I am embarassed to admit this, and I’m pretty sure that someone might want to snatch my Feminist card when they hear me say this, but – I thought everyone was overreacting and being whiney about street harassment until I experienced it for myself. I know, I know. I should respect people’s story. I should support women. I should know better. (You know how I feel about those Evil Shoulds.) But, I had to experience street harassment for myself before I believed that it was an actual problem.
You see, I live in Atlanta, and I know that Atlanta is not immune to street harassment, but many people in this city do not walk or ride public transportation. Basically, when an ATLien takes to the street, it means that we are cruising in the comfort of our own safe, isolated, vehicle. The lack of reliable public transportation in my city doesn’t make me particularly proud, but I think it is one of the factors that has kept me from experiencing frequent street harassment.
But, just a few weeks ago, I was privileged enough to spend a week of vacation in NYC with my brother. The only plan I had for the entire week was to have no plans. I wanted to wake up when my body told me to, and just meander around the city. My brother had several days off, so he was able to go with me on many of my adventures, but I also had a few days to wander by myself. I wasn’t afraid to walk around the city, because I always get lost, so I’m used to it. I’m also not really afraid of the “bad part of town” because I’ve found enough trouble of my own in every “good part of town” that I’ve ever been to.
On the days that I was free to wander by myself, I dressed in my Easypants and comfortable shoes – keep that in mind – and just meandered. It took one day of wondering around Manhattan by myself to realize that NO ONE is overreacting or being whiney about the street harassment problem. It is real. Very real. It’s even scary sometimes. In one afternoon, random men said the following things to me (and this is just a sampling of the gems that I heard.) :
“Hey beautiful, ” said a young-ish guy in a track suit. I smiled back. “Oh, I like your smile. You wanna come sit on my lap?” I ran away.
“Hey lady. Look at that booty bounce,” said a man wearing a suit. A suit. This man seemed to have a decent 9-5er and he was definitely wearing a wedding ring.
“Oooh, show me a smile to go with those pretty titties,” said an elderly man in Harlem. I’m not kidding. That one almost made me laugh because it’s just so absurd.
I thought those were the worst, but unfortuntely, the truly offensive one-liners were hidden behind an innocent, “How are you doing?” or “Good day.” I can’t even begin to count the number of men that I passed that tried to stop me just to “see how I was doing.”
At first I thought that maybe they were just being friendly. I’m from the South after all, we smile and say hello to everyone. And, to be brutally honest, I generally don’t think that there is anything wrong with men being friendly. So, after a bunch of “friendly” men said “hello,” I decided to say hello back to the next guy just to see what would happen. About two seconds later, a nice looking, middle-aged man said, “Hey. How are you doing?” I smiled. And then he responded by asking if I would like to “put my big pretty lips around his dick.” I’m just going to let that sink in for a minute.
I was pretty shaken by that response, but I decided to respond to the next “How you doin'” guy just to see if it was some weird bad luck of mine. The next guy that I smiled back at said “Where you goin’, I’m comin’ with you.” And then he followed me for two blocks until I told him that I had a boyfriend. I had tried to tell him to leave me alone – I mean, I flat out stopped in the middle of a crowded Manhattan sidewalk, looked him in the face and said, “Leave me the hell alone,” – but he pouted and followed me anyway. It wasn’t until he thought that he was insulting another man by talking to me that he apologized and left me alone. I decided that my fake boyfriend was my new trick to get them to stop, and sadly, it was the only thing that worked. In fact, I had to use it on three more men.
The truly embarrassing part of this is that I had to experience all of this street harassment for myself before I believed that it was a real problem for all women.
Let me be very clear, street harassment is a serious problem. If you still don’t believe me Watch This Woman Receive 100 Catcalls While Walking Around For a Day:
I wish I had a nice way to wrap this up, but I don’t. I’m sharing all of this, not just for shock value (because people need to be shocked by this, so they’ll do something), but also to admit that I was wrong. I was so very, very wrong about thinking that everyone was making a big deal out of nothing. And I’m sorry.
If you’re not mad about it yet, I get it. I was stubborn and dismissive and selfish enough to think that this problem didn’t exist because it didn’t affect me. Maybe it will have to happen to you, too before you realize just how dehumanizing it is. Maybe it will have to happen to your daughter before you will get pissed enough to do something. Maybe it will happen to your beloved mother and you will finally get a clue. But, hopefully, you will listen to these stories that have already been told so that we can put a stop to this. Whatever it takes, we have to realize that this problem belongs to all of us.