Appalachian Ohio, Athens GA, Atlanta, Berkeley, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia MO, Columbus, Denver, Des Moines, Durham & Chapel Hill, East Lansing, Fredericksburgh VA, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Lubbock TX, Manhattan KS, Muncie IN, New Orleans, New York City, NYU, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Plattsburgh, Richmond VA, San Fernando Valley, San Francisco, SUNY Oneonta, Tucson, Twin Cities
When I was 13, and a nerdy bookish 7th grader, I was picked on by the other kids from my neighborhood because I was a) overweight, b) smart than them, and c) didn’t shave my legs yet. At one point, they called me “Congo” and told me to go shave my legs. This went on for about a year or so.
One day, a boy said, “You should shave your legs!”, and 14-year-old me looked him straight in the eye and, without missing a beat, said, “Why are you looking at my legs?”
They never bothered me again.
I’m 48 now, and I’ve been dealing with this crap for well over 30 years. So much so, that it’s become second nature to me. If I walk past a group of workmen, I automatically tense. I keep my eyes down as I walk past, I try to be invisible. It’s just ‘what we do’ right? But recently it was all brought home to me. The utter wrongness of this state of affairs, the injustice of it, the fact that in all my years in the women’s movement, many things have changed but this, this daily attack on our civil liberties, remains the same.
My then 12 year old daughter (now 13) came home from school one day complaining about “all the men who shout at me in the street”. At 12, TWELVE, she already deals with daily catcalls, car horns, leering looks and unwanted attention. And what could I tell her? Sorry honey, this is now a part of your life. You’re becoming a woman and, wherever you go in the world, whatever you do, however you look, there will be a certain type of guy who considers it ok to force his way into your personal space to tell you that you do/do not meet with his ‘approval’.
Do you know how that makes me feel, as a mother, to have to tell my beautiful, innocent daughter that this is the way the world works?
So I’m teaching her to hollaback (and how to do that and keep herself safe) and maybe her generation will do what mine failed to do, and make this shit unacceptable.
I’ve given her the link to this site and it’s inspired her. She’s even sent in her own story. So keep fighting the good fight.
When I was in high school (one of the many private, Catholic, single-sex high schools in Cincinnati), I was very involved in theatre. Our adult staff was on the small side, so we occasionally hired outside people to do additional music, tech work, etc. Several times a guy named Rick (who happened to be a friend of the director’s) was a guest musical director, and all the girls dreaded having to work with him. He very much gave off that creepy old man vibe and often made borderline inappropriate remarks. He was the kind of man other men brush off as “quirky,” but who women recognize immediately as being a threat- we could tell from the way he undressed us with his eyes. I tried to stay away from him as much as possible and to be cold if he ever tried to speak to me, so for awhile my experience was secondhand. That didn’t last.
He was walking by a group of us as we were listening intently to our director; it happened so fast I didn’t say anything, and I couldn’t leave to confront him without attracting attention. He “dropped” something on the floor next to me and, as he was bending over to pick it up, put his hand on my hip, letting it linger there for a few seconds after he’d already straightened up. Then he went on his way like it was nothing. I was so shocked- I had no idea what to do. As soon as I could I told a few people what had happened. They were sympathetic but thought that maybe he was just steadying himself so as not to fall over. Um, excuse me, he was NOT old enough to have to do that, and besides, that’s what walls and chairs and other OBJECTS are for, not people. Since I didn’t know how to respond, I just stayed away from him.
Later that day a friend told me she’d had a run-in with him too. She was standing backstage and could hear Rick and the director talking. He pointed to my friend (who has pretty large breasts) and said, obviously not thinking she could hear, “Girls like her are why I could never teach at this school.” That was enough to push me into taking action. I knew I couldn’t complain to the director about him- he responded to this remark with an awkward laugh and nothing more- so we went to the assistant director. He listened carefully and then told us that, while he shared our concern, we were a week away from opening the show and he couldn’t possibly find a new music director in time…. surely we understood his predicament. I was taken aback but asked him if that meant he would take it up with him, the director, and our principal after the show was over. He promised he would.
