"Hey Baby:" Enduring Street Harassment
I'm nearly 50. I'm tremendously fortunate. I live in a safe neighborhood, I am comfortable, and I have the privilege of a terrific education and opportunities in life. I am not timid — I have spent much of my life suing states for violating women's rights.
This is not a good start, madame. You've dedicated your life to upholding citizen's rights - that's good. But why only one class of citizen? You never intended to take a man's case? Why? What's wrong with men (in your eyes)? What would you think of me if I only took on men's cases in suing the state, regardless of whether a female defendant had a case or not?
But when I think about Women's History Month, I think about the ways in which all too often, as I walk on the streets, I put my head down, how I feel the street is not my place. And I think about how little I and other women talk about this.
What does that mean? The street is not your place? The street isn't a friendly place to practically anyone madame. I take martial arts. Why? Because police don't prevent me from getting assaulted on the street - they cleanup afterwards and promise to find the guy WHO HAS ALREADY INJURED OR KILLED ME. The streets are the jungle. Don't take anything for granted. Its just mother nature, quite honestly. Watch animal kingdom on t.v.. Its life. And don't blame men, we didn't create our instincts or yours for that matter.
Today will be different.
I first remember it happening when I was around 14. I was in high school. I lived in the country. I had to walk a quarter of a mile from where the bus dropped me off to home. Guys driving by would sometimes call stuff out the window of their cars.
Sometimes they slowed down. Sometimes they stopped the car to say things and offer me a ride. I was afraid. I didn't know if they would take no for an answer. I didn't know if I could run faster than they could. I knew bad things happened.
36 years ago some BOYS with raging hormones would "call stuff out the window." Well that merits an article. These things they said hurt your feelings? Well that's too bad, I'm sorry that happened. But kids are cruel. I wish they weren't, but they are. And adolescents trying to fit in can be wicked. These people didn't even know you. Why would you take what they said personally? And the guys that stopped the car to offer you a ride.... guess what? Some honestly just wanted to talk to you and give you a ride. How do you think a boy meets a girl to eventually date?
College. I was 20 feet or so from my dorm one night. A guy grabbed me from behind. He put his hands between my legs. He told me not to scream. I screamed. He ran. The cops asked me if I was frequently asked out on dates.
That's more serious. That's sexual assault. That is a crime and a nasty one at that. I'm sorry that happened, but that's some horrible jerk who probably grew up without a dad. That's not every man. As for the second part.... the cops asked you if you were frequently asked out on dates? What are you implying? They were looking for suspects, correct? Couldn't someone you turned down for a date be the perpetrator? No?
Life after college. I'm living in D.C. I'm walking on 18th or 17th Street. I'm walking with a friend. A man passes, walking in the opposite direction. He reaches behind to grab my ass as he goes. I turn. I point. I yell: "This man just grabbed my ass! Stop it!" People stare. I feel vindicated.
I've never even heard of this. He grabbed your ass on the street? He was an asshole. Pure and simple. Maybe under the influence of something. That's called "groping" by the way and is also a crime. Call the cops on these people.
My first years of being a lawyer. I am traveling to give a talk at a university about women in the law. I am walking out of my office building. A man passing by stares and says, "Nice tits." I look down. I want to disappear.
This is also rather disgusting. I'm guessing this man felt demeaned by a woman at some point in his life and now he is returning the favor. Not your fault and not your problem, but again - this isn't every man. In fact, I've never known a sober man to behave this way.
Fast-forward 10 years. My niece is living with me while she does an internship. She talks of her commute on a packed rush hour subway. She tells of a guy rubbing against her. She tells herself it's just that the train is crowded. Then he puts his hand on her thigh. Then he starts to move his hand up her leg. She was too stunned, too in disbelief to do anything at the time.
This is outrageous. And secondly, your neice NEEDS to say something when this happens. Like "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" And then grab his hand and jerk it off - with her nails embedded in it. She did nothing? Why? That doesn't help. Some sleezebags will take advantage of packed subway cars, but given the close proximity of men and women in subway cars, its honestly surprising more jerks don't take advantage of this - why don't they? Because most men aren't jerks.
Several weeks later, the two of us are coming home and some guy says something. I turn and yell, "Stop harassing us!" He looks embarrassed. My niece smiles.
