“Catcalling the Lioness”

October 21, 2010

Before I moved to Belize, I was never once subjected to whistles, hissing, hey babies, or provided commentary about my physical attributes and actions of such on the street. Now riding my bicycle to work elicits at least one pejorative utterance from the teeming testosterone enhanced masses.

Never mind I’m wearing a uniform and school ID. Never mind I’m probably teaching his sons and daughters. No, my crime is being on the street, shamelessly brandishing female secondary and primary sexual characteristics.

Sometimes, depending on my mood and the obscenity level of the comment, I’ll respond with humor. Once a young man called after me, “Teacha, teacha! I wanna go back da skool!” My immediate response was, “Hmmm, bwai, you wa fail!”

We both had a chuckle and went about our days. At other times, the bile rising so quickly to my mouth, I’m surprised I don’t vomit at his feet. Take for instance the man I met one Sunday morning walking hand in hand with his primary school aged son and daughter. As he held their hands and passed me, he made sure I knew exactly how and where he’d like to lick me.

It’s no wonder that many of our young females walk around, head bowed in shame or alternately with a weighty chip on their shoulder, one that drives them to respond with cursing and backchat.

Men rarely seem to understand our frustration, citing we should be flattered or even amused. “Don’t worry when they’re calling. Worry when they stop!” And, “It’s one of the pitfalls of being beautiful.”

It’s more like one of the pitfalls of having a vagina, I say. I guess I misspoke earlier because it’s really not breasts and pubic hair that set these men off because if it was we’d not see uniformed police officers hissing after uniformed primary school girls. When this is mentioned to some well-meaning and enlightened men, they will admit that the first time their prepubescent daughters described how a man verbally assaulted them on the street, they were angry and disgusted.

“I guess becoming a father changes us,” they say. Well, hell! Weren’t you ALL sons at the inception?

As India Arie sang, “When you talk to her, talk to her like you’d want somebody to talk to your mama…” And do we really need to channel Aretha and start demanding our R-E-S-P-E-C-T every time we venture to the corner shop, the bank, the dentist, the daycare, the workplace?

Do we have to turn our society into some kind of militant feminist off off Broadway musical just so we can reach our destination unmolested?

I remember the first year I attended Sisterhood Camp: one week in Cayo with 50 girls, 8 female staff, 3 female cooks and a male owner and a maintenance man who kept out of the way until suppertime.At one point I realized my usual “walking about” tension was gone. I felt free, relaxed, light. Then I realized, I hadn’t been hissed at in 5 long, glorious days.

I shouldn’t have to exile myself from the co-ed world to feel this peace. I shouldn’t have to feel this way at all. She shouldn’t have to feel this way. You shouldn’t have to feel this way.

Remember, every woman is someone’s daughter, sister, aunty, granny, and mother… Talk to her like that.

– S. Renee Wentz

Location: Belize, Central America

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.


Multi-culturalism vs Universal Respect for Women

September 1, 2009

I had recently moved into an immigrant neighborhood in NYC. I was excited about moving to this neighborhood because I love the diversity of immigrant cultures. I have always wanted to live in a multi-cultural society that respects the differences certain people’s backgrounds. However, after a few months I have drawn a different conclusion.

Unfortunately, I was harassed by Hispanic men on a daily basis. I suffered hissing, sucking noises, and even physical touching every day often more than once. I was not harassed by the Chinese, Polish, or African immigrants who also lived in this neighborhood.

I despise racism and think it would be wrong to say that all Hispanic men harass women. I know it is only a small percentage of them who harass women. I also met many wonderful Hispanic men.

However, I have learned that sexual harassment is more socially acceptable in Latin America. I have also learned that Latin American women from some countries are taught to be much more careful about walking alone, and dressing modestly to counter balance harassment.

I think it is incredibly important that Hispanic men are taught that this part of their cultural heritage is not acceptable in the United States. If we deny that certain cultures have a higher incidence of sexual harassment because of their machismo cultural norms than we will put political correctness above the rights of women. I think we need a movement to educate new citizens about respect for women.

– anonymous

Location: New York City

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.


“Let me tell you how to talk to me”

May 14, 2009

Let Me Tell You How to Talk to Me” (inspired by Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back”) was written by the Girls’ Leadership Council (“HOTGIRLS Street Team”) in partnership with the FIREGRL Club program at the Harland Boys & Girls Club in Southwest Atlanta to raise awareness about street harassment and to advocate for the respectful treatment of young women and girls.

