At the breaking point because of constant harassment

I went through complete and utter hell earlier this evening, and I would not wish what I’d went through on my worst enemy. If my story sounds disjointed it’s because I’m still recovering from the events of today.

I was not having the best day. Today was a slow day at work and it didn’t help that I found out at a dentist appointment before work that I have to get my wisdom teeth pulled. Swell.

I normally take the C&O Canal to the Key Bridge to walk home from work, feeling that it’s an escape from the foot traffic and chaos of M Street. My usually peaceful walk up the canal was interrupted by a bunch of loud, obnoxious guys that were hanging out at the top of the exit I use to get off the canal and to the Key Bridge. The way they were hanging around the exit taking up space made me uncomfortable, but I ignored them and kept walking.

As I get to the bridge and start walking, I’m listening to music and am in my own world. I hadn’t realized I was in someone’s way. This average-looking, middle-aged white guy in business casual attire starts yelling at me.

“I’M TRYING TO FUCKING GET AROUND YOU!” he yelled through clenched teeth.

“Sorry!” I said. “You don’t need to curse at me. If you said ‘Excuse me’ I would’ve moved.”

This guy was so angry and unhinged that no apology would’ve calmed him down. And it shows how much I stereotype harassers…I’m so used to being harassed by grungy guys on the corner that I wasn’t expecting it from a middle class-looking guy. But as I said, this guy was so full of rage that I could’ve offered him a million dollars and he still would’ve shot hatred towards me.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” the guy yelled in response to my apology. He looked uptight and I was just the victim he chose to attack.

“Don’t take your bad day out on me! This is a sidewalk, not a relay race!” I snapped back.

“SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH YOU FUCKING NIGGER! I’M TIRED OF FUCKING HEARING YOU TALK!” he said. I was taken aback. Nothing I’d done warranted his behavior. Not a thing

“Uptight, crazy racist bastard!” I yelled. What pissed me off is that he could easily let that hateful term roll off his tongue, bully and belittle me, then continue walking on as if nothing happened. And of course, people walked by and watched, but did nothing. No one asked if I was okay or came up to me and said “We saw what happened. Are you okay?” Nope. I’m just the black chick no one gives a shit about.

I called the police as I crossed the bridge, keeping a safe distance to trail this guy. I took a photo of him, but I was too far away to get a good shot (and behind him so I couldn’t get a shot of his face) and was just too afraid to get close enough to get a shot of his face. This guy was insane and wasn’t worth getting that perfect shot.

I lost the guy at Lynn and 19th, and was told to wait for the police there. While I waited for the police I called my mother. I was shaken up, but at that point I had an attitude of, “Can you believe the day I just had?” and I just wanted to get home. Talking to her actually made me feel worse than I did when randomly called “nigger” by some racist prick.

“See?” she said. “You’re always quick to judge people by their outside, calling them ‘ghetto’, so this nicely-dressed guy says something it just shows you can’t judge people on their outer appearance.” I felt that I was being attacked.

Also, “Maybe this guy had a bad experience with black people and you just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said. (Both my mother and I are black.)

“That doesn’t mean he needs to take it out on me like that,” I said. “No one deserves that.” (Would it make it okay for me to take my anger out on any random white person because of the racism of this idiot? Nope! Two wrongs do not make a right.)

“True,” my mother says. “And he probably wouldn’t have said anything if you were a big, black male.” (At least we agreed on something.)

“(My name), you are always having problems when you’re out and about,” she continued. “How is it that someone else can go about their day and nothing like this happens, but with you it happens every single day? You’re always having a problem and are always calling the police. The police probably has a record with all the times you’ve called with your name and number. How does that look?”

I’m standing out in public on a street corner waiting for the police, on the phone getting put down by my mother. I called her out on it and she denied that that was what she was trying to do, but that’s what it felt like. And she is too damned concerned with appearances. “You call the police all the time…how does that look?” “You react to everything on the street…how does that look?”

