Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia MO, Columbus, Des Moines, Durham & Chapel Hill, East Lansing, Fredericksburgh VA, Houston, Los Angeles, Muncie IN, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Plattsburgh, Richmond VA, San Francisco, Tucson, Twin Cities
It was wet, and cold. I was carrying 20 lbs of cat food, and my cell phone was dying. I wanted to be off the bus and go home. Wet and rainy Los Angeles is a dismal place, everything misses the sun. As usual, I read Jezebel and Reddit for a bit on my phone till it died. I had ignored the other passengers until then, so when I put it away, I looked up. There, in front of me was a scene that made my skin crawl.
In two seater across from me was a young woman desperately looking out the window. Uncomfortable and visibly upset. The reason was obvious. A drunk man was whispering to her. His voice got louder and is words were clear.
“Oh? You can’t talk to me? You should talk to me. I don’t like white women. You’re pretty. I like black women. I’m just trying to talk to you before I go home to my black woman.”
He was touching her. Actually touching her.
“You should tell your boyfriend he’s messing up,” he said, ever closer.
I looked around to my fellow passengers, and many were upset. They weren’t doing anything though. No one was doing anything as the woman shrank into herself before my eyes. Smaller and Smaller. Bit by bit. Was no one going to help? Did anyone see?
I looked at him angrily. No, of course not. Everyone would hope she could handle herself. Don’t make waves, you could drown.
Well, fuck that nonsense.
I know how she felt. I know how you feel like if you just scrunch up and look unhappy, they’ll leave you alone. They won’t follow you home. They won’t hang outside the gate. I wished many times someone would stand up for me. The least I could do, was stand up for her. I wasn’t unafraid. He could have had a knife, but weapon or no weapon, I couldn’t sit there while she endured that.
“You got a problem, sister?”
He turned towards me, rheumy eyed. I felt bad for him in a small way, someone loved him once. I thought briefly of my family. Anger burned away that sympathetic comparison.
“I do,” I said in a tone I reserved for the three year olds I teach on a daily basis. “You’re making her uncomfortable. It’s not polite, to talk to people the way you’re talking to her.”
“Well, what-” he started.
“Well, nothing,” I finished, a familiar voice creeping into calmer tones. “She is very uncomfortable and you need to leave her alone. You are GOING to leave her alone. You have no right to talk to her like that.”
I heard my mother echo in my voice. The reproachfulness of my grandmother. Fear ebbed away, and adrenaline took its place.
“I’m going to let you finish,” he said, leaning towards me. As if that was a gift. Letting me finish. In the meantime the woman slid from her seat with the help of an older woman. She passed him with ease, because he had found a new target: Me.
“I AM finished. You needed to leave her alone. She was unhappy, and didn’t want to talk to you.” I turned and let her scoot past into an empty seat next to the driver. “Sit over there Momma and don’t worry about it.”
“Where you from?”
“New Jersey,” I replied easily. “Not that it matters, I barely got out.”
“New Jersey? FUCK New Jersey. I’m from Watts. I’m from Compton. You don’t know nothing. Let’s take this outside. Where’s your stop?”
Now I really was unafraid. He wanted to take this to the street, well, fine. “I don’t care where you’re from brother.” Now the tones I used were cold, and my eyes narrowed. I didn’t back down and I didn’t flinch. “You cannot talk to a young woman like that. You have no right to make her feel that way. You have no right to talk to her that way. And you certainly don’t have a right to talk to me. So you need to rethink what you’re saying. My Momma taught me manners, and so I’m not even going to answer you like that.”
“Hey, Jersey.” Beside me was a solid woman in fatigue pants and boots. She smiled down on me, and I knew her instantly. One of the owners of Panpipes. Her presence was an added boost.
He got up and moved to the front, cursing me out and telling me off as he went. He was going to do all sorts of horrible things to me.
The bus driver tried to drive and tell him to calm down. It didn’t work. He got worse. I set down my bag. Clinched my fists. Wondered if someone would hold my earrings.
“You’re going to leave her alone,” the woman fatigues said. In one moment, there was a little bond, and it spread. We were ready for a fight. He was going to lose.
“Did I do something wrong?” The woman he had originally harassed looked unsure, guilty.
I smiled, “You didn’t do anything honey. He has no business touching you. He has no business talking to you like that. It isn’t right.”
At that he set off again, and the bus driver calmly said, “Sir, this is your stop.”
“No, it isn’t,” he replied, the slur in his voice gone due to anger.
“Oh. Yes. It. IS.” And off the bus he went.
He gave me the finger. We all waved.
Stand up for someone. Make waves. Someone else may help you swim.