What did he say? Was he honestly harassing you? Was he drunk? If you embarassed him because he was being an asshole, great. If you were overreacting and that's why he was embarassed, not great. Further, remember madame, that in the fatherless world that the feminazis have created, many men simply lack the direction and instruction from a man on how to approach and behave towards women. They're really not terrible guys (the ones that keep their hands to themselves), they're simply very rough around the edges. One, cat calling actually works for some of these guys and two, they don't know how else to talk to women. They have no role model.
And now. I am walking to the subway. A man coming toward me says, "Good morning sexy. Want some [not printable]?" It's a Saturday. It's 6 a.m. It's New York City. There is no one else in sight. I think, as I did nearly 40 years ago, "Could I outrun him?"
Its common knowledge the the ENTIRE city of NY parties every Friday night. You were out at 6 a.m. on Saturday? Most likely the guy was coming home from a party or being out in a bar or club, and was still drunk. I wouldn't be basing any idea of men or harassment based on what some jerk said after a long night of drinking. Is it really likely this guy was just SUPER responsible and ambitious and decided to start his Saturday at 6 IN THE BLOODY MORNING? Drunk jerk. Period. May even not be such a bad guy when sober. But we don't know. You're judging him on 10 seconds of his entire life.
In between each of these incidents, there were others too numerous to count — the whistle from a student the first time I spoke at a university; the guy who stood over me on the subway muttering very not nice things no one else could hear; the boss who patted my butt; and just the seven million comments, or so it seems, on every part of my anatomy and my attire and what someone would like to do with it, offered at every time of day, on streets both crowded and isolated.
Lemme hazard a guess here. You're not ugly. In fact, you're probably quite well put together. I'm terribly sorry some boys and men have acting rudely toward you. Some men are angry with hot women over past offenses, some know they'll NEVER touch you and hate you for that, while others are just adolescent, immature, rude or all of the above. Ironically, if some of these men were told they actually had a chance with you, you'd see A TOTALLY different side of them I'm willing to bet; one that's charming and sweet and complimentary. But since they think you'll reject them, or else project someone else onto you that you're not, you're going to get some pretty rude behavior. And some behavior that's just bloody ugly. Hot women have endured that for millenia and there's not much anyone can do about it. From what I've read Marie Louise thought Napolean was something of a pig after meeting him and swore she'd never touch him, much less marry him. She did both. So remember while some of these men were scoundrels, NOT ALL of them were; I'm willing to bet most were just scared of you - much more than you were of them. You see madame no sword is so sharp, no bullet so big and fast, no fist so hard as to inflict the kind of pain the disgust and rejection of a pretty girl can cause. You were a target of many men for the sole reason you are want they want most in this world and are afraid they cannot have. The others were just drunk or otherwise were pricks.
Street harassment is pervasive. It's pernicious. But it's little discussed, and the pain it causes little understood. We don't talk about it in part because it's so normal; it's the fabric of life. And we don't talk about it because all too often the response is, "Why get so upset about a comment here and there?" That's the problem. Each comment, in isolation, may not seem that bad.
No madame. You are not the world. Street harassment is not pervasive. You don't know that because you've never been an ugly person. Those people are harassed much less and with much less contempt, I'm sure. And average looking people receive little if any. We simply go about our daily business. And yes, the comments aren't really that bad. How? Because the people making them don't even know the person they are making them too. They're making the comment based on how you look; its not aimed at you as a person - they don't know you as a person. If a stranger tried to kill you in order to steal from you, would you think they really hated you, the you your friends and family know? NO. You would understand they just want your money and probably attacked because you looked rich. The comments are mean nonetheless, but only to someone who is sensitive. All people aren't sensitive and these days, many have become desensitized to cruel words and many are not taught that cruel words are worse to women than they are to men because women are more sensitive than men. Men aren't taught that women are different than they are (more sensitive, etc.), they are taught women are equal to, and THE SAME AS they are. This is confusing to many boys and some obviously treat women with the same disrespect they treat men. Isn't being equal wonderful? Think about what has happened; women demanded equality - that's fine, this is a free and equal country that does not practice discrimination. But what happened along the way is that it went too far. Women have become much more masculinized and men more feminized and now everyone is confused. Men have no role and women think they will enjoy total equality with men, yet still be treated politely and gently because they are still women with unique characteristics such as sensitivity. You are being treated like a man or worse than a man. How does it feel? Pretty lousy, huh? Men are cruel to eachother; they fight over resources to attract women and provide for their families. You are now competing for those resources along side men - you will be treated like one and that means with some bitterness and disdain as you are yet just another competitor making men's life more difficult and challenging. Further, the lack of manners and morals is easily traced to the breakdown of the nuclear family and the advent of fatherless homes. With no model of a father treating his wife nicely, boys have no idea how to treat women. And girls have little information of how to be treated and so many actually welcome bad behavior. I and several friends of mine made it a point to be polite to women in high school and college and in return we were generally shunned and disregarded by women as being "too nice." Acting like a bitter jerk and saying snide things while looking down your nose at girls? That yielded many more dates. So if you really want to tackle the problem, let the girls act like ladies and give all the boys traditional fathers. Suing the state for discrimination won't help solve any of those problems at all.
