It’s time harassing men faced real consequences for their actions

July 17, 2009

I was walking down the street in downtown Denver, Colorado, near the State Capitol, in July 2008 minding my own business. I know people love to blame women and what we wear for the rude, threatening and harassing behavior of men. Because of course, men can’t in any way be held responsible for their actions and reactions to women, right? It’s always the woman’s fault. Well, I’m tired of being blamed. So, I’m not even going to mention what I was wearing because it is irrelevant. I was wearing what millions of American women wear every summer. I will leave it at that. I’m sure someone else will want to blame me for where I was walking, as if I had no right to walk freely where I want in my own city in broad daylight. I’m not going to take any blame for that either. The men in this scenario are to blame.

I was walking down the street and there were two men ahead of me. I didn’t think anything of it. But suddenly, they must have heard me walking behind them, even though I was still quite a distance away. Then, they both stopped and stood there in the middle of the sidewalk, staring and leering at me. Two men against one woman. I despised them at that moment.

I slowed down to assess the situation. Even though it was the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight, there was no one else around at the time. I felt scared and nervous because they just kept standing there staring at me as I walked toward them. As I approached them, one man extended his arms, asking for a hug, the other just stood there and glared at me with this mean look. I walked a wide half-circle around them and I said “Stop staring at me and leave me alone!!! Stop harassing women!!!” The one who held out his arms acquiesced and said, “Alright, we will.” Just like that. I continued to watch my back as I walked further away from them. The other man continued to give me a mean stare as I walked by. I stared right back at him.

I continued on until I got to a place where there were a lot more people and got on the light rail train I needed. But the feelings of anger and injustice of that event remain to this day. These jerks got to harass, disturb my peace of just walking down the street, minding my own business. What right did they have to stand there and stare at me, making me feel unsafe? Who are these men, who think they have the right to disrupt women’s lives like this without consequences.

But there are consequences, more than they’ll ever realize. These types of men make women HATE them. It makes us want to take action against them. I should never have had to deal with that. No woman should. Yet, we are forced to day in and day out by a culture that sees women primarily as sex objects with body parts that are toys for immature, stupid men to play with.

So, I ask you, what did I do to deserve being treated this way by 2 men I’d never seen before in my life. I was female, that’s what. Guilty as charged. Because these men are so weak and selfish and powerless, they feel a temporary rise in a feeling of false power by harassing women who are strangers to them. Mature men know that power can never come from harming another person, by demeaning them with disrespectful behavior.

I’m writing this because this is only one of many occasions of harassment I have had to deal with in my life. I’ve been harassed when wearing summer clothes. I’ve had men make unwanted comments to me wearing winter coats and clothes. I’ve been followed in grocery stores, had men I didn’t know stare me down in parking lots as I put groceries in my trunk. I’ve had men “hitting on me” on the train and while I waited for trains, to the point of being intrusive and rude. I’ve been sexually harassed at work, having pornographic emails sent to me on company email. I’ve had men make rude, unwanted overtures to me as I walked into my apartment complex. I’ve had men stare at my breasts through binoculars. Need I say anymore?

I’ve had it with men. I’ve heard men say out of anger, when they hear of women filing complaints of sexual harassment, how they want to make women pay. Funny how men have no idea of how much women like me want to make them pay. And they will.

This harassment is a problem. I’m tired of it being minimized. I’m tired of women being given all the responsibility to stop it. I’m tired of there being no legislation to protect women. I’m tired of men being given a free pass to harass women and not be expected to take any responsibility for controlling themselves. I refuse to take any blame for these despicable men’s behavior.

– L.S.

Location: Denver, Colorado

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Include your location and it will be added to the Street Harassment Map.


Too afraid to leave the house without men

April 13, 2009

I’ve had very little trouble from strangers, but I think that’s because I’m excessively paranoid. I’ve been molested by three different people now, and the little street harassment I get hits very hard. I always want to be mean and abrasive, to teach them a lesson, but instead I just freeze up until I can run. But mostly people leave me alone, since I basically never leave the house without a male escort…is that the purpose of street harassment? To keep women, even lesbians, too afraid to leave the house without men?

-anonymous


Looking for escape routes

March 6, 2009

Walking alone on my University’s campus is sometimes difficult. Especially during winter months when there is rarely anybody out and it’s dark most of the time. I feel the need to walk fast, to wear my hair short and in a pony tail and to walk in open spaces where I can see my surroundings. I find that subconsciously I start to look for escape routes, meaning that if I have to run, where will I go? What door will I knock/pound on? What restaurant, other establishment will I run to?…

-anonymous from street harassment survey


Street harassment flashback shocks me

October 20, 2008

On the Shakesville blog, people are answering the question: “In what ways has the idea of sexual assault and/or street harassment affected your daily movements?” The question was posed on Saturday and already there are over 400 responses. Since this is exactly one of the topics I want to discuss in a book I plan to write on street harassment, I was thrilled and I have been eagerly reading through the posts. It never ceases to amaze me how much our lives are impacted by street harassment.

