A Teen’s Experience with Street Harassment

Fourteen year-old, Jordana, a student with the City at Peace DC program, describes a frightening encounter with public sexual harassment.

Cross posted from Washington Area Women’s Foundation Blog:

 

Up until recently I didn’t realize just how much sexism hurt me.  Of course I see and personally experience sexism all the time, but I thought I had gotten above it all; I thought I had learned to brush it off.

 

A few days ago I was walking to my bus stop in the morning.  It was particularly dark that morning so I already had my guard up, and not without reason.  An older man who I had never seen before started hollering things at me and shouting things about me that made me feel extremely uncomfortable.  I tried to breathe slowly, I had been hollered at before, it’s just it was so dark that morning and I was all alone.  I put my head down and attempted to make myself look as unappealing as possible; I pushed out my stomach, made my hair look stringy, and sort of stared at the ground.  The man was several feet away from me and he took a step towards me.  I don’t think he was actually going to come at me but in that moment all I knew was that I had to get away.  I ran, and ran, forgetting that half of my papers were flying out my hands.  I was so scared.

What would have happened if he had come closer towards me?  I felt so completely powerless; I could have done almost nothing to protect myself from this man.  At that moment I hated myself for being so small, for wearing something one day that actually made me feel pretty, for walking with my head held high.  Because I was running so fast I had a few minutes alone at the bus stop. My breathing was heavy, my heart was pounding.  At that moment I felt so utterly alone.

 

It makes me so angry that I can’t even walk a few feet to my bus stop without being afraid that a man might do something to me or say something to me.  I hate that feeling that I get, that feeling of being ashamed to feel pretty.  I want to be able to walk out in something that makes me feel beautiful.  That morning I had, and then this man ruined it.  Thinking back on it now, I realize that this man was probably taught from a young age that the way he spoke to me, with very sexual words and rude tones, was an acceptable way to talk to women.  Probably many of the men that he looked up to spoke and acted to women the way he acted towards me.  It’s this system, this cycle of acting in certain ways towards women.  If this man has a son, then his son might do the same thing because it is all he knows, and throughout his life it has been okay to act like that.  It hurts the way I am treated, it hurts a lot, but it does help to understand.

 

Jordana is a freshman at Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland. This is her second year at City at Peace and her first year on the production team. She says: “it may sound really cheesy but City at Peace has completely changed my life. There are a lot of confusing changes going on outside and within myself and it is really hard to deal with them all alone. City at Peace has been an amazing place to be able to talk about the things I am dealing with and it has sort of taught me the language of the oppressions and issues that are going on today. I love to read, write, dance, and cook (and OF COURSE go to City at Peace). When I grow I’m not sure exactly what I want to be but I know that it will definitely involve writing and the arts. I really, really love cats, chocolate (72% cocoa to be precise), and traveling.”

One Response

  1. Cort
    | Reply

    My heart broke when I read about what she did to “make herself look ugly.” We all still do this, to varying degrees and to varying levels of consciousness.

    I am encouraged to know she is learning about the social dynamic that causes this and how to remedy it, but it is still unbearable to hear a girl’s first experiences with what we’ve all come to know, tolerate, absorb, internalize, and sometimes lash out against as grown women. It’s an unfair legacy and I wish it wasn’t still this way.

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