I get verbally harassed all the time. Everywhere I go. Every neighborhood and by every age and every color of men. Men honk at me, yell at me, sit down next me and compliment my hair, my eyes, etc. And I’m tired of it. It does not make me feel good. It does not make me feel pretty and I do not appreciate it at all.
I was taught to ignore the street harassment (as most women are). The proper response was to ignore it as “you’re better than that” or “it’s not THAT big of a deal” or “responding will only make it worse.” I was taught to respond to street harassment the same way that I was taught to ignore a bully and no, you should not ignore a bully, esp. as an adult. You should confront a bully. So I finally decided to respond to the street harassment and stop ignoring it. Granted, it’s difficult to respond to honking because the cars just keep on going by, but I can respond to the men who leer at me and then sit down next me and hit on me. And I finally did a few weeks ago.
I was sitting waiting for the train downtown (as I do everyday). And a noticed a man staring at me, so I quickly look away (as most women have been taught to do). Then he came over and said “You’re pretty. Do you mind if I sit down?” And I looked directly at him and said “yes, I do mind.” And he look stunned but stood up and walked away. And I felt triumphant.
I’m sure that my behavior is shocking to some of you because my behavior was not nice and pleasant. Maybe I should have just let him sit down, engage me in conversation and suffer through it. Where’s the “harm” in that? The harm in that is that street harassment symbolizes a much deeper, more dangerous, systemic problem wherein men expect access to women at all times. Men expect me to talk to them because they are men and I am a woman. How could I not want to talk to them? On other occasions when I ignore a man trying to hit on me, he usually says “oh so you have a boyfriend then” as though the only reason for me not wanting to talk to him is because I have boyfriend (aka another man has claimed me). The reality is: I do not want to talk to most men who talk to men. I have very little desire to talk to someone who is clearly only talking to me because he wants to do something that involves very little talking.
So I’ve had enough of ignoring it, and I will not longer be nice and pleasant in response to unsolicited, lewd behavior.
At this point, some of you might be thinking: “you can’t respond to everyone who talks to you with hate and malice. That’s not right. What if they didn’t mean to harm you? What if they didn’t mean to offend you? It doesn’t sound THAT bad.” No, not every man who talks to me wants to sleep with me. But it’s fairly easy for me to tell who does and who doesn’t. I genuinely appreciate a nice, well-intentioned compliment. And since I can tell the difference, I can respond accordingly. And no, most men don’t MEAN to hurt me or offend me but they do. We’ve created a culture that just accepts street harassment as the way things are. Partially because we taught women to accept and ignore it, instead of trying to stop it. But harassment is not the way things need to be because very few women actually appreciate it. Pretty much every women that I’ve spoken to about it, hates it as much as I do. Finally, I try not to rank my forms of sexual violence as less or worse than others. The vast majority of women do not enjoy being harassed in public or private. And it needs to end.