I live in a small “destination” neighborhood within my city that attracts visitors for recreation. One sunny day this past summer, as I was stepping foot into a crosswalk at a well-trafficked intersection in this neighborhood, a car that had the red light suddenly jerked forward. I stopped and looked up, thinking the driver hadn’t seen me or was having car trouble, just as I heard one of the gaggle of young men in the car call out, “Heeeeyy baaay-beee.” I tried to keep walking, but the driver jerked their car forward into the crosswalk a second time to keep me from moving!
Livid, I stuck my arm out perpendicular to my torso, hand toward their car, and flipped them the bird as I walked past, looking directly into the car the whole time. The car stayed put. I heard some murmuring as I went by, but nothing else yelled out to me.
When I got to the other side of the street, I started shaking. I struggled to make eye contact with other neighborhood residents who had witnessed the interaction from a bus stop. I felt no regret for what I’d done, but was deeply disturbed that the incident had occurred at all, and experienced that nagging feeling that the woman who displays confrontational behavior in such situations is viewed as the one “causing trouble,” and the harassers viewed as innocents just “trying to have a good time” (whether onlookers have this view, or the harassers themselves).
I was walking to work (I have to park 4 blocks away) and passed by a small group of teenage boys sharing a pogo stick. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself because they looked way too big to be using a pogo stick. They must have noticed and got upset cause one asked ‘What are you laughing at white bitch?” and another yelled ‘We could rape your right now!” I didn’t want to say anything since there were 4 of them and it wasn’t my turf, but just then a man from the neighborhood that I’ve seen many times said ‘you better leave her alone, she comes here to help you idiots.” (I work in social service). This is the 2nd time that particular man has stood up for me and he’s stood up for those I work with countless times. Why can’t there be more men like him? And what makes a teenager yell to someone that he could rape them?!?
I was out cycling one day in my small rural village in Buckinghamshire. It was a hot day and so to be practical I was wearing a pair of mid-length denim shorts. As I was cycling, I passed a small group of teenage boys playing football. I was just passing them when one of them noticed me and immediately a torrent of verbal abuse was throne at me “Put it away!” yelled one of them along with jeers, swearing and laughing, one of them even called me a prostitute. I was shocked and disgusted that something like this would happen in such a quiet, peacful neighborhood such as mine. I also find it highly ironic that nearly 100 years after women got the right to vote in the UK, when a man wears shorts whilst cycling it is seen as athletic and acceptable whereas when a woman dresses like that she is seen as a slag.
A few years ago I was visiting my friend who was studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. She had warned me before I arrived not to speak English loudly in public, so I wouldn’t draw unwanted attention.
We were walking down a pedestrian walkway to get to her University. It was broad daylight. There were plenty of students scattered along the length of the long walkway. A large group of young boys(18-19 years old) approached us but I didn’t pay any attention to them. One of them came up to me and said “You are so beautiful” in French, grabbed my breast than walked off laughing with with his friends. It happened so quickly all I could do was make a disgusted noise, which all the boys mimicked and laughed at.
The thing that gets me is that my friend and I were walking silently together. He didn’t grope me because I was speaking English or drawing attention to myself or because I was a tourist. He attacked me because I was a woman and he wanted to put me in my place. And he knew he could get away with it.
Once we arrived at the University we told her friends what had happened. They tried to comfort me. One of her male friends said that a French man would never do that, so they must’ve been Arab immigrants. He said a French man would yell or say things to me, but never touch a woman. That did not comfort me at all. And sure enough before my trip was over “real” French men catcalled me without groping me. I felt violated and disgusted when that happened too.
On another note, it seems to me that a lot of catcalling is initiated when a woman accidentally makes eye contact with a man (though this wasn’t the case in my story above). As result I try really hard not to make eye contact with men on the street. But I wonder how much that I (and other women) miss when I am looking at my shoes or staring off into space. Do I clumsily walk into things more often than necessary or put myself in danger just because I can’t look forward like a normal person? Or even am I just deprived of enjoying the sights and scenery around me? Maybe this has just been my experience, but I’d like to know what other things do Hollaback readers and contributors think they miss just because we are forced to look away?
Originally here: http://chickensoupforthedorkysoul.blogspot.com/2011/03/male-privilege-and-cat-call.html
Every Tuesday at promptly 2 p.m., I pack up my things at my internship and call a cab back to my dorm. If it’s nice out, I spend the five to 15 minute-wait on the sidewalk, which is most convenient for me anyway because my cab can’t miss me. This is usually uneventful, unless you count the times during Snowmageddon that I had to wait over an hour to get a cab and nearly cried out of frustration.