But for those of us wanting to move in the world, it's not just a comment here and there. It's a comment in the context of a culture. Some number of these comments come with following, touching, assaulting. Women know that.
It's a comment in a culture where I see its effect on me and other women. We put our heads down. We look ashamed. We look ashamed — for what? Because we were out? Because we had on a sleeveless top? Because we wore a skirt? The guys who commented, meanwhile, don't look down. They don't look ashamed. They sometimes even grin. That's all messed up. That's not the kind of world in which I want to live.
You can't change men's behavior. You're competing for resources with men, but you're not going to choose to sleep with any of the men you're competing with - you're utility to men is therefore very, very low. This will cause much resentment. I've known plenty of pretty girls - their lives were easy and hard at the same time. They received plenty of attention but if they turned down the attention romantically speaking, they were instantly hated. I can only recommend the men be in a better position to provide and feel like a man, further boys won't respect women until they are taught that women are DIFFERENT than they are and that means treating them differently. Also women must demand respect and girls demanding the right to dress however they want (far beyond a sleeveless top) doesn't help in the respect category - neither does sleeping around - typical in college and even high school these days; certainly after college for many. See my last post. And the best medicine is a man respecting his wife... seeing your father living in a basement, depressed and bankrupt? Watching your mom ruthlessly divorce your father and turn him into a debt slave? Watching your mother lie about your father or else poison your relationship with him? Watching your mother ACTIVELY PREVENTING you from spending time with your own father? These things don't exactly create healthy male role models or men with healthy attitudes toward women.
I offer this in the spirit of understanding — to give voice to an experience many of us have, to make the frustration and anger and fear some women have make sense, and to foster empathy. It's Women's History Month, and there are so many gains to celebrate. The world is so different in so many profound ways even from when I was young. But in terms of street harassment, there's still too little conversation, too little education, and too little change.
Being afraid and demanding change or education won't work. And for all the "gains" women have made, you're now seeing the flip side of those gains. Men left behind, without the education and jobs to even COURT women, are bitter, lonely dropouts who harass and catcall from the sidelines. Many are unemployed or underemployed. You're a lawyer - good for you. But there was a time when it was the men going to law school - mainly to impress and provide for hot women like you. Now the roles are literally reversed and you think a few rallies and some pamphlets will solve this problem? That's just naive. You must not be a good lawyer - look for the ROOT CAUSE of the problem. Blaming all men and crying about how hard it is to be a woman does nothing to fix things. Many of the men harassing you couldn't even legitimately offer you a life or provide for you and children - how do you think that makes a "man" feel? No, its no excuse to harass you, but until we have FATHERS raising boys to be MEN, you'll have lots of bad encounters with misbehaving boys who you may mistake for being men.
Sunday, March 20, was the first-ever International Anti-Street Harassment Day. If you've ever been harassed in public, learn about what you can do, and how to respond, by visiting the Stop Street Harassment website .
We're holding a month-long blog symposium on women's rights for Women's History Month. See all the blog posts here, and learn more about women's rights: Subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.
A blog symposium. Well I am impressed. A huddle? A book club? You're not even asking the right questions. You're not asking any question of society or of the social construct under which we live, AT ALL. Your column is a meaningless whiny gripe that doesn't tackle the issue to any meaningful degree whatsoever. But go ahead and give more money to N.O.W. (I'm sure you already do). They are mainly trying to fund a new society of female-headed households that raise the boys that turn into the ones who are harassing you for lack of a good father figure to show them how to behave otherwise.