I was part-way through reading a post by FriedaK about getting followed by a guy in a car as she walked home from a night shift at work when I had a flashback to a street harassment incident I had completely forgotten about. Over a year ago when I first began researching street harassment, I wrote down all of the “major” incidents I could recall but I didn’t remember this one.

In this incident I was either 14 or 15 years old and I was running a 6 mile loop through the streets near my house in Pacific Palisades, CA. I think it was a Saturday morning. I ran up Sunset Blvd and then cut up into a very affluent neighborhood because they had a large hill I liked running up. I’d run this route many times.  This day, I was part-way up the hill (and about 2.25 miles into my run) when a man in a car started driving slowly beside me. My heart quickened but I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was probably looking for a certain house, etc. Still, I increased my pace.

I ran about another 3/4th of a mile with him still beside me and I was getting more nervous each second. There was no one on the street and most of the houses had big security gates and looked very intimidating and I didn’t really see running up to one of them for help as a viable solution. By that point, he’d been beside me long enough that I worried that he was up to no good. I was too freaked out to look at him and so I just pretended I didn’t notice him and wasn’t bothered. I reached the peak of the hill and as soon as I saw a side street, I sprinted down it and kept going full speed, weaving in and out of side streets until I reached Sunset Boulevard, a well populated street.

I didn’t see him again during the run but I was really shook up. I’d been running alone for a few years at that point and I had generally always felt safe (though not enough to run at night) and it was a big shock to not feel safe anymore. My mom bought mace for me to carry around that time and I can’t remember if it was in response to that incident or not.

Compared to so many women whose stories I’ve read, this incident is nothing. I wasn’t assaulted, raped, attacked, nor did I even have anything offensive or threatening yelled at me. He may not have been following me at all. I will never know. But I do know it was very real to me at the time and in the few minutes since I remembered it happening, I have felt shaky and scared just thinking about it. It’s surprises me that I forgot about this incident and that remembering it has upset me so much.


Reflections on a lifetime of harassment

September 18, 2008

I grew up in Wisconsin. In high school I ran every night at 10pm. Summers I would ride my bike up and down rolling hills, past beautiful corn fields and red barns. Then little by little things changed.

I wouldn’t dream of doing those things now. Little by little my freedom is slipping away from me.

I remember clearly the anger I felt when I realized just how much freedom I had lost. It is a day that sits firmly in my memory. Not because anything monumental happened, but rather because that day, for whatever reason, I understood how quickly things were changing.

It was a beautiful autumn day. I was 25. I had graduated University, and had landed my dream job in beautiful Williamsburg, Virginia. I drove to a near-by park; ready to breathe in the crisp fall air and
admire the golden colors around me. Maybe I’d jog a bit. Feels good. But, as soon as I stepped onto the trail instead of continuing to feel happy, relaxed and carefree, my heart began to race. Why can I no longer go out to breathe the fresh air? It’s not allergies. Why instead of feeling the peace I used to feel, do I feel my heart race at the risk I take just to be in nature? My eyes dart side to side, surveying the scene. Planning escape routes. Which way is best to run? It’s not worth it. I turn around, walk back to my car and drive home.

The “smile. what’s a pretty girl like you frowning for?” (which I found belittling and rude) had turned into men wiggling their tongues between the V made by their fingers (even worse). Maybe it’s because I have shoulder length hair. After all I was blonde. Maybe it’s because I’m further south. Nope. I cut my hair, but even after several moves north and south, it seemed the men were
getting worse! Little by little the small changes were hard to ignore.

Eventually I got married, and wound up in Missouri for a while. We had a great little condo, and only a 10 minutes walk from work! I’d cross the street, walk through a large open parking lot, cross one
more street and enter via the back door. That’s when I started counting. The average was 10. Ten! That’s one every minute! Five car horns, two oral sex gestures plus three heads hanging out the window staring viciously, daring me,” come on. Make eye contact.” Equals ten! That’s one every minute! Ten sexual bullies Invading my ears, invading my eyes, invading my thoughts, crushing my spirits, swashing me, ruining my mood. Surely I should be able to walk this short distance to work, in broad daylight, alone and still feel safe.

Nope.

I began wearing big bulky jogging suits and tops. No bright colors. Especially no pink. (Which I didn’t own anyways) Did I receive fewer harassing looks or gestures? Nope. My husband liked my hair longer. It was chin length now, so I tucked it up under my hat. No help. I even tried to carry myself like a boy. My boobs aren’t that big. If the sweatshirt’s bulky enough, and I have my hat pulled down low, maybe they’ll think I’m a boy! No luck. I sat down on the cement curb and cried. I was 29. I called the only man I knew that loved, cherished and valued me, my Dad.