Yesterday was frustrating for a completely different reason.
Yesterday, as I was heading toward my usual bit of sidewalk, I heard a wolf whistle. Instinctively, I turned to look in its direction and a disheveled middle-aged man was standing across the street. He waved both arms and cocked his chin.
“Hey, baby!” He was clearly approaching me, and quickly.
In a panic, I flipped open my cell phone and pretended to take a call as I rushed back toward the office building.
“Oh, hello? I just left, why– I can come back!” I’m not sure why I thought this would help my situation.
When I got inside I hid behind the wall that juts out by the elevator and waited. He saw what door I went into, I thought nervously. He knows where I am. This door doesn’t lock. If he wants to come get me, he can. I considered going back upstairs as if I’d forgot something to buy myself time, to lose him, but I decided against it. I scurried out to check if he was anywhere in sight. The coast was clear. I wasn’t sure at this point if I missed my cab. I sent a text message to my boyfriend.
“A creepy guy just catcalled me and waved at me. I went back into the building to hide from him :(”
“:(” my boyfriend replied.
Of course, I got my cab several minutes later and I survived to write this post. And all things said, it wasn’t that much of a terrible situation. I didn’t get hurt. My office is in a busy-enough area that if this man had tried anything, someone would see– and maybe that would have deterred him from going any further than calling to me. I tried all day to tell myself that this is no big deal. It’s just a catcall, you might say.
But it isn’t. When a stranger actively does something that makes you uncomfortable enough to question your safety, it is a pretty big deal. I don’t see how any older man– any man at all– could imagine that whistling at, gesturing to, and swiftly approaching a young, solitary female would be a situation that wouldn’t make her feel threatened, intimidated. I like to think I am tough and self-assured, but in those moments, I felt shaken, and I hid. I wasn’t sure whether he would pursue me– I didn’t know that person, so there was no telling what he might do. Sometimes when you run you get caught.
You could call it paranoia, but I wouldn’t go that far.
I would venture a guess that many women, especially women who live in cities, have been made to feel ill-at-ease by a male stranger’s advances at one point or another. Sometimes, when I’m not alone, it’s easy to brush off a “hey, baby!” from a passing car or a wink from a man on the street. When you’re alone and it happens, you truly feel alone– at least I did. Alone, and desperate, and trapped, not like the tough, independent woman I fancy myself to be.
What’s problematic here is that this is a problem of privilege, one that favors men and victimizes women (and I’m taking the perspective of a heterosexual woman because that is the experience I can speak to– but please share your perspective in the comments). If we were to switch roles, even if I were an older woman and this man a younger man, I doubt he would feel threatened by me hitting on him in public. I doubt that concern for his safety would take the forefront and he would hurry back inside. Whether men realize it or not in their everyday lives, they are privileged.
My boyfriend is annoyed sometimes when I ask him to do things like walk me a few minutes across campus at night. He sometimes says that it won’t make a difference for anyone’s safety (“we’ll just both get mugged!”), but I think that’s just him being a man who hasn’t quite realized his own privilege. When a woman is with a man, she is less likely to be harassed or attacked. As a woman, I do need to take my safety into account when going even short distances after dark. Is that letting the bad guys win? I don’t think it is so much as it’s realizing what could happen if I throw caution to the wind, and that, frankly, sucks. It shouldn’t be this way.
I think men often take for granted the fact that they can, most of the time, go from Point A to Point B without being disturbed. For women, it’s different. And maybe some of the men who catcall and try to approach women on the street don’t realize that what they’re doing, for many women under a variety of conditions, will make another person feel afraid. This isn’t a challenge they have to face, and certainly one I don’t like thinking about. When I think about days like yesterday, I wonder if I can make it going to and from work alone in the real world. I wonder if I can be brave enough to go on the train or the subway by myself. The minority– and I do believe it’s a minority– of people out there who want to hurt or scare people like me make me doubt my abilities as a woman to be an effective member of society.
We are asking ourselves frequently now “should we allow women in warzones?” and I have to ask “why should there be any reason not to?” But when I think of that much bigger issue– the horrible things that have actually transpired– together with the littler things we as woman face daily, like I faced yesterday, I see the problem. There are men in this world who feel on some level that women are objects, that it is okay to come on to them, to harass them, to hurt them, to grope them, to make them, by way of sexualization, feel powerless and less than. And it’s not okay. Never. Not even when nothing comes of it, like what happened to me yesterday. Not even a little.
Privilege exerts itself in a lot of insidious ways, and this is one of them. If women feel unsafe walking down the street, how can they be leaders? How can they be journalists? How can they be taxi drivers? How can they be government officials? How can they be anything? Maybe they should just stay inside where it’s safe.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that to be the only safe choice.
