Horrors of Street Harassment: A Letter (Part 1)

[Editors Note: A Stop Street Harassment website visitor e-mailed me a letter that details very well how pervasive and how restricting street harassment can be for women. With her permission, I am posting it here in two parts, this is part 1. I thank her for her bravery in speaking out about her experiences.]

I have not left my apartment alone in 6 months, except once per week to go to the grocery store (in the car), and even that is a nightmare I dread.

Every time I leave the house I feel intimidated by street harassers, cat callers or otherwise rude, aggressive men. No, I’m not a supermodel, nor a sea cow. No I don’t dress provocatively (most of the time I don’t even get out of my PJ’s) or instigate trouble. I mostly try to look at the ground when I walk now. It’s every single time I leave the house, and it’s not my imagination. It’s not an age thing, a race thing or a lifestyle thing-It’s a gender/aggression thing.

Even going to the grocery store once a week is a nightmare; the last 2 trips I was cornered by crazy, sick old men that could have been my grampa, or at least my dad. One of the guys stopped at the end of an aisle and stared at me for over a whole minute-When I stared back he said ‘sorry’ and scurried away. Another one was a really old man when I was at the check out; He stood so close to me I could feel his breath on my neck, so I changed check out booths after trying to take steps back several times, and him just stepping closer very time. He FOLLOWED ME!!! But this time he was blocking me in, so I couldn’t get away!

The last time I went out without my BF and not to the grocery store was to walk to the bank 1/2 mile away and back. Outside the bank is a fruit cart with a guy selling fruit. I saw him staring at the end of the block, and he leered the whole time, whistled when I passed the cart, and leered again until I got into the bank doors. Same thing happened on the way back. As soon as I turned the corner, 3 men parked in a car on the side street began making kissy noises and yelling toward me…The three of them followed me all the way to the other corner where I live, making squishy mouth noises the whole way. I don’t go to the bank on foot anymore.

Aside from yells and weird encounters (this is only the last couple times I’ve left the house), I can’t walk down the road without beeps from passing cars, or men yelling obscene comments or leering out their windows at red lights. It doesn’t just happen in the summer when I wear t-shirts and shants. It happens in the winter, too, wearing long pants, sweaters and coats.

At my last apartment, the balcony was over an alleyway shared with a major road where a building was undergoing construction. Every time I went to water the plants outside, the construction workers would yell obscene things to me. I had stopped going even on my own goddamn porch to avoid abuse!!

Yes, I used to do container gardening and would like to again, but Home Depot is another nightmare/obstacle so I decided not to garden this year. There’s always workers standing at the entrances of the parking lot, which is cool, but I’m not building a deck; I’m buying snapdragons for my porch and don’t need any assistance. As soon as the men see inside the dirty windows of my jetta and find a woman, the yelling and hissing starts.

Often they’ve become very aggressive, and banged on the car windows while making foul gestures with their mouths, etc… Exiting the home depot is scary, too. My last shopping trip there, one man followed me all the way from the exit door to my car (which was far into the lot) making squishy noises from his mouth and yelling things at me. I tried to walk really quickly, but he got to my car and blocked me from my car door-I nearly ran him over when I finally got him to get away from me.

At my last job (I was laid off last summer), there were lots of uncomfortable moments, too. I had to water the plants outside before the showroom opened, and the cat calls and leers from cars never ended (I would be wearing pant suits w/ flats). It didn’t matter…Old men in BMWs, young men in sports cars, packs of workers in beat up trucks, dads in Volvos w/ little kids in the back, hippy surfers in vintage/rusty cars… it didn’t matter!!!

This has been happening to me since I was 13 years old. I’m 24 now, and cannot ever adjust-It just makes me feel lower and lower each time I go out. Now I just don’t go out. It happens from ALL men…I’ve even been cat called by police officers in squad cars 4 times!!!(Not just Los Angeles – Boston and New York, too). I was pursued by a Fireman on duty once at my old job.

I remember once I was 16 years old, taking the train home from a museum with a group of other girls (From Boston to Salem) and 2 men followed us onto a train. It started on the platform, where they were catcalling to us. One of them even touched my hair once we were on the train, and we complained to the conductor, who called the police (they also didn’t have valid train tickets). The Salem PD waited for us at the station where they were arrested-They drove us home. Funny that 2 years later I’d be catcalled by Salem PD officers in uniform (‘Nice Legs’ from a squad car at a red traffic light, on a 98 degree 98% humid day).

Don’t even get me started on the New York transit system! That’s just as bad as walking alone on an LA city street!

I remember being 13 years old spending summers on New Hampshire and Cape Cod beaches with my Nana, and getting cat calls and honks from cars and being ‘hit on’ by men 4x my age. At age 13.


(Part 2 will be posted tomorrow)


One Response to Horrors of Street Harassment: A Letter (Part 1)

  1. Beckie says:

    You poor thing. I can’t imagine having to give up gardening. I am so glad you wrote and I hope expressing your pain will help. I wish I had an answer for you but talking about it has helped me. When I was 16 I had to walk past a construction crew on my way to work. Every day my stomach would knot up a block before. And every day it would happen the whistles, the “hey sexie.”

    I’m fifty years old now and sadly just got hit on by a stranger on the beach this week by a man younger than me but those memories of knowing it was going to happen each day when I was 16 still make my stomach
    knot. I hate street harassment. Thank you for sharing your story. I wish
    you courage and gardens and quiet safe walks on your streets!

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