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My neighborhood in Astoria is quiet, mostly. It’s safe, mostly. And for the most part its residents have never given me any kind of trouble.
One day I was walking home from my friend’s apartment along 31st street. It was summer so I was wearing cut-off jean shorts and a tank. I know that my outfit had nothing to do with it, but for a while I stopped wearing tank tops in public thinking this was the cause.
It was the middle of the day so the street was almost empty except for a largish (5+) group of young teens sitting outside an apartment building. Now, I try not to profile, but in my experience groups of teenage boys are trouble, and I am usually right. I put on my sunglasses and walked past them, avoiding eye contact.
Well, to my surprise I made it past them without any trouble when I heard that sound that will make the hairs on most women’s arms stand on end. The kissy noise. What happened next you could say was my fault, I should have kept walking, but I had had it. Here was a group of kids almost half my age with the nerve to make that awful sound at me. So I turned around and said, “are you f*cking serious? How old are you?” To which the larger of the group said “Old enough to f*ck you like a grown man”. At this point one of his friends says, “Girl I am gonna f*ck you with some chopsticks”. I’m half-Chinese, and was appalled that this brat had added racism onto the growing pile of sexual harassment. Various other insults followed, “skinny b*tch”, “dumb c*nt”, etc. I always wonder why, if I’m such a dumb etc., etc. why they tried to “holla at” me in the first place…
There were over five of them, and just one of me, so I decided to walk away. I called the police and told them a group of young men had verbally assaulted me and threatened me with sexual abuse. The officer offered his condolences but told me that since they had not physically assaulted me there was nothing he could do. While I agree that the police probably do not have the resources to investigate every instance of harassment, it made me feel alone, weak, and even slutty. I felt that because I was wearing a thin tank top I had somehow brought this onto myself.
When did it become okay for young boys to talk to older women this way? To threaten them in their own neighborhoods with this kind of sexualized, and sometimes racialized, violence? I was so disgusted, so horrified. And honestly to this day I have not walked down that street again.
Submitted by Jen
So here I am, a 17 year old girl, black (it matters) in her school uniform, just going to the mall to get some stuff, and I hear it.
“Hey-o, pretty girl, lemme holla! Why the long face? I got some stuff to make you smile!”
I was actually about to spin around and tell him to pop off, but when I looked at him, I saw he ran one of the vendors selling lotions in the hallways of the mall.
Why is it cool to act this way towards me? I watched this guy ask other women “Hey, miss, would you like to buy some lotions?” But as soon as a black girl walks by you switch up your game? And you don’t even care that she’s obviously underage? FUCK YOU AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON.
I just wanted to the MAC counter and get out, so I gave him the dirtiest look that I save especially for scumbags like him and kept walking.
Submitted by Mariel
I was in 8th grade and walking home from school. I didn’t live more than three or four short blocks from my school, I was on a street I’d walked for years, and it was the middle of the afternoon. I suddenly felt like there was someone staring at me. When I turned I saw a man, probably old enough to be my father, cruising slowly next to me and leaning out his car window. As soon as I looked at him he said in this slow, skeezy voice, “My oh my.” I pretty much ran home.
I’ve always felt really confused about the whole thing. I was immensely creeped out, but a part of me was kind of flattered by it, and because of that I was ashamed of myself.
I still don’t know how to handle catcallers. I have a nice body that I feel good about and I like to dress up in clothes that often attract attention, so if I’m called at and I tell a friend about it they get a look on their face like I had it coming. I shouldn’t have to feel guilty or ashamed about wanting to look nice, and I certainly don’t dress up for the creeps of the world.
Submitted by Jax
While riding the A train home and reading my book, I notice the guy sitting across from me looking at me. I am so tired and am very close to telling him to stop looking at me, but I don’t. As my stop approaches, I start getting up and he leans over and says: “Sweetie, I study heritage. What heritage are you?” I stand up, look at him, and say: “What makes you think you can call me ‘sweetie’?” He replies with “It’s a polite thing to say,” to which I reply, “I’m not your sweetie.” Then he says “You’ve got a bad attitude.” I tell him “Fuck you” (I know that isn’t the most constructive response), and he tells me “fuck you” right back. Lovely way to end the day.