I was working at the cafe where I volunteer and it is open very late, from 1am to 6am (meant as a midway place for those who have been out partying and want some food or coffee before going home).
One night I had just said goodbye to the last customers and was shutting up the cafe. I went to close the shutters which involves going into a small room that you can see into from the street and using a key to lower them.
Two men walked past the window as I was closing the shutters. They asked if they could come in and I explained we were shut. They then asked if I would come out with them, to which I replied that I was busy. They both started kissing the glass and trying to get me to come out of the cafe and kiss them (luckily the front door was locked so they couldn’t get in).
After a few seconds one of the men unzipped his pants and took his penis out and wiggled it at me whilst shouting lewd comments to me. His mate just laughed and mimed touching my tits.
I was utterly disgusted, I looked at this pathetic worm and gestured that his package was tiny so he started swearing and banging on the glass. I was genuinely scared as the bouncer had gone home by this point. I thought about calling the police but the men ran off when I took my phone out.
That I couldn’t do anything was the worst thing, though I was scared about what they’d have done if they could have reached me.
See, I’ve never really had it where people have shouted about how much they want to have sex with me. It’s always about how much that they DON’T want to have sex with me. One incident that comes to mind is when I was about fifteen, still living in my small town in the UK, and I was walking home from school, so I was in my uniform. There was some building work going on at an old mill, converting it into apartments, so builders were crawling all over it. Anyway, when I walked by, they all started shouting down about how I was an ugly bitch, and barking at me. I hadn’t even looked up at them or provoked them, and when I saw, they were all maybe late twenties, early thirties, old enough to have daughters of their own. I ran home crying, and when I told my dad and stepmum, they said that I just shouldn’t let it get to me. What kind of world is it when grown men can terrify teenage girls and not get into any trouble??
I had yoga after work; it was a hot so I wore a regular tank top and work out pants. Near my studio I saw two men unloading a truck into the shop next door – they were calling out to every single woman who walked by. Immediately I felt uncomfortable and on guard; as I walked into the building I heard one man shout “hey girl with the pig tails, come back and play with me;’ I kept walking. I didn’t feel ‘sexy’ or ‘flattered’…I felt awkward, embarrassed, and mad at myself for what I was wearing. But no more. I am in my 30s now and I am tired of feeling small and meek; I am tired of wondering if my top is too tight or if I should tie a sweater around my hips…So no more. I will no longer stand for wolf whistles, cat calls, lip smacking, and all the ‘pretty lady compliments.’ I’m tired and done with it…from now on I will ‘hollaback.’
I was walking home from Nob Hill to Union Square after a Halloween party. I was a small 19-year-old, just transplanted from a tiny country town, and even though I was streetsmart enough to ask friends to escort me home at 2 AM, they remarked about being very tired and wanting to go to bed. So I decided to go home anyhow, alone. Cabs were expensive so I didn’t think to take one. I had walked home from Nob Hill alone before. It was usually deathly quiet around the rich neighborhoods that late at night, which I took mistakenly as a sign that I would be safe until I got home.
I was walking up Clay street, and when I passed the Jones st intersection, I saw a 40′s-ish man in a trenchcoat standing on the sidewalk. He didn’t look hostile but he seemed slightly uncoordinated – I should have taken that as a sign and crossed to the other side of the street, or turned around, but I kept going. I figured he was just waiting for a bus.
As I got closer it was pretty apparent that he was drunk, and from his wardrobe he seemed pretty affluent, not that it makes any difference. As soon as I walked past him and he saw me, he fixated on me.
“Hey, doll, how’s it going?”
I think I mumbled “fine” and kept going. But he started walking in the same direction. He kept calling me doll and asking me questions, although he was drunk/slurring/mumbling. Although I distinctly heard him say, “You look just like my daughter, doll.” That was the last straw. I crossed the street quickly – fortune seemed to be in my favor, because I saw a cab approaching the next intersection, and furiously waved him down, and was driven home.
I was mortified and spent a few days feeling surreal and freaked out. Since then, I find it almost funny how I have never been accosted by a homeless person (not that they’re harmless either) but it’s always affluent, well-dressed, middle-aged men who are the ones who hit on me, and always in a, “you’re young enough to be my daughter and I like that” kind of way. I’m very short and young-looking (I’m 23 and I was charged 17 & under admission at the museum) and I find it disturbing that so many men that age find underage girls so appealing. Gross.
I live in a smaller town now but I never let my guard down. I have come into my own as a feminist and as a person who is aware of rape culture, and I’m glad to have found Holla.