens a lot, and is downright terrifying. So, I assessed my situation. I had two paths I could take. One down the business area, where there were bound to be people around. One down a hill, with a forest on one side and houses on the other. I took the safer route, the business area. He honked again, stopping. And this time, I stood up for myself. I pulled my cell out, a way of letting him know I wasn’t afraid to call for help if I needed to and I firmly told him to leave me alone. When he drove away, and I kept walking I felt a surge of fear, but this time it was coupled with a surge of pride. We don’t have to put up with street harassment. But as long as people behave as though it is acceptable, people will believe it is.
Also, I am transgender. I wear traditionally men’s clothes most of the time (and only wear women’s clothes maybe once a month). So I dare anyone to tell me ‘It’s probably because of how you dress.’ I dare them.
I worked retail in the inner harbor most of this past year and there was a man that came into the store just about every day. He was well dressed and always accompanied by the same taller man every time. When asked if he was local or just visiting while being cashed out, he refused to say. They bought women’s lingerie very often but sometimes just came in, walked around, and didn’t buy anything.
One day I was over in women’s activewear fixing a display and he came up behind me without his bodyguard guy and started hitting on me, asking for my phone number, asking for my weekly schedule and when I got off. He asked me to call him, and when I refused, he told me he would wait outside for me if I changed my mind.
I reported it to the store’s security but they can’t do anything unless he actually does something and there is no protection for me once I leave the store. He came back to the store frequently after this first incident and would ask other employees if I was there.
I became afraid to go to work, afraid to ride my bike home after work, and concerned that he would find me. To me, it sounded like he was running some sort of sex trade or prostitution ring and that was terrifying that a man could harass me at work and make me afraid for my life.
For a 15 yr old going to the mall is fun – but as I walked from my car to the entrance I noticed a white car following me, an older man said to me “hey sweetheart, you look like a girl I used to date. You’re gorgeous, what’s your name?” Alone and afraid all I said was “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers” he chuckled at me and followed me until I ran into the mall crying. I also reported it to mall security. 8 yrs later I still won’t go to that mall alone and am overly cautious in all parking lots!
Walking to UNM’s main campus down Yale, a man walked up to me, looked me straight up and down and said, “Damn girl, where you from?” all while trying to get close to me.
I avoided him, and walked past without saying a word, and at least was able to keep my head high. It was 10:00 am. On a busy street. With numerous onlookers.