Submitted by Diane
We’re 18 years old. It’s our first college break and my friend’s mother sent us to get some pumpkins from a church fair. We’re laughing and I’m making fun of my friend who in the few short months she’s been in Montreal has already adapted an accent.
We’re at a light, laughing hysterically. A fifty something year old man in a middle age crisis sports car at the red light rolls down his window. My heart sinks and I clench my hands. I know what’s coming next. The man yells “Hey baby, lose some weight and shake that ass!” when the light turns green and he speeds off.
“Dickface!” I yell, my face flaming. My friend also yells at the man, cursing him out.
I doubt he heard us. I doubt he cares.
Submitted by Emma
In middle school I used to walk home by myself. Normally this was a complete non-issue, and I wasn’t nervous about it for the longest time. Then one day when I was 12 a red pickup truck full of grown men slowed as they passed, and wolf whistled at me. Shocked and a little disturbed, I froze as they passed, but then regained control of myself and flipped them the finger as I continued walking. Not even a teenager yet, I was already starting to ‘develop’ in a noticeable way and probably looked about 15. However, that is not an excuse. It is just as inappropriate to leer in such a degrading manner at women of ANY age, and it is something I have continued to face throughout my life. Men have continued to leer at me in public (and private!) places, and I am very nervous to go anywhere alone except in the very brightest daylight. It sometimes makes me wish I could trade in my body for something less noticeable, simply to escape the stares and catcalls. I am not even particularly good looking, and I DO NOT dress in a provocative manner. In fact I typically wear jeans a zippered sweatshirt everywhere I go. I feel angry and violated when strangers feel like it is their right to comment on my body in such a disrespectful way, but no catcall has ever been worse than that first time. There is no reason for children to need to be afraid just because they were born female.
Submitted by Jade
I was leaving Cosi when a young man (probably in his mid 20s) approached me. He said, “nice pussy” and reached out to grab mine. I simply blocked his hand and stared him down until he broke eye contact. I continued on my way, and looked back to see that he was still standing there. I guess he didn’t get the reaction he anticipated.
I didn’t speak to him, but if I could, here’s what I would say:
“Damn right, I have a nice pussy. But you will never get anywhere near it.”
Submitted by Kate
I was riding the train with my then-partner on the way to see a movie in town, when this happened. As we boarded the train, a conductor went up to these four kids, and warned them for disruptive behaviour. My partner and I took seats near them (which looking back seems like the first mistake) and settled for the short journey. We were sitting talking, and randomly poking each other, which is usual for us, and the four kids continued shouting and messing around.
One of the girls sat behind us and asked my partner for some gum. She said she didn’t have any, though the girl remained where she sat. She then asked if we were together. My partner and I, having nothing to hide or be ashamed of, replied that we were. The one boy in the group asked if we were in love, and my partner replied the affirmative.
It descended from there. The boy joined the girl behind us and kept asking for us to kiss for him. He kept pushing, and nearly begging for us to. My partner replied no, first jokingly, and then she eventually snapped “If you want to see two girls kissing, watch porn!”.
He whined that he had seen porn and he wanted to see it in real life – I continued to remain silent. The coach we were in was not nearly empty, and I was somewhat horrified that no one had thought to do anything but look away awkwardly. Thankfully, the next stop was ours. We stood, and I followed my partner to the door. The group followed us, and as we were waiting, they kept pushing on each other, and therefore me. Once the doors opened, a lot of people got out, while this group practically pushed me off the train. My partner took my hand and while I set off at a fast pace to get away, she slowed me down.
The boy continued to follow us, and kept on with his incessant begging. My partner and I ignored him, and spoke only to each other, until he peeled off to join the girls of his group. We were left alone after that.
I am ashamed that I didn’t speak up, and that my partner was the one to deal with this harassment. I remember this incident clearly, and feel scared by it, but it was almost laughable how this boy was clearly obsessed about seeing us kiss.
