I put the little black dress to an unscientific test the other weekend. The verdict: It really does appeal to everyone, for better, or in this case, for worse.
First, there was the guy next to me at self-checkout at CVS, who couldn’t resist telling me how beautiful I was. Isn’t the whole point of self-checkout that I don’t have to talk to anyone? Then there was the guy on the bus. I felt his eyes on me the entire 20-minute ride, so it must have really been a relief for him to get his feelings for me off his chest as he got off the bus. Gross.
Then there was the wrong turn I made, while trying to meet my friends at a Columbia Heights restaurant. It’s like they lined that street with men who were just waiting for prey. A couple of calls about “Mama,” and my little black dress and I reversed directions. I was carrying my heels in my purse, a decision I made to save my feet, but later became helpful in allowing me to move quickly.
Dinner with my friends was without incident. The little black dress and I were safe in the restaurant, as far as I could tell. But then the dress and I took to the streets, accompanied by four other girls in little black dresses and one man. We think: strength in numbers. Street harassers think: a whole group of easy targets, conveniently together for our harassing pleasure!
We walked from Lamont and Mount Pleasant to roughly 16th and Harvard — maybe a 10-minute walk — and spent more time deflecting harassment than enjoying each others’ company. And deflect, we did. I wouldn’t say our responses were particularly poetic, and certainly not profound, but hey: It didn’t take much to top our harassers.
A close friend once taught me the high-pitched EWWWWWWWW. I found that to be extremely effective. The men looked startled when faced with such a rejection. One of my other friends basically told them where to stick it, and we also cut them off with hand gestures and shouts even before they started hollering. We were fearless, loud and determined. It was awesome.
Long-term effects of our fighting back seem limited as far as changing these men’s behavior. Although the surprise on their faces was encouraging, I’m sure they’re out there now, harassing someone else, and that someone may not have the benefit of being surrounded by strong women who will help her fight back.
But fighting back did something for me and my friends. It reminded us of what we can accomplish together and why we’ll keep on fighting. And why no street harassers will make me hang up my little black dress. Instead, I want it to serve as a warning sign to men: Don’t MESS with me.
– Elizabeth Owens
Location: Washington, D.C.