“Hey, baby,” he said, as I rode my bike down an idyllic block in Brooklyn on a hot July day. Of course, I ignored him. I dare assume that most women have heard this or something similar as they attempted to go about the mundane. For me, this was the 5th “Hey,:: insert something I don’t want anyone but my boyfriend or grandmother to call me::”, in only about ten minutes into my first bike ride of the summer. I swerved past him and around his car and continued on riding down the block, hoping that he understood the look on my face and my tensed body to mean that I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t enjoy being hit on, and I just wanted this to end.
Instead for him, he was turned on by my ignoring him and eventually peeved that I wasn’t responding. His comments, during the 3 block span of time that he FOLLOWED ME [I know he was following me because his car was poised to make a right, and instead upon my arrival and his lascivious comments, he decided to go straight. He later made a u-turn back to wherever else he was going,] ranged from, “Don’t you hear me talking to you, girl,” [don’t ever call me girl. I was now not only scared but pissed] to “Ride that bike like you need to ride my dick,” [I see you’ve mastered the English language, you fuck] to “I’m gonna make that ass fold over my face just like that,” [I hope you burn in a fiery single-car crash on your way home tonight, you asshole.] Increasingly violent and verbal, he had his bumper literally inches away from my tire. I considered slowing down, turning around and saying, “why are you doing this?” when images of old “Unsolved Mysteries” episodes flashed through my head— I didn’t want to be the girl who went missing because she was dumb enough righteous enough/smart enough/fearless enough to try to defend herself. Instead, I shut up and shoved my rising tears deep down inside of me along with the feeling that I needed to take a shower, bow my head, and hide in a corner of my dark room. I kept riding until I found a block that was person free and stopped, took out my phone and called my boyfriend.
There are few things in this world as demoralizing and frightening as sexual harassment. It’s a mental, emotional and often, a physical violation. I cannot name the amount of times that someone has grabbed my arm walking down a block, or felt up my sister’s ass “accidentally” on the train, or touched my best friend’s shoulder or hair. The worst and most common of these offenders, get confrontational when we say, “Stop.” Must be nice. Male privilege, that is.
I’m sick and tired of going to the gym/ /buying tampons and Midol/going to the doctor’s office/reading a book/bumping to my iPod and GETTING HIT ON HARRASSED. I’m tired of wearing my best dresses to parties and getting the expected uncalled for touches and comments but then going out in sweats, drool, and head wraps and still getting the “psssst” and the “yo.”
Men: Do you randomly approach, touch, and threaten other men? Do you say things like “I will loosen dat ass up” to other dudes? How does it make you feel to know that you scared someone so much that they had to stop on a corner and take a breather? I bet it feels really powerful. Do you gaze so hard at other men that it makes them feel like you can see through their flesh and bones into their souls? Do you get livid when other men ignore your “compliments’ on the street? Do you wonder why [insert generalizations: black women] always look “stank”? It’s probably because she just walked down a block and every fool between the ages of 12 and 92 said something [looks can talk, too] offensive. Probably not. If you have done these things to women, it’s because you’re a sexual harasser. A sexist. A predator. I beseech you:
LEAVE US ALONE.
When I’m on the treadmill at The Y – it’s not an invitation for you to tap my shoulders and chat me up. When I’m carrying groceries it’s not an invitation for you to make some sort of gross innuendo [they always find a way, don’t they?] These are not compliments and it isn’t chivalry and we aren’t stupid: they aren’t benign offers. Go ahead and call me a man- basher and a “feminist” [you know, implying that being a feminist is bad]. Go ahead and tell me to wear something else, or that I’m being overly sensitive, or that women need to learn to take a “compliment.” All I want is to be left alone to live and exist—and the issue isn’t with me, it’s with you [men]. I needn’t my female- bodiedness to be a scarlet letter. I just want to live and not think twice about whether my mini is too short, or if my hair frames my face too well, or if my jeans accentuate too well. I don’t want to weigh sides of the streets to determine which side I should cross to in order to avoid the most men. I don’t want to walk with my head down and my headphones blaring to protect myself from nonsense. I don’t want to judge all male-kind and be afraid for my future daughters, my mother, my 4 sisters, and my best friends. I do not need for a man to tell me to “smile” as I walk down the street with my only weapon in this war, my scowl. You have no rights to this body [also, you don’t know me.]
I just want to live and be treated with equality and respect. I want to be viewed as human—with emotions and purpose—rather than some lifeless museum exhibit for your petting and leering pleasure. I want to not feel threatened in my everyday life. I want to not think twice about my body or whether it’s my fault that I get catcalled. I’m happy that I live in a place where being a woman means I can work and have kids or do neither of those things, and that I can vote, and walk around [in theory] without a chaperone. But, I need to live in a world where I am not touched against my will, where I am not labeled a crazy bitch for complaining about inappropriate behavior, and where people see me as more than my ass and my breasts. I haven’t surveyed all the women in the world but I can say confidently that very few of “us” enjoy this kind of attention. So stop it. We are fed up.
To my girls: START SAYING SOMETHING.
I’m not going to blame us. We have strength and presence as victims but as with every other ill in the world, nothing gets changed with silence. The more often we ride our bikes off onto empty streets and call our boyfriends, the more often we pull down our skirts and tie sweaters around our waists, the more often we “laugh it off” when our bosses lean too close, the more often these people will do what they do because we’ve taught them that it’s okay. Silence is allowance. Your body is your own and no one has any physical, mental, or emotional rights to it. I refuse to remain silent. I refuse to feel dirty and used and ashamed because someone else doesn’t understand limits and because some male- bodied person takes advantage of, dismisses and underestimates the value of me being female- bodied. I refuse to be a second- class citizen in regards to race, economics, disability, and age but for far too long, I’ve done nothing about my second- class standing as a woman. This… this is my protest—the voice I didn’t have earlier today. This is the kick that, I hope for you, will be the catalyst.
We will be empowered and fearless. This stops today.
I appreciate a good compliment every now and again. “Sis, you are beautiful,” “I like your unique style,” “You have a nice smile.” I’m not a grinch and I’m not impossible. But I need for the invasion of the female form to cease and I need for the boundaries, respect, sensibility, and the humanity to be put in its place.
The stinker of today is that as I rode my bike on the sidewalk [instead of the street] to avoid the weirdoes in cars following me [there’s something about people saying threatening things in a stronger, faster vehicle that added a whole new layer to this experience] I was stopped by a googley- eyed, ambulated policeman who ticketed me for riding my bike on the sidewalk. No, my protests of “I’ve never done this before” [I really have never ridden a bike on the sidewalk before] did not get me out of a ticket. Nor did, “I was trying to avoid the men who were harassing me” work. The man had a job to do but if that doesn’t say something about society I don’t know what does.
Submitted by A.E.