Seriously, why?

March 1, 2009 at 12:58 pm (Life) (, , )

As of Thursday, I have been initiated into the club of the women harassed on the street.

I was walking down Randolph towards the traffic light that would allow me to cross the street. There is a bus stop towards the end of the block, one I am loath to pass because a lot of people linger there and stare and generally make me feel uncomfortable. An older Hispanic man was leaning on the trash can – irony – and, as he took up a lot of space on the sidewalk, I only had a foot between myself an him. As I walked past, he leaned in closer and went, “Hey baby.”

It was jarring. I was so surprised I nearly stumbled and fell, and this was the day I wore 4 inch heels that were absolutely killing my feet at this point. In my surprise, I forgot to spit my chewing gum into his face; I was close enough that it would have definitely hit its mark. I jerked my head higher and stalked past him, not sparing him a glance.

I sat down at my computer when I got home, prepared to write an enraged blog entry about it. Then I halted. Was this really the first time this had happened to me? I thought maybe harassment I only associated with holidays spent in countries far from home, when, in truth, I had been harassed in my own hometown before. I realized that even though Germany is a great deal safer than the US, I was still always prepared to hear snide remarks from gaggles of young Turkish men loitering about tram stops or the railway station, or even on public transportation. The fact I was prepared for that kind of behavior enabled me to bust their asses when it came around to it, turning into a whirling verbal dervish that left these boys appalled and surprised because they were not used to someone actually being angry about it.

The point of harassment on the street is to make your victim uncomfortable; the people who do this assert their power over you when this happens. My vacation in Egypt this past December was a downright nightmare. No matter how much I covered up with scarves and long-sleeved tops, there was always some grown man leering at me. Walking down a street even in a group was awful. During our one week, I ended up sitting in our room in tears at least once because I couldn’t stand it. The rest of my family couldn’t quite understand why I was so upset – my parents are obviously together, and these men will not make a move towards women who are married. My younger sister must have been too young for their tastes and her incredibly short hair must have seemed alien to them. My brother, in turn, tried making everything about himself and claimed Egyptian women were whistling after HIM on the streets and that purtportedly “gay” men were hitting on him.

His antics ellicited a bitter laugh from me. Did he really think he was in a culture that permitted women to assert that kind of control over men? For all his whining, he had never experienced true harassment. The kind that chips away at your self-esteem over time, the kind that leaves me in tears after I set foot outdoors. The kind of harassment that simply targets women, regardless of their age, for existing. He didn’t know jack about harassment.

A severe lack of self-confidence is deeply engrained into my psyche. In Germany, I was harassed because I was extremely fair-skinned for even European standards and when Turkish men harassed me, it was because they had a fixation on blondes. This ended up with my dyeing my hair several different shades of crazy to no avail. Before I moved to the US, I had heard a lot about street harassment, but for some reason never expected it to happen to me. The women I heard it from were all very attractive in general. I thought I was safe.

Then Thursday happened.

What bothers me even more than the actual harassment is the kind of distrust of men it instills in me. I have always held a somewhat irrational fear of approaching men or spending time with them. I can only assume this is because I was emtionally abused by a young man I considered a friend for several months. I spent the last two years of my life in boarding school, slowly regaining my trust towards those of the male persuasion. It was hard, but I thought I was getting somewhere, and stupid little events like that of Thursday always set me back further than I would like.

In an ideal world, I would be able to walk down the street without having to fear being verbally accosted. Until then, I will up my vigilnce a hundredfold and invest some brainpower into nasty comebacks in both English and Spanish. That doesn’t mean I’m happy about having to do so.



  1. Meg said,

    I was recently approached in a parking lot outside of a bookstore at night, by a guy who opened the conversation with, “Excuse me, maam, I just got out of jail…”

    I said, “Sorry, I can’t help you.”

    He got mad and said, “I didn’t say I need help.”

    I looked right at him (I was at the door of my car, and there were people around) and said, “You just approached a woman who is by herself in a dark parking lot, coming out from between cars, and tell her that you just got out of jail. Of COURSE I’m not going to talk to you.”

    Got in my car and drove away. It was scary and keeps me home a lot more now, which is sad. But a girl’s got to protect herself.


    • vocisexmachina said,

      OMG SCARY. I would have freaked out and run for it instead of being that calm.

      • Meg said,

        Well, I was about three blocks down the road before I realized I hadn’t turned on my headlights! I called the police and they took a detailed description and sent someone over to check it out.

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