No one ever believes me that I get harassed on the street on a regular basis. It’s pretty much a guarantee that whenever I walk more than about 5 blocks in a city, I’m going to get at least one cat call, “solicitation,” or threat. When I tell people about this, they look shocked and say, “Wow, I can’t believe that. Really?” Very rarely, someone will believe me, but only because the same thing happens to her. One of my sisters can somehow be detected a mile a way by flashers. She’s had men exposing themselves to her since she was 5 years old.
For a while now, I’ve considered keeping a log of exactly when, where, and how I’m harassed. Today, a guy harassed me for trying to avoid being harassed, and now I’m mad enough to do it. First, we’ll need a little Street Harassment 101:
1. Shouting at women on the street about how attractive they are is not, actually, a compliment, and women do not and should not feel gratified by it. Think about it: when you actually want to make a woman feel attractive and good about herself, do you walk out on the street, wait for the next pretty woman to walk by, and shout at her? No, because that’s rude and threatening. Strange men shouting at women about, basically, how much they’d like to fuck her is generally intended to scare and frighten women.
2. Men generally harass only women who are alone or are with other women, and usually when no one else is around to hear if a woman starts to yell or scream. This is part of why men almost never see harassment.
3. Street harassment has serious effects for women even if it doesn’t lead to violence directly. Besides the knowledge that the men you have to walk by would hurt you even more if they thought they could get away with it, it makes you go to great lengths to avoid that area. When I go to the BART station, I walk the exact same way every time because I’ve been harassed only three times on that path (there is no way to get to BART without being harassed). I now take a taxi to BART and back if it’s a time of day when few people are on the street. “Fine,” you say, “That’s just being prudent.” Oh yeah? Well, when do I get the transportation subsidy to make up for the fact that I have to take a taxi for a 4 block trip and men don’t? I estimate I’ll spend at least $1000 a year more on taxis than a comparable man.
4. Non-verbal harassment is also a problem. Stare at her. Leer. Walk as close to her as you can without actually touching her. My current favorite: Get about 5 other guys, walk down the sidewalk together at night, and whenever you see a woman by herself, spread out and walk past her on both sides, as close as possible. “Oh,” you say, “That’s just because that’s the easiest way for a group of people to pass a person walking alone.” I decided to test the “convenience” theory one night. I was walking down Mission on a very wide sidewalk – about as wide as two cars – when I saw the canonical gang of six guys dressed in black. I decided not to let them walk on both sides of me, so I moved a foot to the right, towards the street. They moved a foot their left. I moved another foot to the right. They matched me. Finally, I was walking literally an inch from the curb, and one of the guys stepped down off the sidewalk into the gutter (filled with water) between two cars to walk around me, just so at least one guy was on both sides of me. Boy, that was convenient.
5. There is absolutely nothing you can do about street harassment. What, are you going to call 911 on a guy who just waggled his tongue at you obscenely? He’ll be gone by the time they get there anyway. The only thing to do when you are being harassed is to act like it’s not happening. Any reaction at all just makes it worse. So you spend a lot of time bottling up your anger and feeling helpless, and occasionally you screw up and actually say something – and it’s usually loud and profane. The last time I lost control and actually said something was last August in Portland. Two teenage guys and a girl (bizarrely) were walking down 18th St near PGE Park, where I’ve been harassed many times. The guys weren’t wearing shirts, which is a pretty good indicator in summer in Portland that you’re about to get harassed. Sure enough, one of the guys said, “Hey pretty, wanna party with us?” just as he was a few feet away from me. I lost it and snapped, “Fuck you!” – which, for reference, is the worst possible thing to say. He laughed and said, “Promise?” The girl giggled. The worst part was that I saw him again that afternoon in Pioneer Square.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what happened today to get me to start logging this stuff? While walking on 24th street, a fairly nice part of town, a middle-aged guy tried to stop me to ask for directions. For context, when a strange man tries to start a conversation with me on the street, it’s inevitably so that shortly thereafter he can harass me. I kept walking. The guy complained loudly to another pedestrian behind me for a while. Then he caught up to me and had the balls to harass me for trying to avoid being harassed:
Him: “The pedestrians sure are polite here.” Sarcastically.
Me: “Do you know how many times a day I get harassed?”
Him: Pause. “Sure is a friendly city.” A little less sarcastic.
Him: Pause. “I was just trying to make conversation.”
Me: “So leave me the fuck alone.”
So, yeah, I’m starting the log, and I’m keeping it in a Google map. The dates before yesterday are a little hazy, but I’m writing down the exact time and place when they happen in the future. If you want to log your own harassment incidents, let me know and I’ll give you edit permissions.