Get it through your heads – we do not exist for your amusement. We are not objects to stare at, or to entertain yourself with. We are humans, with hearts and souls and feelings, and I will not be dehumanised by your fetishisms. I refuse.
Submitted by Emma
I was cycling along on the road beside Hyde Park, just before a junction and going down a really steep hill. A man in a car had pulled into a side road to do a U-turn, and while he was doing it I drew alongside on my bike, so at the point he was ready to leave return to the main road I was in the way. For, ooh, at least 10 whole seconds. I mention this because it is the only motivation I can see for his behaviour. I raised my hand to indicate my thanks for him not pulling straight out and flattening me, only to be greeted with “Hey I can see your knickers love!”
Had I not been travelling too fast and, you know, a bit put out by this I would have liked to say, “Oh can you indeed. If that is so then I suggest you look the other way, because there is literally nothing I can do about it right now, unless you would like me to cause a multi-car pile up trying to pull my skirt down as I negotiate traffic and a hill – which would in all probability involve your car and at the very least delay your journey more than the fraction of a minute I already have.”
Instead I shouted “thanks a lot you prick” and felt humiliated, flustered, self-conscious and confused. Which is how you want someone to feel ON A MOVING BIKE. IN TRAFFIC. ON A HILL. I mean, do you WANT to cause an accident?
And although he shouted it, it was in a sort of cheerful tone of voice, as though either he was pleased about it or was offering some sort of friendly heads-up. I just don’y understand.
Submitted by Het
I am 17-year-old girl living in the Midwestern United States. I was out walking my dog at dusk on January 2; my family lives in a pretty friendly neighborhood and my sisters and I have always felt comfortable with hanging out after dark around our area. As I was coming back from my hour-long walk, I registered that my dog was starting to bristle about a car that was cruising along very slowly behind us. It was now very dark and I began to feel seriously nervous. I’d had my iPod earphones in, but now I removed them in order to feel more alert.
We (all three of us) finally reached the front of my house. Relieved, I tentatively went to cross in front of the car. But before I could, the driver leaned out of the rolled-down window and started speaking softly to me. I flinched all over. You know that sick surge of adrenaline where your heart lurches into overdrive and you feel like it’s trying to tear out of your chest? My pulse was pounding in my eardrums- he’s too close, run, he’s too close, run, wrong, wrong, wrong! The sound of it literally deafened me, and it wasn’t until a few beats later that I could tell what he was saying.
Get in the car, honey. Right now. I want you to suck my cock, bitch.
There was more. I think I blocked out the rest of it. It was the eyes that scared me the most, far more than the words. He looked hungry and unfocused, and I wanted to throw up, or scream, or both. I made myself memorize his face: white, bearded, middle-aged, big.
He laughed. Then he slowly cruised away. I forced myself to take in a mental photograph of his license plate. I chanted the sequence aloud, softly, a mantra, and sprinted across the street. Somewhere in the 100-yard dash across my lawn and to my garage, my choking fear disappeared and replaced itself with a sheer and burning rage. I marched into my house and went straight for the phone. My family, gathered for dinner, watched as I dialed the number for non-emergency police calls.
After taking my initial statement and making sure that no one in the house was in imminent danger, the officer told me to stay inside my house while he ran the plate number that I rattled off to him, and that he’d be over in about twenty minutes. Sure enough, he and his partner arrived and took a formal statement from me. They had brought a photo of my harasser and I was able to identify him beyond any doubt. He was already in their records; for what, they couldn’t say but they seemed very pleased that I was a minor because the consequences would definitely be harsher.
They shook my mother’s hand. They did not shake mine. They said I was a very brave girl. They said I should be more careful.
My anger at the man carried me through for several more hours. That night in the shower, though, I broke down completely. My fear was remembered and it caught me again, mercilessly and totally.
I now grasp what my sister and mother say about this: We live in a rape culture. On the phone with my boyfriend that night (sensitive and wonderful and sweet though he is) he couldn’t understand why this was so frightening to me. He couldn’t even begin. Why should he understand? This is something that will NEVER happen to him. We as women learn how to be afraid.
Submitted by sophiecolette