Sex(ual harassment) in the City

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.
Me: “Guess.”
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.,-122.4281&spn=0.007227,0.014591&z=16&om=1&msid=109475623440902585657.000441d553174a98a114a

10 thoughts on “Sex(ual harassment) in the City”

  1. Well, you know I believe you. Indeed, we have witnessed each other being harassed while we’re together.

    And I have stories for you!

    The scene: 16th & Mission (last week, Friday night)

    Guy 1: “I love you, I love you, I love you”
    Guy 2: “Will you marry me?”
    Guy 3: “I hate to see you go but I love to watch you leave.”
    Guy 4: “Goddamn, you fine!”

    And there was various other commentary from guys who were, ah, less clever, I guess you could say. Mostly comments on my bodacious body, which, as you know, like all women’s bodies, is Public Property. And this was only on one block!

    Not too long ago I had an encounter which was funny enough that I wrote it down in my (paper) journal: I was walking along, and this dude walked by and was all “hey baby!”. I’m sort of amused by the abject retardation inherent in street comments, so I started to laugh. As I walked past he was like, “come here, let me talk to you!”. I kept walking. Finally he shouted “you missin’ out, baby — I’m a model for Calvin Klein!”

    It is seriously a miracle I didn’t call my mom right then and there and ask her to give him my dowry at once.

  2. As the chunkfs designer, maybe you should tell harassers to go fsck themselves.

    /doesn’t know what’s wrong with people
    //doesn’t know what’s wrong with himself


  3. I’ve got a good female friend who used to live SOMA and I would *never* have believed what SF street harassment is like if I hadn’t come to visit and had to walk the neighborhood (I almost said walk the street *ahem*) with her. I’m also female and whoa. They’re much more aggressive than DC.

    That said, when I used to work downtown here in DC in my early 20s they used to reduce me to tears regularly. I was sorry at about age 25 when I took a job in the burbs because I like urban living in general, but *wow* it made a difference in my life not being solicited 3-6 times a week.

    (And obtw, I think I got your web page which lead to your lj from some linux chix discussion or something when you came to town and I didn’t make it to the linux chix dinner. Anyhow, we’ve never met, but hello. *waves* )

  4. K got honks from cars and calls from pedestrians on busy streets in Beaverton (especially Cedar Hills Boulevard) when walking to the gym, or the store, or whereever. She got her butt slapped by the passenger of a car passing her which nearly caused her to fall off, and it hurt.

    K started to wear baggy things and hide her long hair, and find less busy streets to walk down. This was only partially successful. Eventually she chose to drive the mile to the gym to avoid harassment. She notes now that she’s put on a few more pounds she gets far less attention.

    Another time she was out with a short guy with very long curly hair down by the Portland Waterfront. They were followed by a couple guys. When they stopped and turned so that their faces were visible one of the guys called out in horror (apparently to his friend but loud enough for everyone to hear), “It’s a dude, dude!”

    She says “it wouldn’t have happened to the same degree if I was a guy”. Probably true. I’m a guy, I have long hair. I’ve been called out by women two times I can remember, once at age 18 running along Farmington Road from a passing car that slowed down for me, once from an upper floor of a college dorm when I was heading to work. There are other examples but they aren’t the stranger-on-a-street kind (more the stranger-at-a-party). I’m not saying that women are routinely as awful as men about this, but my main point is even as a guy I can personally relate to your story a little bit.

    People making assumptions about what you’d like to do to gratify their hormones and invade your personal space is a real downer.

    Kudos to you for raising awareness about this and seeking support from your friends. This means of mapping it is a good awareness-raiser. While I’m not confident that it will raise the awareness of the clueless, it will at least improve the strength of support… and who knows where that may lead? We all have every right to demand autonomy of our person.

  5. I believe you…

    Have you seen the Holla Back sites? Holla Back NYC is the oldest and most famous. Others come up easily enough on Google. I see their Boston talk and analysis blog links to the last post I read about this, which is being harrassed by twelve year olds.

    In Sydney harrassment seems to take a slightly different form overall: most harrassment is of lone female pedestrians, by groups of men in cars. (I am told this is a major source of harrassment of gay people as well.) Living in the outer burbs I don’t have much reason to walk along major aterial roads any more, but when I do I’m reminded of the constancy of this. These days I’m more getting seriously creepy attention on the trains; in fact, probably to the point where a complaint to the police might get vaguely near some kind of arrest, if not prosecution, for indecent exposure.

    Most annoying thing ever: getting or encountering lectures from people ā€” often men ā€” about how unfriendly public transport is and how much more utopian it would be if we’d all just smile more and chat. But these days I have discovered that telling them how many erect naked penises I’ve seen on public transport shuts that right up. (It’s not that many, but I believe it doesn’t feature in their utopia.)

  6. Yeah, seriously. I remember the time we went to that Cuban cafe on Market St. for really bad caiphirinia’s (wtf! no sugar) and the truly startling volume of comments on your ass. Memorable.

  7. ( sent me because I was talking about street harassment in my lj)

    I think that thanks to sites like Holla Back street harassment is starting to get a bit more public attention, which is good. Whenever I tried to tell dudes about my experiences they either wouldn’t believe me or told me I was making something out of nothing. Thanks to Holla Back I can point them to a place and say, no actually, this sort of thing happens all the time to all kinds of women.

    I’ve found that in San Francisco if varies a lot by neighborhood. I’ve never been harassed in my neighborhood (Inner Richmond (which is part of why I love my neighborhood)) but a visit to the Mission or SOMA is practically a guarantee, especially if I’m wearing a skirt or a dress. It doesn’t matter how demure the dress or skirt is. It’s like dudes see the skirt and it’s a sign for them to start harassing.

    I lived in New York for 5 years and it was even worse there for me than SF. I think part of it was that I was younger and didn’t have the mean stare and mean swagger perfected yet, but it’s also a worse city for street harassment.

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