Last weekend, my mom took the Greyhound bus from NYC to DC to attend a writer’s workshop. I was out of town for a speaking engagement, but my partner picked her up and she stayed at our house. Her bus was a few minutes early. In the space of the few minutes from when she arrived to when my partner picked her up, three different men harassed her! One of them even harassed her while she was on the phone with my dad (“Hey honey, do you have a husband? Do you want to come home with me tonight?”)
My mom said she would have felt really unsafe had she not been on the phone with my dad and about to be picked up by my 6’3″ partner in a car. My mom is in her 50s. It is an outrage that she can’t wait at a bus station safely, without experiencing harassment. It is an outrage that as a grown woman, she has to be somewhat dependent on the good men in her life for her sense of safety!
My mom has been dealing with street harassment for four decades. It was only last December that she stood up to street harassers for the first time (for many of us, that is not an easy thing to do at any age). I was so proud of her and inspired by her.
But she shouldn’t have to get up the courage to respond to a harasser. The harassment shouldn’t be happening in the first place to her, to any woman, to any mother!
This week, during dinner with some of my coworkers, one of them, who is the mother of a four-year-old, mentioned how often street harassment happens when she’s with her son and how upsetting that is. It’s bad enough it happens when it happens and you’re alone, but it’s not exactly something mothers want their children to have to witness or learn about!
Related, recently a woman shared a story on my blog about how a man harassed her while she was with her 8-year-old daughter:
“A man slowed his car to follow me & my daughter (8 yrs old) on foot. He followed us for about a block yelling out his window that I’m sexy, I need to give him my number, at least my name, just hop in & talk to him for a little bit. My daughter was obviously confused & uncomfortable, but I ignored him hoping she might think he wasn’t talking to me. I have a history of sexual assault & was merely focusing on controlling my senses so that I wouldn’t dissociate. Then he pulled up into the driveway in front of us, cutting us off & yelled at my daughter: “Your mom is a fucking bitch-cunt-whore” before leaving in a fury. My amazing daughter yelled back that he was a stupid jerk & pulled me off the sidewalk, toward the park nearby where there was more people on foot…”
What an outrage.
There’s all kinds of lip service in the US about how respected mothers are and blah blah blah, and that is true for many individuals, but on a societal level? No way.
Mothers deal with so much crap. On average, these are some of the realities they face:
- unfair pay and fewer job options (in fact, did you know that a man’s salary goes up, on average, when he becomes a father but it goes down for women when they become mothers?!?!);
- unequal child care responsibilities;
- unequal division of labor of household cleaning, cooking, and grocery shopping;
- insane scrutiny over their looks and weight and overall aging;
- judgment and scrutiny and sometimes a lack of choice over their own reproduction;
- domestic violence;
- and – at the extreme end of the spectrum – higher rates of intimate partner murder than men.
And on top of that, they’ve got to deal with street harassment?
What the hell.
So for Mother’s Day, I’ve got to agree with the amazing Astronomical Kid and demand: men who harass, “stop looking at my mom”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If our society really wants mothers to feel and be respected, then one thing we can do is work to make it socially unacceptable to harass women!