Later I phone my husband, but now that he is back in Virginia for a few months work, and needs the car, I’d have to make do. I tell him I hope he’s not doing what I was so upset about to anyone. Years later I’m in for more surprises. But back here in Missouri, at my happiest, and healthiest time ever, I am struggling. What is happening? I left the house happy, what happened?! I was often described as “happy-go-lucky”. A few people even found my positivity annoying. I couldn’t
understand being “dark” and jaded. But little by little, over time that was changing.

Little by little I have lost my freedom to just be. Little by little I have became angrier and angrier. I feel humiliated! I feel disgusted! I’m tired of being harassed! And I’m tired of feeling threatened! I saw on the news how all those women were raped in Central Park by swarms of men in broad daylight and no one, not ONE person did a thing.

My husband finally came home. The same roads were very different if he was walking beside me. I’d say,” I’m going to put a video camera in my bag and tape how different walking down the road with you and without you can be. I’ll wear the same outfits, go out at the same time of day…etc.” But “they” still found a way to get at me, even when he was walking beside me, holding my hand, they would stare at me in the side mirror after driving by. I guess for some reason it’s important to look at a woman’s face after sizing up her ass. My husband didn’t always notice, but I saw them. Sometimes they would even offer a look of defiance. Is that what it is? I don’t understand what it means; or what is being accomplished by this interaction, but I do know none of it feels good to me. It’s like a
look that says, “gotcha” or “you’re not safe just because you’re walking with him” or “you exist only to be used by me. you’re only worth in the world is for me to f* you and if you die i could care less. you are not human, you are a wo-man”

How am I supposed to handle this? It happens EVERY time I leave my house alone. Being with other women is no safer either. Sometimes that just makes things worse.

So, the disguises don’t work. What else can I do if clearly I cannot stop the insults from coming. Well I guess my first instincts were to ignore it. “Don’t flinch Angie, don’t break stride and whatever you do, don’t look up. Just pretend you didn’t hear it.” I hate walking around everywhere with my head down. It’s like I’m giving into them. I have a scowl on my face. I’m tense. I’m not taking in the flowers or the beautiful trees around me. If “they” see me happy it somehow gives them some sort of satisfaction that I cannot understand, and they are even more interested in invading my day! Ignoring this isn’t helping me! And there is nothing complimentary about this behavior so don’t even go there! Doing nothing has left me with a sore neck, feeling frustrated and defeated! After a while this “just ignore it” approach has just left me feeling like a victim.

I’m not a victim! I’m a human being! I’m an American! I’m a sister, a wife, a friend. A college graduate! An oboe player! An athlete! A caring person! A hard worker! I’m friendly! I love being
outside! I’m adventurous! I’m intelligent! I’m modest! I don’t “flaunt it”! I share my body with my husband! Aren’t these men somebody else’s husbands!!!! Do these poor women know that their
husbands are gawking at me!!!!

I start flicking them off. Still this seems to satisfy them as well, or they then I have to hear them yell, “bitch” or “you know you like it”, or “tight bitch”, or “you’re ugly anyway”. So that doesn’t last
long.

Maybe I need to change my reactions inside. Maybe I should feel happy. Feel flattered that I am attractive. Bullshit. I’m still repulsed.

“Take it as a compliment” some men say. Bullshit, I know I am being insulted. I still feel repulsed. I hardly think harrassing men would be so thrilled if the shoe was on the other foot. What if the world
was filled with men afraid to go anywhere without their wives because women would constantly be making sexual advances at them?

Ok…I let you go with that for a second. Great, you think, they would love it! But let’s put it in perspective. Give it a dose of reality. After all none of the men bullying me look like Brad Pitt.
In fact, even if I wasn’t married, I find none of them attractive. Quite the opposite. No Densell Washington has ever made inappropriate sexual gestures at me. It’s ALWAYS someone repulsive or clearly not age appropriate.

So when I say “women” harrassing helpless men, I don’t mean the models from the hair commercials. I don’t mean the classy “older” ladies selling the anti-wrinkle cream. (personally if that’s an older
woman, no one must live past 35) I’m talking about sexually aggressive women who are less physically
attractive and at an age that these male “victims” not only don’t desire, but feel repulsed at the thought of doing anything sexual with. Perhaps they have black teeth, dry dirty hair, dirty fingernails and filthy mouths. None of the pretty ladies he may see on the street give him anything but a conservative hello. Yet every woman he finds repulsive is making remarks about his penis being
somewhere he’s never want it to be, or better yet, she solicits him to perform favors for her by voicing them aloud as he innocently walks by. I hardly think he’d take it as a compliment.

As for me, I’m now 36. No kids yet. Scared to have a little girl. Praying a little boy doesn’t grow up to behave this way.

