I am so sick and tired of being treated like public property by men who feel entitled to my body when I leave my house. I wish my first post during Women’s History Month was more uplifting but I really have to ask, and I wish my feminist foremothers were here to give me an answer: What do you do when you are publicly harassed/groped/sexually assaulted?
Obviously this post is the result of a personal issue but of course the personal is political so my story is that of countless billions of other women in the world too. Just today a black woman of roughly my age, waiting for the same bus as me, was being “talked up” by a mid-50s white guy. She clearly wasn’t interested and yet he kept talking at her. I nearly interjected, “Bro, she doesn’t want to talk to you.” But by persistently ignoring him she eventually shut him up. I know she wasn’t interested by the look on her face, and because I know exactly how she felt because not 15 minutes earlier at the same stop another old white guy came up to me.
“Can I ask you a question?
“Mmhmm.” (Hoping it would be about what number bus, etc.)
“Why is your hair so much better than mine? (He was bald)
“Genes.” (And a fake, fuck off smile)
“Hahaha, exactly. You are beautiful.”
Fuck man, seriously?!? I can’t just wait for the fucking bus without you feeling like you have to tell me that I live up to your socially constructed beauty standards? And I’m sick, not wearing make up, covered from head to toe because I’m cold and wearing sunglasses and headphones. How much clearer could, “Don’t talk to me” get? It shouldn’t surprise me though because yesterday a young white guy started talking at me as he approached the bus stop where I was sitting and did the same thing. I had headphones on (my normal defense mechanism against misogyny and douchbaggery) so I didn’t hear the first part of his ode, but once he was close enough I heard “You’re absolutely gorgeous.” And then he disappeared around the corner. What the fuck was the point of that!?!?
If you’re going to compliment someone, wait until you get their attention, if they don’t seem utterly annoyed that you’ve pulled them away from their music/book/laptop/phone, proceed with your compliment, then wait for an appropriate response.
You may be thinking, what’s the big deal, guys think you’re pretty, it’s a compliment, just be thankful. I refuse to be thankful that my body is not considered my own, and that simply because I am a woman I am subject to harassment when I enter public space. The very same thought process that says, be thankful, is the one that condones and promotes rape culture and victim blaming, after all, women want it, right?
Here’s the example that prompted today’s blog of fury. I was sitting on a crowded bus with my bag in the window seat next to me. A young black man comes up and says something while pointing at the seat. Headphones on I have no idea what he said but I grab my bag and get up so he can sit. Once he sits he spreads his legs so that he’s taking up half my seat and is holding onto the outside of his pocket so that he brushes my thigh until I scoot so far over that half of my ass is off my seat. He tries to talk to me, I pretend I can’t hear him, use my phone and silently beg the universe to let another seat open so I can get away from him. He pulls something out of his pocket and taps me with it. I take out my left headphone to hear him offer my what appears to be grape-flavored lip gloss. I say, “No. Thanks,” and put my headphone back in. Finally the universe listens and a bunch of people get off the bus.
I move over into the same row on the other side of the aisle, with my bag again in the window seat. He is staring at me, and with Austin traffic for the kite festival he has all the time in the world. I make it a point to look out the window on my side, trying desperately not to look at him, engage him or let him know how uncomfortable I am. Out of the corner of my eye I’m fairly sure he’s masturbating but I don’t dare look. The rage and sadness and fear that I felt meant that if I had seen him my reaction would have been violent, and I try so hard to practice peace in my personal life. Once the frantic movement across the aisle stopped I quickly glanced his direction only to see him flash open his jacket. Luckily I was just glancing or I probably would have seen more than I should have.
By this time nearly everyone else has gotten off the bus and since it was on detour I feared my stop was coming up soon. I was genuinely afraid he was going to follow me off the bus, so I went to the bus driver and asked her if the detour would indeed go where I needed to. She said it would but it would be another 45 minutes. Then I told her I thought the guy was masturbating and her face was a mix of anger, sadness and understanding. “I’m so sorry honey,” she said. “Who is it?” I clarified and when he didn’t get off at the next stop she called back to him, “Are you ok?” He responded and then got off at the next stop. She asked, “Was that the one?” and I confirmed it and she apologized again. After that it was a long but uneventful ride.
My question to you–and please give me answers–is this: What is the appropriate response when a stranger stares at you? Circles the block to look you up and down as you wait for the bus? Tells you you’re beautiful or you’re working your boots or there’s a party you should come to or you’re got a slammin’ ass or vulgarly suggests you do something sexual to him? What is the appropriate response when a stranger touches you? When he jacks off at you?
Because in those moments, violence is the only response I have been able to fantasize, so instead I just ignore them and let a piece of my soul die.
- Women’s History Month Kicks Off (philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
- Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Speaks At National Constitution Center (philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
- [link] The Daily Mail claims that “we” secretly love street harassment (feimineach.com)
- Women’s History Month: On the importance of Black women’s history (thegrio.com)
- DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz Celebrates Women’s History Month: “We Can’t Stop Now” (democrats.org)
- We must all counter the mood music of rape culture (guardian.co.uk)
- 13 Sassy Quotes In Honor of Women’s History Month (cosmopolitan.com)
April 8th, 2013 at 17:50
[…] Wellbeing Month, an overlap that is very personal to me. I have been harassed on the street more times than I can count. I am a survivor of sexual assault, rape and childhood sexual abuse. I am also an abortion […]
March 6th, 2013 at 12:50
I don’t get physically violent – unless someone gropes/assaults me – but I will yell back at cars, publicly shame guys who are jerking off or touching themselves, and tell off asshats who tell me or other women to “Smile” or otherwise comment on my appearance. I used to stay silent and ignore them, but it didn’t stop it from happening, so I just decided that I wasn’t going to take anyone’s shit. I, and other individuals – particularly women – have a right to be in public and to conduct business without harassment of any type. It often really disconcerts guys who pull this crap, because all of a sudden they’re being challenged and most of them have no idea what to do when confronted, loudly and angrily. That said, there are times when I leave it be – if the dude is drunk or high & with a bunch of friends, for example.
March 4th, 2013 at 08:52
Although I am non-violent, I have long believed that the women’s movement was too nice.