The police came (10 minutes after this guy was long gone) and I showed the officer the photo of the man who berated me on my phone and gave a description of him. He said he’d look around for him, but pretty much said that since he fits the description of every other middle-aged, middle-class white guy who lives in Arlington, it’d be hard to find him. So it was pretty much a lost cause.

I continue on my way home, once again on the phone with my mother, and I walk past these guys who I know are homeless (I’ve seen them in line waiting for the free meals that get handed out at Gateway Park) and who looked to be in a state of intoxication. They staggered as they walked and slurred their words. One of them got really close to me, stared at my chest and said “How ya doin’, Sweetheart?” Yuck.

“My name is not ‘Sweetheart’,” I snapped.

“What is your name then?” the loser says.

“Miss or Ma’am!” I snap.

My mother overhears this and is yelling at me on the phone to “Stop reacting to them! You are judging people by their appearance again! He could’ve been a guardian angel…” I love my mother, but at this point I was thinking, “Are you fucking kidding me?!” This wasn’t a random test where an angel was disguised as a disheveled-looking man to test human kindness—this was real life and my real life involves me getting harassed by every damn Tom, Dick and Harry all the damn time!

“This man was looking at my chest and was in my face calling me ‘Sweetheart’,” I said.

“But you’re reacting to it again, and now he’s going to react negatively like the other guy…” my mother says.

“I don’t care,” I said. “I’m past him so whatever nasty thing he has to say in response I would’ve have been able to hear.”

“Why do you continue to react to them? Do you think it’s going to make him change his behavior? Stop it!” she says.

I am glad she ended the call a minute or two later because I couldn’t take this anymore. I was so broken down that when I continued walking home I wasn’t paying attention when I crossed a street, and hadn’t noticed a light had turned green on me and an SUV was ready to run me over. A cyclist that rode by made a gesture at me implying I was stupid.

I felt stupid…and worthless, invisible, a target, a victim, and just lonely. I wish I had someone there to say, “I am so sorry that happened to you,” not to wonder what’s wrong with me to cause me to have all these issues on the street.

Being called “nigger” isn’t what hurt me, nor being ogled like a piece of meat, but having my mother discredit what I’ve gone through as me being “judgmental” and what these men do to me being a form of karma. I hate having my experiences be belittled and treated as if I’m crazy and deserving of this. But with that kind of reaction from those who are supposed to love and care about me, I’m starting to wonder if there is something wrong with me that this nonsense continuously happens to me. I think I’ve reached my harassment breaking point. I cannot take this anymore.

Commenters, please don’t put down my mother. I definitely don’t agree with her take on this and feel that she honestly doesn’t know how to react to it since she doesn’t go through it herself, but she is my mother regardless. I just wish one day she will finally understand what I go through and realize that I’m not the problem and that I don’t have to change…the men on the street who do this do.

I just wish I had someone I could talk to about all the drama I go through on the streets. My mother is obviously not that someone and I need to stop telling her everything I go through. I wish I had a support group of people who get harassed as frequently as I do.

– “Tired of Being Harassed”

Location: Arlington, VA

Racist harasser: Key Bridge
Leering harasser: Pedestrian Bridge next to the Contintental Restaurant

15 Responses to At the breaking point because of constant harassment

  1. May says:

    I’m with you. I’ve been harassed, name-called, threatened and followed by countless numbers of men, all who blame ME for being unfriendly, “reactive” or whatever. It is completely BS, as you well know, since those men consider women and their desires to be completely worthless except as they serve men.

    I know I’m not nearby, but I definitely get harassed most of the time I leave my house and I understand how alienating, exhausting and depressing it all is. But I refuse to change my life entirely because men think that I am something for them to use or possesses.

    Keep your head up, sister! We’re with you!

  2. cybermaven says:

    I’m so sorry you had to deal with that. It’s even worse that someone you expected to be supportive attacked you verbally.

  3. Brittany-Ann says:

    I’m sorry that happened to you.

    *hugs*

    You don’t deserve ANY of it.

  4. Sue Henderson says:

    I’m sorry you had such terrible experiences and that your mother couldn’t understand. I’m not going to disrespect your mother but I would like to talk about her a little.