From the time I was 16 until age 30 the men that “harassed” me were mostly 18-35. Mind you, The thought of a 35 year old man being interested in me even when I was 25 grossed me out. Media and movies portray it all the time, but to me the thought was disgusting.

Now that I’m 36, I’ve noticed less attention. And if I do get it, now the men are 45-60. Yeah.

Maybe I get less attention because I’m older. Awesome! I can’t wait till men think I’m an old bag, a smelly old woman worth nothing. Then I won’t have to put up with their disgusting sexual invasions. Or maybe I get less attention because I rarely go anywhere without my husband now. Maybe I’ve altered my behavior and didn’t even realize it. I have to admit, it sure has been a challenge. Looking good enough for my husband to notice, but not good enough for any perv to see. Really really difficult.

So, anyways…yesterday I decide to walk to the store. Brown full length pants, not tight, geeky brown sandals and a turquoise blue v-neck t-shirt. No necklace, small earrings. I only had to go 10
minutes through my friendly Canadian neighbourhood to get to the store. Surely now that I’m back up north, way north, now that I’m older, and with what I’m wearing, nothing will come of this…. I
only made it two blocks.

They were sitting in their dump trucks. Road construction down a nearby street. Great. One of them hung his head out the window like a dog gasping for air; the other honked his horn. Why?! Why did he
feel the need to do this?! I was instantly angry!!

My emotions in check I immediately do what I always do…analyze my feelings. What’s the matter with me?! Why am I angry? I’m not an angry person!!! At least I didn’t used to be!! Is it because my
bruises never get a chance to heal? Does any woman bruises ever get a chance to heal? Why do they keeping poking me hitting my bruises? I want to scream “Stop it!” I want them to understand how horrible it feels. It’s insulting! Like how you might feel if someone peed on you! Stop pissing all over me! Now what…

I decide to turn around. I walk back to the lot where they’re parked. I stand on the sidewalk in front of the two men propped up high, sitting like kings in their dump trucks. I look hopelessly up at them, ten feet higher than me, protected by their steel trucks, and their sunglasses, and the fact that they’re men.

One just stares. The other offers the all too familiar dainty wave. The wave that belittles and maddens at the same time. That patronizing little wave has a way of getting into the pit of your
stomach I ask, “Did you honk?” Nothing. “Why did you honk your horn?” Continues wiggling his fingers at me with a cheshire cat grin. “Did you need something?” Notta. I yell, “Well, don’t honk at people who are just trying to walk down the street!”

Boy oh boy did I let him have it. Way to tell him off. I walked away. Now on top of everything else, I feel like a dork. Can’t really tell if I felt any better than if I’d said nothing, maybe even felt a little worse.

Perhaps if I cursed at him. Oh! they were black! Maybe I should have called them a derogatory name like n*****. Maybe then they’d feel something akin to the shame and disgust and inequality that they pressed on me.

There are sexual harrassment laws for the workplace. Why can’t they be for the street? Can I somehow stop this unwanted behavior by reporting them to their workplace. Hardly see anyone giving a shit. Probably just laugh and call me an uptight bitch. Please. PLEASE just leave me alone. Just leave women alone!

I believe all people matter. All of us all equal under the law, and under God. I have forgiven my uncle who molested me and all the young, and I mean YOUNG girls in his family including his granddaughter whom he also molested. I forgive Pete L. who took me to Bull Durham for my first date, and told me I “owed him” because he bought me a pop, and tried to rape me at the park.

Forgiven the guy who raped my best friend Jane, and the one who raped my other friend Machelle. For my classmates who pulled my friend Laura’s pants down, rolled her down the stairs and gang raped her in her own home because she was young and dumb enough to have a party when her parents were out of town. For the uncle who molested my friend Krissy. For the father who molested my friend Johanne; having sex with her from the time she was 3 or 4 throughout her teens. For
the brother who molested my best friend Jessie. For all the men who jack off to pornography despite the fact that they have beautiful loving wives and children, and for not understanding that not only are these women girls, and that they are old enough to be their fathers, but for not understanding that strippers and woman who do porn are usually victims of sexual abuse in the home, or drug addicts
supporting their addiction, or even women grabbing at some way to take back their sexuality but giving it away. For my husband who not only became a computer sex addict, but never wore a condom when he cheated on me, even when I was reading pregnancy how to books.

Why can’t men treat strangers with the same care and consideration they give, or pretend to give, their loved ones at home. I have theories on why this change has been happening. Little by little.
Taking unbelievable momentum. We talk about how much better it is here than it is in Africa and India. I hear the stories of how girls are raped on their way to school. How girls of 12 and 13 are
literally locked up until they mature and then forced into prostitution as CHILDREN! If we have this awareness. If we have sexual harassment laws for the workplace. If we are more socially aware, and better educated. If we live in a country of freedom, and equality. Then WHY CAN’T I BE FREE?!