First: I’m 15 years old and live in Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve been sexually harassed since I was elevent, and it has scared and humiliated me, and made me feel unsafe to walk by myself outside, or stay at a bus transfer point for more than a minute – which is a problem, because I’m homeschooled and take chemistry at the local high school, so walking or taking a bus are my only options (no bike).
Second: I am a dedicated theater actress (part of my reasons for switching to homeschool) in a Shakespeare/Shaw/Dickens theater company. While you may wonder why I mention this, it comes into play for several of my creepier encounters.
Now, I’ve had some polite encounters with men – telling me I’m pretty or have beautiful hair in a polite, non-threatening way – but I’ve also had really scary ones. Outside of being brushed a few times on the rear-end, however, I have never been groped. Thank the lord.
Anyway, my first harassment came when I was only eleven years old. I and three friends had gone to see a movie, and were walking back to her house (in the middle of the day). We were being 11, or course, and being a little silly, and joking how we were hungry and yelling at eachother “Make me a sandwich!” (we didn’t know the sexist meanins of that phrase, and were fooling around). Some college-age guys in a yellow jeep were pulling into a condo community as we were waiting at a crosswalk; they slowed in front of us and told us that if we would go into their house they would make us sandwiches. To eleven year olds! We laughed and said ‘no’ and didn’t think anything of it.
That summer (I was twelve by this time) I was walking back from our Good Neighbor Festival with a friend, and we were passing a busy street when a rusty red pickup truck drove by, and a middle-aged man in a cowboy hat leaned out, whistled, and yelled out something like “I’d fuck you, sexy bitches!” (now, I can’t be completely sure, because it was yelled very quickly, but it sounded very much like that). My friend and I were freaked this time, but tried to laugh off our discomfort.
A few times I’d been honked and whistled at – even when I was babysitting an 8 year old girl! She asked why they honked at me, but I couldn’t explain it to her!
Next time: I was 14, and had just finished up a summer rec. production of “The Wizard of Oz” at the local high school. A friend and I were walking a few blocks down to the nearby Culver’s for a cast party. It was about 10:30 at night. We were walking down this dark, short stretch of road with only one bar on it. We were walking and laughing when a car turned onto the road and drove by us. The driver looked out the window, slowed down, and honked as he passed us and continued. We thought that was it, until he reached the end of the road, U-turned and drove even MORE slowly past us AGAIN, honking once more. By this time we were really freaked, and thought he was going to stop, when the director of the play drove up and asked if we wanted a ride, while he drove off.. We explained what had happened and she said that she was glad she drove by then.
The next memorable time was in the summer after, when I started acting with the Shakespeare theater. I was coming home from a rehearsal of Macbeth, and the bus I was riding pulled into the West Transfer Point. For some reason or another, my mother had to come get me, so I went to the entrance and waited for her. All of a sudden, this black, 30-something year old man comes walking up to me and leering. The alarm bells went off in my head and I grabbed my bag to move away from him, but he followed. There was a Walmart across the street from the stop, so I walked over there and through the doors – he was still following! I was getting freaked and started to walk through random aisles, trying to confuse him, but he still followed and leered! Finally I ducked into the bathroom and stayed there for a few minutes – I was shaking I was so freaked! When I peeked out, I saw him leaving the store and crossing the street again.
Now, here’s where my theater becomes more involved. To garner attention for performances and to have fun on the weekends, a group of my castmates and I perform on the Capitol lawn during the Farmer’s Market. Originally we had put out a bag for donations, but found out we couldn’t anymore and just asked for people to come to performances. On the first day, however, we were about to do a scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (another play we were doing this summer) and I went to lie down on the ground for a starting position. As I lay down, this old man comes up to me and silently hands me a $10 bill – in a way that felt more a drug dealer to a customer than a donation for a theater. I try to tell him that the money goes in the donations bag, but he shakes his head, shoves the money into my hand, and slips away quietly. I realize a few moments later he had been looking down my shirt the whole time (before we had official theater T-shirts to perform in, I was wearing a tank-top ). The next week on the square, we didn’t have a bag, but as I was standing to the side watching others doing a scene, ANOTHER elderly man walks up and hands me some money, saying “to support the theater” in a way to suggest that it wasn’t just the THEATER he was interested in, and looked at my chest again. That same day, I hear of some college guys trying to get my friend Indigo’s number (she’s 13! I was 15 by this time) when she was explaining the Shakespeare on the Square (name we christened it) was about.