Almost four years later, he is still doing shows there.
That is what baffles me- that a man so universally unnerving, with a history of inappropriate remarks (and touching!), is allowed to stare at underage Catholic school girls to his heart’s content. If that isn’t a lawsuit in the making, I don’t know what is. How was that not taken more seriously?? I wish I had had the courage and foresight to take this further, to push until something happened to him, but I didn’t. He still does music directing and sound mixing for schools all over Ohio- if you happen to run into him, PLEASE report any inappropriate behavior so that it gets documented. He needs to not be allowed to be around underage girls.
One night I was walking home from the campus gym, caught up in my own head. As I hit the last sidewalk intersection on my way home I started hearing calls of “hey blue shorts…” the first three times I thought “god, I would be livid if someone was talking to me like that!” and looked in front of me for the blue shorts girl, but she wasn’t there. So I looked back, just a rowdy group of 6′ plus men hollering for Blue Shorts. Then it hit me. I looked down. My shorts were blue.
They kept it up, 5 and 6 times, calling out my hair style, asking if I was too good to talk to them, so I got pissed off. I spun around and let fly one of the nicest flows of cusswords I’ve ever made. I asked them how their mothers would feel, to know that their money was sending them to college so they could scare girls on the way home from the gym. I asked them if this was some f*cked up game to them, and then told them, with gusto to f*ck off. As I spun around they got irritated and told me that “bitch, I couldn’t talk to them like that” so I turned back and said “bitch yes I can! You yelled at me like a dog. I can say anything I like to you!” and stormed off to my dorm.
I was still terrified the whole last block, but I’ve never been harassed like that again.
Cab driver #640 picked me up, along the way he…
1) Waved his gun at me 2) Told me his “self help book” didn’t work, that he’d found it near impossible to in it’s suggestions to remain calm 3)Told me he “literally” wants to murder the next person to pay w/a credit card – in his shed, or he wants to put his pepper-spray in their mouth, lock them in the cab drive them to his house and kill them. 4) Told me I saved my own life by paying in cash, while his hand was cocked like a gun 5) Was twitching his head left & right because he’s crazy; while letting me know he wants to murder someone – while slamming the glass plate divider in anger 6) Told me Jesus wants him to kill people with credit cards – all the time 7) Told me his shed out in the suburbs tucks between his yard and the woods – so no on would see him kill 8) Told me “i don’t mean to scare you but…” followed by 5 minute rant about hurting people
Last weekend I was clubbing with friends and we decided to walk down the road to another club. As we left the club a man grabbed my wrist, spun me round to face him, and ground his crotch into my stomach, shouting all the while about how gorgeous I was and that I’m the perfect *size* for him. I just saw red. I shoved him and bit him and screamed bloody murder and my girlfriends joined in the attack. I struggled free and the bouncers outside the club made him step away. Dude proceeded to follow me and my girls most of the night still asking for my number.
Some guy was following me on Bloor East (a very crowded street) and gesturing to his dick, saying how big it was. In a very loud voice, I said “what a loser! Is this the only way you can get women to talk to you? You need an empty sock!” He backed right off. A few people clapped and a lot of people whooped. I heard a “you go, girl” before ducking into the subway.
Last weekend, I went to a goth night at a gay club**. This is an environment where I feel safe and accepted. I can dress provocatively and expect respect in the appreciative glances I may get. I can flirt and dance and express myself, including my sexuality, and not be thinking the whole time about whether or not anyone will think it gives them the right to claim me as theirs, or that if someone does I’m “asking for it”. I can expect backup and support from total strangers if someone gets too aggressive on the dance floor.
But this doesn’t apply to the walk between where my friend and I parked and the club.
