If any of you lovely readers are friends with me on Facebook you have seen many a rant about sexual harassment and those who would choose to engage in that activity. It’s time for me to expand on that a bit (disclaimer: parts of this post may not be suitable for young readers).
Now sexual harassment is not new to me or any of my female-bodied, female-identified, and even some male-bodied and male-identified, friends. But since I am female-bodied and identify myself as female I will speak from my own experiences.
Living in a city and choosing to walk about in that city (the nerve!) makes a person a bit more susceptible to sexual harassment. Why, you may ask? City = more people = higher chance of unwanted advances.
Some harassment can seem pretty harmless:
“Hey baby. You’re beautiful today.”
“Let me see that smile.”
“The sun is shining this morning!”
NO, still not okay. I have heard peers of mine thank men for calling them beautiful or sexy on the street but I refuse to do it. Usually I am then called a bitch or “too good to say hi” but, the truth is, I don’t want your unsolicited opinion of my body, whether “good” or bad. I have the right to walk down the street without you commenting on that walk.
Now, of course, some harassment is much worse. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
“I want to fuck you.”
“Your breasts look amazing in that shirt.”
“I will lay you out on your back and have you squirming and screaming under me.” (This little gem happened when I refused to acknowledge a subway harasser late one night).
And, most recently, “Would one of you ladies mind sitting on my face?”
Some of you may be thinking, “What the hell?! How could anyone say something like that to someone, especially someone they don’t know?!”
Here’s the top two reasons why I think people harass:
Reason number 1: They are sexually repressed and it gives them release to subject someone to their sexual urges.
Reason number 2: The thrill. Very few, if any, of these street harassers expect you to accept their advances. If I had said, “Yes, let’s goooo” to Mr. Sit-on-my-face he would have been absolutely shocked and caught of guard. They don’t expect you to return their advances; they expect to get a rise out of you or to get no response from you and that’s why they keep doing it. It gives them a sexual thrill.
A dear friend of mine put it this way:
…from what I know as a “normally” socialized American male, what such “sidewalk shouters” are seeking is an emotional response from their “targets” (victims) — any emotional response. Especially a visceral, passionate response — even if it is “negative” — is what they want. Rational content is not the issue; passion or emotion is. Any passionate response will likely reinforce the worldview of these bozos … that men can affect emotional responses in women, can “get a rise” out of them — any rise. And that reinforces this view of “manliness.”
Now, those of you who know me well, know that I am a passionate person full of passionate responses. The man who most recently harassed me received a flurry of “F you, you F-ing prick. Go F yourself!” complete with two middle fingers waving in the air like nun-chucks. While I do think I should have responded to this man and while the swearing felt SO GOOD, I have to admit that it wasn’t the best way to go about it. As my friend pointed out, “visceral, passionate responses [are] what they want.”
In the many sexual harassment workshops I have attended over the years I have found the following advice to be the most helpful: Let the perp know they are out of line, let them know the behavior won’t be tolerated, say so in the most unemotional, direct tone possible. Something like this: “Stop harassing women. I don’t like it, no one likes it. Show some respect.”
If I had calmly, and boldly, said, “Show some respect” to the man leaning out of his truck to ask me to sit on his face he would have felt so ashamed. Not only did he get turned down in front of his buddies but he got called out in front of them.
Now this isn’t easy to do. Some of us would much rather tell harassers to go to hell and others would much rather ignore the situation all together. But here’s why neither of those reactions are helpful: if the harasser can get away with it, they will keep doing it.
So, for me, I respond (or hollaback) to street harassers not only to protect my own rights and dignity but the rights and dignity of any individual walking down the street. Shaming one sexual harasser will make him (or her) think again before subjecting someone else (and themselves, let’s be honest) to humiliation.
But it is not just my responsibility as the “victim” to respond. Too often victims are burdened with the responsibility of correcting harassers. In reality, NO VICTIM SHOULD HAVE TO CARRY THIS WEIGHT. It is up to as, as a community, the harassed, the witnesses, the harassers, and those complicit in harassment, to collectively support and uplift one another. The harassment of the stranger on the subway should be just as much an offense towards me as it is towards her. To borrow from NYC’s subway messages “If you see something, say something.”
So keep strutting, keep your head high, and keep calm and give a direct, unemotional response.