Thank the lord there was some down-time after that, but then that October we were out performing again – a small group of only three, our largest has been up to 20 actors – and one of us had gone farther down the square to do a speech of Puck’s to advertise, while another friend and I had stayed to do the sleepwalking scene of Macbeth. There was this fat, sweaty, unhygenic, probably homeless guy standing in front of me cooing “Don’t cry, oh, no, don’t cry!” the entire time I was doing the scene, and after came up to my friend and I telling us we did a good job and how “interested” in theater he was, and “what do our shirts say?” (our shirts had the theater logo on them). He was looking far to close for our comfort, and continued to look while we tried to bring the topic back to the theater. He finally did when my friend pulled out a flier and she and I zipped/buttoned our jackets up and crossed our arms. Then he watched us for the rest of the day.
This next one is pretty funny – in a still creepy way. I was at a vending machine at school and this wannabe-rapper-gangsta freshmen walked by me and said “Fuck. I thought you was a fuckin’ diamond you was so damn beautiful”, and turns a corner without saying anything else (we were the only two in the hall, so it was at me). That was so ridiculous I had to laugh.
My next one is at school, or wherever this guy is. He’s this druggie ditcher who always wears a big winter coat, and when I first saw him I was entering my health class (this was last fall, before I entered homeschool). He was friends with someone in the class, and they were sitting in the hall outside of the room. As I walked by, he leaned forward, then sat back, looked up at me and asked my name and winked – he had been looking up my dress. Too bad for him, after a summer of theater I’ve grown accustomed to wearing shorts under skirts and dresses (as we have to onstage), so the only view he got was a pair of old gymnastics shorts. It was still creepy that he tried, however. He also spent a lot of time winking and leering at me whenever he saw me in the hallway afterwards, or on the streets (I live in a Madison suburb, not too hard to see someone you recognize on the streets).
Other public school encounters: I was walking back from the bathroom and another wannabe-gangasta-rapper said hello to me as I walked past him, then planted himself directly in my way so I had to stop, asked how I was, and said “I like yo walk”. By that point I gave him a cold stare and walked around him.
My creepiest encounter, however, was on the bus. Like I said, now that I was in homeschool, I have to take a bus everywhere – to my one inschool class, between mom’s and dad’s houses, to rehearsal, home, etc. I was going to a rehearsal with a friend in January and we were laughing over something that had happened in a previous rehearsal. This middle-aged man sitting near us overheard and began asking us questions about the theater company. We didn’t think too much of it until we saw him smiling and looking A LOT at me. Then he started asking where we went to school and more personal questions and we began to ignore him. I would begin to see him all the time on the bus when I was going to class, and he would always be smiling and sitting near -not next to – me, where he could see me in full view. The creepiest time was when he got on on a day that the bus was crowded on, and the only place he could sit was in front of me. He was smiling at me as he sat down, and then turned hi s entire upper body to face me, still smiling. I tried to ignore him and focus on the book I was reading, but I could just sense him leaning towards me and staring. A couple times I glanced up and saw his eyes weren’t even on my face anymore (and you can guess where then went to). I don’t even dress provocatively! I was wearing a T-shirt, jeans and thick jacket, but that didn’t stop him! He hasn’t said a word to me, but his very presence near me makes me feel dirty, inappropriate and uncomfortable, and invaded – but I don’t know what to do! I go on ignoring him, but since he hasn’t said or done anything actually invasive I can’t report him!
All the incidents have made me feel invaded in some way, like I’m a slab of meat to be examined and commented upon, or leered at like I’m for someone elses enjoyment. I hate feeling like that! Especially when my friends and I are doing Shakespeare on the Square – the point is to see what we’re doing, to watch if you’re interested in the scenes we are performing, not stare at the girls’ chest or make them feel uncomfortable – just so you can get a few pictures in your mind! And I’m not even 16, I’m just so sick of feeling invaded.
Location: Madison, Wisconsin