On the way back to the car, a group of guys gave some glances and a “hey girl” and an “I like your hair” comment to us. It shouldn’t matter. It should feel respectful and appreciative – they didn’t say anything lewd; I like my hair tonight too. But it didn’t feel that way. It put my hackles up. It made me think “we need to walk faster”. It made me think “I’m wearing vinyl pants, clearly anyone would think I’m asking for whatever happens next. Never mind the corset they can’t see under my coat”. It made me think “Priority one is protecting my friend”, who is a few years younger and who had thigh-high fishnets and garters showing under a short skirt – probably an easier target than the pants. It made me think “which is less likely to escalate this – ignoring them, making a snide remark, or saying ‘thanks’?”.
It made me think “They’re black, we’re white. God why does that matter? Why does that make me more uncomfortable?”*
It made me think of all the times similar things have happened in my life – creepy drunk guy sitting down right next to me late at night on an otherwise empty L car in Chicago and putting his hand disturbingly close to the hem of my skirt(I got up and switched cars at the next stop); crazy addicts commenting on the size of my breasts at the train station near the meth clinic in my hometown (I’d go into the coffee shop in the station and risk missing the train; I might add this happened many times and I was usually wearing baggy tee shirts and jeans, and clearly a minor); an old Buick slowing down next to me and a group of female friends walking around our hometown after dark, rolling down the window, asking how much for a good time (we laughed and kept walking; thankfully he drove off; again, tees and jeans, young girls).
It made me think all of this strategic, defensive thinking, and all of these flashbacks, in a split second.
I said “Thanks” over my shoulder as we kept walking, and we all went on our ways without any further interaction.
*Sorry, I read the anti-discrimination bit after sending in my story. I do think the race of the “harrassers” is relevant, because it speaks to a culture and society where I have been trained to have a more adverse reaction based on race (the point of my story is that the whole situation was pretty much harmless, but past experiences and societal training made it raise my hackles), which is sad and makes me angry at society and myself, but I understand the complexities of that may not be apparent in my story and am totally fine with it being edited out.
**I also think that the club I was at being a gay club is relevant because it’s a factor that contributes to my feeling safe there, but the more important factor is that it is a goth club, which is a community where I have found sexuality at a high combined with harrassment at a low, and thus I am ok with the fact that it is also a gay club being edited out.
I enjoy running, especially during exam time, which happens to be the peak of summer. As such, running in a tank top and shorts seems to be the obvious choice (not that it matters what I was wearing, I still don’t deserve to be treated like a piece of meat!).
Anyway, as I came round a corner during one of my runs, a dog came up and, as they do, started to sniff my crotch. I gently pushed his head away, and gave him a small pat. His owner came up, scanned me up and down, and because I was wearing an ipod (but didn’t actually have my music on- I use it as an excuse to not stop and talk to people) decided it was ok to say “Fuck, I don’t blame him for getting under there. I want to be there too.”
Excuse me?! You may have not thought I was able to hear you, but that still gives you no right to say it!
I went to New York with a friend who had a conference in the city. One day while she was in a meeting, I decided to grab a taxi and explore a little by myself. I had $50 and my phone, and that was it. As I exited my hotel and started to walk towards a larger street to hail a cab, a man walking the other way turned around and started whispering things near my ears. “Damn baby, you hot as hell, look at your sexy self… I’d do so many things to that little body…” I’m 18 and am often mistaken for 14 or 15. I turned around and said “I’m sorry, do you care that I’m 15?” In retrospect, if he had said no, I would have been in even more trouble than I already was. He simply looked at me with a deer-caught-in-headlights look, turned around, and walked away.
Once I’d shrugged him off, I hailed a cab. Being unfamiliar to NYC, when I told the cabby Times Square and he said “I’ll take the JFK (I think JFK…maybe), it’s faster” I said okay. $19.50 and half an hour later, we arrived at the edge of the Square and I said “You know what, here is good. I’ll take 50 cents in change.” As I gave him a $20. He muttered “Crazy bitch.” as I opened the door and began to exit. I climbed back in and said “You ripped me off. A ride from my hotel to Times Square should have been $10. Peace.” After enduring both these within half an hour, and many more as I walked through Times Square, it made me wonder. Why should I have to put up with this?