There’s a brand-new building going up in my neighborhood, about a block from my subway stop. I’m not even going to bother explaining what that means. If you're a woman, you know the deal.
As I approach, I feel my shoulders rounding forward, my gait shortening and shuffling. My eyes are Super-Glued to the sidewalk. I want to hide, but I can’t get to the subway unless I go down this particular block, and here they are, and here comes the low whistle and:
“Why you walking so fast, honey?”
“Juicy, juicy thighs.”
And then one construction worker crosses the street for no reason whatsoever and stands uncomfortably close as I pass by. I feel his eyes burning on me for an entire block. Finally, I round the corner, get my iced coffee, swipe my MetroCard and go on with my day.
One of the great frustrations of life as a ladyperson is that you cannot possibly convey to a dude what it feels like to be a target every time you leave your house.
Sure, dudes can sorta understand the really scary instances of harassment: like when a guy followed me home in his car, screaming out the window all the way, and then came within feet of hitting me when I refused to acknowledge his presence. Or when that complete stranger put his hands up my skirt and tried to kiss me on a near-empty subway platform. Or when a dude decided to “walk me home” from my train stop late one night, which I accepted because I didn’t know how to safely say no, and called me a bitch when I didn’t let him follow me into my building.
This is the outfit I was wearing when that dude tried to run me over with his car. The cow wasn’t there, but I kinda wish he had been.
I could go on and on. And on and on and on and on and on. Oh, you’d get so bored. But perhaps I should continue, because the yang to Terrifying Stalking Stories’s yin is the monotony--the immutable, unshakable monotony--of being harassed 24/7.
With the exception of that time when I got The Great Brooklyn Stomach Bug of 2013 and spent three straight days watching Downton Abbey on my bathroom floor, I have not gone a single day in New York without a man yelling at me, rubbing up against me, making lewd gestures in my direction, providing unsolicited commentary on my body, or badgering me for my contact information.
"But that sounds crazy!" the dudes protest. And it is! Until you talk to literally any woman ever and they tell you the exact same thing.
Every mundane choice you make, from the length of your skirt to the opacity of your tights to the volume of your iPod to the sturdiness of your jewelry, must be considered carefully and yet doesn't matter at all. If I had to run in these shoes, could I? If someone grabbed my ponytail or my necklace, could I shake him off? Does this color make me look like I want to be approached? And off come the never-worn stilettos and down comes the hair, and all of a sudden you’re wearing an outfit that you hate, because you are just too fucking tired to deal with it today...and some asshole walks up to you on the train platform and starts making kissy noises in your ear anyway.
It’s like an eternal ringing in your ears, except sometimes that ringing assumes a human form and follows you home at night.
Daytime, nighttime, on an exercise bike, on the clock, on the emptiest street or the most tourist-glutted neighborhood--as Shakira once sang, whenever, wherever. It doesn’t matter whether you’re rocking your finest spandex booty shorts or buried beneath a duffle coat and seventeen pairs of long underwear, nor whether you make eye contact or you’re hiding your hungover mug behind Paris-Hilton-circa-2006-size sunglasses.
Every remark and every ham-fisted swipe sends a clear message: you are weak and you are lesser. You are the brick wall to my SuperBall. You are the trash can to my discarded banana peel. You are a woman, and you’re alone, and you’re just going to take this.
If you’re like me and you've already had it up to HERE with taking it, here are some tips from the fine people at Hollaback! for shutting down street harassers quickly and safely:
Be firm. Look that walking compost pile straight in the eyes and tell him that what he’s saying is not okay and that it’s harassment. Do not qualify your response, and Do. Not. Apologize. We are socialized as ladies to constantly apologize for everything we do--I mean, the other day a guy bumped into me at the grocery store and I apologized to him--but this moment is not the time.
Don't engage. He will likely try to push back. And yes, it’s cathartic to snap back and Read Him To Filth, but you’re not gonna get anywhere.
Keep it moving. Those boots were made for walking, so that’s just what you’ll do, and one of these days those boots are gonna walk all over him (and hopefully maybe bust his skull, or you know, whatever). Get out of his line of vision. Get to a larger crowd if possible. He doesn’t deserve a minute more with you, and you’re often safer around bystanders.
And speaking of bystanders: you’ve seen fellow ladies being harassed, right? You, too, can intervene safely, calmly, and constructively, and here’s how:
Respond directly. Demonstrate very clearly and publicly, that you’re aware of the situation and that you’re on the target’s team. Ask if they’re okay or whether the harasser is bothering them, and even offer to walk with them to the next train car or accompany them to their destination. Embarrass the harasser: state loudly that his behavior is gross and probably illegal, or even take a video or picture on your phone.
Confuse the shit out of the harasser. Pretend you know the target (“Yo girl, I can't believe I ran into you! How are things?”) or offer her your seat or space. Act super awkward. Drop your bags or spill your coffee.
If that fails, delegate. Find a figure of authority (like the foreman on a construction site or the bus driver). Ask fellow bystanders to help.
If a situation doesn’t feel quite safe, but you still feel compelled to act, stick to solutions that don’t put you in a bad spot. Getting an authority or group of like-minded bystanders involved is always the best way to go.
But the most important way to derail street harassment, IMO, is to remember that no matter what you do, creepy pieces of shit will still emerge from the swampy holes where they breed and try to knock you down a few pegs. Every time you modify your behavior, your clothing, or your route home, a street harasser wins. This summer, pledge to support your fellow females, wear your short shorts and live your G-D life. Happy summer, everyone.
Top photo by Katrina Del Mar, bottom courtesy of the author