Has this ever happened to you?
I was walking down 38th street in midtown Manhattan one afternoon, on my way to a rehearsal. As I'm passing a store front, one of the guys lounging against the building leans over and says "Hey baby, you got great tits."
I try to ignore him and walk on by, but he starts to follow me. He's making comments about my ass, asking me what I'm doing that night etc. I get to the corner of 38th and Broadway and duck into a store until he walks away. I'm scared, angry and late for rehearsal.
Or how about this?
I'm driving home from class last week in Valley Village, CA around 10:00 at night. As I approach a stop light a white car pulls up next to me and honks the horn. I look over and there are two guys in the other car. The driver is making the universal sign for "roll down your window." I just look at them and shake my head. When the light changes I continue driving and he stays right next to me, making nasty gestures and doing something particularly gross with his tongue. I slow down, he slows down. I speed up, he speeds up. I finally lose them at another light when I make a left turn. I'm shaking. I'm pissed off and I just took a turn that brings me nowhere near my house, so I have to drive around the block so I can get going back in the right direction.
This is called street harassment. It's the kind of crap all women risk being exposed to whenever we dare go out someplace without a male escort. It is not acceptable behavior even though our society tends to just laugh it off as "harmless". It is not harmless. It can be scary. It can be infuriating. It can be demoralizing.
Whenever this happens to me, I usually just try not to look at the guy and get past him as quickly as possible. Inevitably I blame myself for provoking the attention. Maybe my make-up was too much or my shirt was too tight. I wish my boobs were smaller or my hips were less curvy. Whatever. Then I get angry because I feel scared and guilty and none of it is my fault. I am not the pervy little half-wit who gets off by harassing random women. Here I am feeling like shit and the guy who should be feeling like shit is probably laughing about it. Other than carrying mace or a firearm, what is a girl to do?
Carry a camera phone.
There are these websites popping up all over the place called "Hollaback..." There's Hollaback New York, Hollaback Boston, and Hollaback California to name a few. The idea is that whenever you see a guy harassing you or another woman, take the bastard's picture. Then e-mail your story to one of these sites and they will post it along with lover boy's pretty picture for all the world to see. It's a way of standing up for ourselves and telling the world that this kind of behavior may be common place but it is not acceptable. It's amazing how people reconsider their actions when you're capturing them for posterity. Suddenly, a guy grabbing his crotch and making kissy noises at a random girl on the street seems like it might just be a bad idea.
There is also a great sense of community and quite a lot of attitude at these sites. So often, when a woman is harassed on the street, she feels isolated. Very rarely does anyone else notice or help out. It's your problem alone. The Hollaback project makes it clear that it is our problem and we are going to do something about it together.
There's another very interesting site called Blank Noise, based in India where women are taking a stand against "Eve-teasing". Eve-teasing is a deceptively innocuous term for the street harrasment that goes on in cities there. More and more these incidents are escalating into physical violence and assault on women. The women involved in the Blank Noise Project plan walks after dark, put up posters and paint messages on the side walk to raise awareness about this sort of violence against women. Check out their entry for Friday Sept 29th where they document an evening out on the town.
So, the next time some scummy guy decides to make unsolicited remarks about your anatomy, consider snapping a pic and sharing your experience with the world. Maybe his wife will see him on the internet and give him a little talking to. At the very least you'll feel better for having shared you experience with some sympathetic readers
Note: The photograph at the top of this post is called American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin. I see the stupid thing in poster sizes suitable for framing at places like Pier 1 and Cost Plus World Market all the time and it gives me the creeps. That girl looks scared to me. The picture could just as easily be called American Girl Seconds Before a Sexual Assault. Ugh.