    I think her real fear is that you’ll be attacked physically and so she’s trying to teach you what she was taught herself – that women should keep their heads down, not fight back, shrug it off, and hope the guy attacking her keeps it verbal and doesn’t touch her. She’s scared for you and so instead of validating your feelings and supporting you when you stand up to abuse, she wants to hide and to have you hide too.

    It must have hurt like hell to not be able to rely on your mother for support at such a time, but she was being supportive in what she felt was the best way – the ‘keep your head down’ message.

    If you have other family or a friend who would be supportive in a more constructive way it may be best to talk to them about such situations rather than your mother.

    You are so right to stand up for yourself and I really admire you for doing it. You need to be able to talk to someone who ‘gets it’, who is totally supportive of how you deal with these situations and who’ll re-affirm that you’re not going mad. You’re a brilliant, brave woman and I hope you find your way through this crisis.

  5. b says:

    Holy shit girl. I am really sorry. I won’t put down yr mama but I will say that sometimes this stuff is harder for our elders to understand. My partner’s parents have no sense of what I’m trying to explain when I tell them about harassment (granted, they live in what in seemingly one of the world’s only cultures that isn’t rife with harassment). I don’t bother trying to explain it to my grandparents because they totally wouldn’t get it. If anything, it would just scare my grandma😦

    What would our support group look like? Since we’re all spread out and can’t just find some corner on which to hug instead of be harassed (wouldn’t that be the nicest way to combat the hatred? we’d probably be called lesbians though by insecure dudes who can’t handle female friendship), could we meet virtually beyond this space? Or do the comments help a bit? I hope they do. Because I also live in said harassment-free culture right now, I do forget how much it used to pervade my life. (I now get my anxiety from other things!) It was a daily thing for me too and when I move back to the U.S., I suspect it’ll start right back up again. I used to yell back a lot but that was so upsetting that it was so hard to know if it was worth it. I understand how frustrating that part is, the decision to call the cops or not, to follow the guy and take his photo, or to just walk away. No matter what, you’re gonna feel terrible.

    So, I know you know it, but remember that you aren’t doing anything wrong. You are walking, being. That isn’t a crime, nor is it worthy of the scorn, hatred, and general disrespect that you so regularly encounter. A lot of us are right there in the same rickety ass boat. And, if it helps, ‘this is a sidewalk, not a relay race’ is an amazing comeback🙂

    Hang in there love.

  6. Tired of Being Harassed says:

    Thanks for the quick posting of my story and thanks commenters for your comments. It’s been almost 24 hours since this happened and the effects of it still sting. I’m still going to take the same path home, but who’s to say it or something similar won’t happen again? It’s a depressing feeling.

    For all my mother’s talk about not judging people (she’s into church and is trying to be a good Christian), she doesn’t realize that that’s exactly what she’s doing to me. She tends to focus on everything I do wrong instead of things I do right. I think she’s worried that all my actions will reflect on her and how she is as a mother, which is unfair to me, especially when I am no longer a child and haven’t lived under her roof for years. My actions and reactions reflect me only, not her.

    Regardless of what happens to me on the street and what she thinks, I’m not going to stop reacting. I refused to stand there and let some creep call me “nigger” without responding back, and I refused to let some scum get away with leering at me and calling me “Sweetheart”. It doesn’t matter if these men realize the error of their ways or not and if they have changes of heart, what matters is that I don’t stop speaking my mind.

    Thanks everyone for their support. I may not be able to get much offline, but I know I can come here and get it. Thank you.

  7. That’s a shame. There really should be a physical space to go for support, like what could be arranged at a community center or at meetup.com, not only virtual spaces like facebook.com and this blog.

  8. Tired of Being Harassed says:

    I think her real fear is that you’ll be attacked physically and so she’s trying to teach you what she was taught herself – that women should keep their heads down, not fight back, shrug it off, and hope the guy attacking her keeps it verbal and doesn’t touch her. She’s scared for you and so instead of validating your feelings and supporting you when you stand up to abuse, she wants to hide and to have you hide too.

