Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hey, Baby! How You Doin'?

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.


Lora_3 said...

Getting chased by a car is not cool.

Every woman understands your ideas on this subject. However I think you should proceed with caution.

This post reminds me of a book " The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker.

Be safe...

meesh said...


You make a very good point. I certainly would not advocate putting oneself in danger to get a picture of a guy who is being agressive towards you. A person should always consider their safety first.

In retrospect, I really wish I had gotten that guy's licence plate number.

When possible, though, I think it is important that we get the message across that this is not OK. We shouldn't just have to "put up with it." y'know?

I think another good step would be to get laws on the books prohibiting such behavior and then actually enforcing it. If it's illegal to litter and J-walk in most places, it should be illegal to harrass women on the street.

trac said...

Love the websites. Glad that you weren't hurt during those incidences. Having a 20 yr old daughter living in Mid-town Manhattan really gives me nightmares sometimes (although I know crap can happen any where). Why do men think this kind of crap is ok? Is it funny to them? Does it make them feel empowered?

bazu said...

I totally sympathize with you and have been in the same situation. How can people still think that it's ok to heckle people like that? It should be an anachronism, but it isn't. That's why the websites you mention sound like a good idea. I just hope people don't start seeing them as almost a badge of honor or somehting and redouble their efforts!
Thanks for your comments on my blog. I posted the walk pictures.

Gaia said...

Poor Meesh, I totally understand what you feel. It made me think of something really scary that happened to me almost 20 years ago. You know what ? I still feel really uncomfortable about it. I was very lucky that a guy I knew happen to drive by on his bike and scare the /*$&%? away !

I would also tell girls to be very careful with the retaliation. If the guy feels cornered, his reactions could be dangerous.

I'm so sad and angry that this is still going on !

Candi said...

Hi Meesh! I followed this cute little bunny picture to your blog and found myself reading through your old posts. Very interesting stuff here! You had me laughing out loud at your Glamor model, and going bra-less in the mall! LOL! (They are not the free range kind!) I laughed so much at that.

Anyhow, this current post was intersting to read, and I would think it happens to all women. I get nervous if there is a group of men who are doing it. I get very scared dealing with a group of obnoxious men because it seems like they do and say things they may not have done if they were alone. I just ignore and keep on walking! The fact that is scares me really gets me upset though. They find it funny, I guess, but have no idea that it stays with us for a very long time.

I like the camera phone idea, if the women were already in a safe place to do so. Otherwise, it might get more scary if the men realize their wives may find out.

Just reading this on your blog makes me feel better though in knowing that so many of us are in the same boat. It's insulting, and I hope men read your blog and realize that it's not funny and not flattering in any way to howl or make comments like you describe.

Naturegirl said...

Meesh don't give the guy..guys the privledge of thinking twice about them with picture taking...they are trash!Get on with it.. tune them out.. focus on the posative energies in your life. I agree that this harressment is very SCAREY when it happens and you should NOT have to go through this.. but don't give them trash..el Junko..power by holding on to this.Some men.. sometimes I just want to kick them you know
{{{{ where!!}}}}
Thank you for introducing yourself at my site! P.S. your bunny would love my bunny trail in my garden!

Ashley said...

Hi, I'm Ashley, and I run Holla Back California. I'd like to thank you for mentioning us, and I really appreciate your support!

I understand the safety issues regarding taking pictures of men, but we also accept stories without pictures. I encourage all women to approach photography with caution!

Thank you so much!

KleoPatra said...

Wow, first of all, thank you for sharing this with us. Both incidents you went through are harrowing and horrible. I have had similar experiences... and I have had to put a restraining order out on a male many years ago for harrassing me and following me and pretty much making my life a living hell for a long time.

And almost had to put out another one when a guy at work was on the prowl. I don't think i was the only one he bugged... he was actually fired a few years ago for harrassing me in and out of the office.

So, woman, let me tell you, i've been there and then some. It is a scary world out there. Whatever we can do to help us be safe out there on the streets is so important.

In a similar vein, it has always bugged me that my pal Peter, and men in general, can pretty much go out for a jog at night or early in the a.m. when it's still dark (despite the annoying time change we have goin' on right now!) but i don't feel i can. It's just messed up... I mean, i'm glad that a guy can do that but it just sucks that i can't. I mean, i *can* but i sure would not feel safe doing that alone...

The Hollaback thing is not a bad idea but i also think ignoring a guy's actions works best in most cases...

Anonymous said...