Listen to the song & here are the lyrics:

Verse 1
Imma give you yo number back (Amber)
(yep) (Sesyli)
cause I don’t like you and yo game is whack
(yep)
You see these boys just don’t know how to act
(yep)
I try to walk away but they talk smack
(yep)
Take it to the streets

Verse 2 (Jazzmyn)
Dirty boy (uh huh)
You try to play with me like I’m a toy (uh huh)
You must not know boy I’m the real ma-coy (uh huh)
Some things you say just keep me real annoyed (Uh huh)
Take it to the streets

Chorus
Come here boy (Jakia)
-let me tell you how to talk to me- (HOTGIRLS Street Team)
don’t be lame
-let me tell you how to talk to me-
ask my name
-let me tell you how to talk to me-
don’t spit game
-let me tell you how to talk to me-
let me see where your mind is at
-let me tell you how to talk to me-
don’t be whack
-let me tell you how to talk to me-
don’t need no hint
-let me tell you how to talk to me-
we represent
HOTGIRLS STREET TEAM!! (call and response 4x)

They also wrote another song about street harassment:

“I Need Respect”
Lyrics by Stephy a.k.a. “Boston” (inspired by “I Need Love” by LL Cool J )

Sometimes I’m alone on the streets or hangin’ out with some friends
And then I meet a boy who don’t comprehend
Tellin’ me I look good, askin’ when he gonna hit [have sex]
I tell him I know, and he ain’t getting none of this
Every time I walk past, they be looking at my back
I know I look good but don’t act like that
I’m a respectable young lady
You don’t have to act crazy
Blowing your horn and callin’ me your lady
The way some of them approach me gets me upset
I wish that I could turn them off like a television set
You just come to my face and don’t ask for a name
Say I look good, tryna spit some game

I need respect
I need respect

Respect is what I need and it’s something I should have
It’s not something you throw away when it goes bad
There’s more to me than just a beautiful face
I’m not the one to mess with I can put you in your place
You’re like a homeless dog, who needs a home
I said I’m not interested, leave me alone
I know you’re not a crack addict, stop acting like a jay
Learn how to talk and approach me the right way
I’m not a piece of meat, stop licking your lips
I know your moms taught you manners, stop staring at my hips

I need respect
I need respect

Helping Our Teen Girls, Inc., a volunteer-led, nonprofit organization devoted to improving the health and lives of black young women and girls by providing health education, youth development, media literacy, and technology programming.

Visit Stop Street Harassment for more resources.


Hello’s Can Feel Like Harassment Too

November 8, 2008

Yesterday afternoon was unseasonably warm, so in a short sleeved shirt I walked over two miles in downtown Washington, DC, (where I work) to do an errand at lunch time. A lot of men said “hello” or “how are you doing” to me. I said hello or nodded and smiled back at nearly all of them because I’m polite. Several of them stared at my chest. Several men who did not say anything to me stared at my chest. In the reflection of glass buildings I caught two of the men who had said hello to me turn and watch me walk away from them. One other man looked like he would have tried to say more than hello to me if I responded to him at all, so I ignored his hello and turned my head as I passed.

By the end of the walk, I felt dirty, objectified, shameful, and provocative. I wore my coat during my commute home despite the warm weather and once I was home, I changed into a shapeless, huge t-shirt. I’ve been upset by what happened ever since (hence a post) and I have been thinking a lot about why.

  1. If it only had been a few hello’s they probably wouldn’t have bothered me, but the sheer volume became obnoxious and made me feel like I had a sign on my forehead saying “pay attention to me.” Plus several men were oogling me as they said hello so then it was no longer a simple hello but also objectification.
  2. No women said hello to me. Before too long I got the impression that the sudden desire of so many men to say hi to me and inquire how I was doing as I passed them on the sidewalk was not benign and coincidental. I felt it was the result of an evaluation of how I looked. I started to feel disrespected and objectified. From hello’s.
  3. Once I became bothered by the hello’s, I pondered what I could do. It just didn’t seem appropriate to yell “don’t harass women” at a man who was saying hello. Could I say “don’t stare at my breasts” as I passed by? I wasn’t standing on a bus or subway with them where it would be more apparent that they were staring at chest or butt. I was passing by so it would be hard to say with 100% certainty that they were doing that. And it is a free country right? We can look where we want? If I don’t want to be looked at I should cover up and wear a burka and stay inside unless accompanied by a man, right? Many older women say they hate being invisible in the streets so I should be glad that men are oogling me, right? Hey, I’m still young enough to be sexually desirable to them so I am graced by their hello’s and stares. Wheee! Lucky me. Excuse me while I go listen to No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl!” on repeat for the next hour…

No one openly commented on how I looked, no one touched me, no one followed me. I never felt unsafe. But a day later my hello-filled walk is still very much on my mind. I see it as part of a larger context of disrespect and the objectification of women and it boggles my mind to try to figure out how to change that culture when it’s so pervasive.


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?!