    Sue, I didn’t see your response until after I posted mine, but this makes sense. She frequently tells me the story of when she was about 12 how she was walking to the corner store, and a group of men hanging out (men and a 12-year-old…ew) gave her one of their “compliments.” She ignored it so they instead resort to making threats and calling her “ugly.” Now I see my mother seem sadly thrilled on getting male attention and it doesn’t matter where it comes from. When I witness this go on, it upsets me.

    One of these street corner scrubs will say, “Ooh, you’s a pretty fine thang” or something like that in a sexual manner, and she’ll smile and act coy and accept it. I, on the other hand, react differently (obviously not positively to the harasser), and my mother then tells me I’m being rude. It’s disheartening.

    Or she’ll love to constantly bring up how I responded to a guy on the street who started off with “Excuse me, can I talk to you for a second?” which seems harmless, but as many times as that request has turned into some lewd comment, I have every right to react negatively when I hear it. In this case I thought his tone was sexual, and I quickly said “No, you’re not getting my number and I don’t want you to walk with me!” He then says he was only trying to hand out papers, and of course my mother is embarrassed by my behavior and goes to talk to the guy. And she constantly, CONSTANTLY, brings up this incident, as well as others where she didn’t like how I reacted on the streets. It’s a reminder that I’m a “failure” in her eyes.

    In all truth, I feel my mother is making me feel more like a freak in dealing with all this, not the harassers! Surprise, surprise.

  9. Golden Silence says:

    Mark, that’s a great idea. I’ve been reading so many stories from women who feel they are constant targets of harassment (like the woman in India who said her family blames her), and to have Meetup-type groups for frequent harassment recipients would be a way for these women to know they’re not alone.

    I know HollaBack DC is trying to become a more hands-on organization, so I wonder if they’d consider a harassment support group as one of their extended efforts. It is one thing to have people online saying they’re here for you, but to have that in person would be even better.

  10. You are my hero. You aren’t crazy. You are just not going to accept rude, degrading behavior–and sadly that comes with a huge price. I am going to be at Holly’s DC book signing and hope to meet you! Keep at it. Your courage always inspires me. Beckie

  11. Leo says:

    Us women harassed on the streets, we should never forget that there is absolutely nothing wrong with us and that all women are harassed at some point, if not on a daily basis. It has nothing to do with what you wear, the way you walk, the way you look – it’s just us being women.
    I so wish I could have been the person to come and ask you if you were OK.

  12. Thanks so much for taking the time to post this. The whole day sounds absolutely horrific. I’m so sorry you had to go through it!

  13. Margaret says:

    I’m very sorry this happened to you. I also have had many similar experiences like this with my mother. It makes it so much more difficult when the people close to us don’t understand what we’re going through. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that my mother’s reaction to my harassment stories was her way of trying to protect me. It was misguided, but she was working from our misogynist cultural programming that teaches people that women can prevent harassment and assault by changing our lifestyles, wardrobes and behavior. I like to tell myself that she comes from the same culture that causes me conflict and pain. It helps me understand her misguided ‘advice.’ I do hope that your mother comes to see things from your point of view and is able to be supportive in the way that you would like her to be.

  14. i’m with Sue Henderson. my mom is the same way which can aggravate me to no end. it’s not because she’s not supportive or doesn’t care about your feelings. it’s because, like my own mom, she hopes that if you ignore the harassment they will get bored and move on to another target. she cares about your physical safety. you are expected to tuck your tail and not infuriate the animals. but i refuse to be afraid of low lives. i have a right to walk down the street and not be terrorized and if someone tries to intimidate me i will exercise my right to tell them to shut the fuck up. i don’t WANT to be a victim but i’d rather go down fighting instead of just being quiet. because that sure as heck ain’t going to make them go away. if our mothers’ methods were effective, we wouldn’t have street harassment today. i’ll bet you however, if we start shooting them or pepper spraying them it will decline.

  15. jamie. says:

    I am so sorry for this shit you had to go through.

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