If you’ve complained to others about street harassment, you’ve probably been told to “toughen up” or “get a thicker skin.” Like as if somehow, the fact that street harassment hurts is your fault. It’s a decision that you make, and if you were just a little stronger, and a little less of a “girl,” the problem would be solved.
When street harassment hurts, it’s not because we’re not strong enough. In fact, I think it’s our strength that makes it hurt more. Street harassment shatters our perspectives on who we are: smart, dynamic, bold; and instead focuses on who we aren’t: bitches, whores, and pairs of tits. So — too often — we just try to ignore it. And it works, sometimes. But most of the time it doesn’t, and the hurt just sits inside us, “like molton lava boiling right underneath the surface of my skin.”
In this incredible piece called “Thinner Skin” the writer talks eloquently about how you can’t just make the hurt of street harassment go away. How it lives inside us. She tells the story of her own sexual assault and writes: ” I’ve been threatened. I’ve been hurt. My friends have been threatened and hurt. I regard any man invading my space and disrespecting me as a direct threat to my well being. Every single time I get verbally accosted, every single time a man sits too close on purpose. Every single time I catch a man, out of the corner of my eyes, sizing me up as bait. I feel that same rage. I am there again.” For survivors of sexual assault, street harassment can feel like ripping a scab off – three, four, five times a day. Any doctor will tell you that’s no way to heal.
A thick skin would be helpful if we wanted to ignore the world’s problems, internalize our pain, and just stay at home. But for the world we’re trying to create, the skin we’ve got will do just fine. We need to be OK with the fact that it hurts because we’re strong, not in spite of it. Because if we keep this myth up that street harassment hurts because we’re weak, it will continue to get passed down generation to generation. Just like it did to us.
We have an unprecedented opportunity to transform street harassment from something that is lonely and isolating, to something that is shareable. The internet is our new campfire, and if we’re going to solve this we have to start by talking about it, by responding to it, by holla’ing back. The world won’t listen if we keep pretending that our silence means it doesn’t hurt.