To preface this story: now, I don’t ever think the clothes I wear entitle strangers to make unwanted advances. Furthermore, I find the fact that women often need to make lifestyle changes (i.e. dress differently) in order to protect themselves against harassment an absurd limitation on their rights. But before I begin this story, I just want to point out that on this particular afternoon I was wearing a dress that could be best described as a “going to brunch with your boyfriend’s parents” dress. It was conservative and simple, not attention calling or fitted. Honestly, as I stepped out of my front door in this boring dress about to embark on a walk that brings me daily harassment, I thought I would be entitled to a little peace.
I was waiting at a crosswalk for the light to change on a recent Saturday afternoon, with my attention directed towards my phone and the text message I was writing. So I didn’t immediately notice the car that pulled up to me as it turned through the intersection or hear what the driver said to me the first time around.
I had only ever had a stranger’s car pull up to me when the driver needed directions. I get catcalled from moving cars all the time, but a stopped vehicle was different. I looked up from my phone and asked, “What?” In the car, I saw a man staring at me and smiling lewdly, apparently relishing the fact that I gave his first comment any attention. The words come at me again: “What color underwear are you wearing?”
Locked in eye contact for a second, I finally took a deep breath and settled on “Fuck. You. Go to hell,” and walked across the street without turning back.
I didn’t think to do more. I told a friend this story later and she said I should have grabbed the license plate number, and the fact that this didn’t occur to me left me feeling incompetent. Then I thought, when this happened I was still in sight of my front door, and this man may have very well seen me exit my house. It wouldn’t have been safe to make a scene. This left me feeling vulnerable. I also mentioned this story to one of my male friends. He tried to sympathize, but I don’t think he believed the incident warranted energy or action, and his dismissive tone left me feeling overdramatic and silly.
I still felt frustrated so I posted the story on my FB page. A friend of mine commiserated. A homeless man had told him to “fuck off, pretty boy” when he had no change to spare and shouted after him “where’s your boyfriend, homo?” as he walked away. With brave humor my friend—who is indeed single, very attractive, and gay—told me: “I would have been angry if he if he weren’t so on point about everything.” The story put things in perspective for me and cheered me up a little, but the fact that a harasser’s words can be accurate doesn’t make them any less upsetting. And I wasn’t quite ready to brush it off so good-naturedly.
This left me feeling incompetent, vulnerable, over-dramatic, and upset.
Then another male friend posted the link to your site on my wall, and I decided to see if fleshing these feelings out in writing might help. This prompted me to spend a while thinking about street harassment with some productive conclusions. But here is where I get stuck:
My parents tried to raise me to get no enjoyment out of harming others. But when this kind of harassment happens to me (and since I moved to this city at the beginning of the summer I’ve been astounded at the unrelenting frequency with which it occurs) all I want is to make my harassers feel as hurt and angry and embarrassed as they make me feel.
I spend too much time thinking about how I could do this. Answer “Hey Sexy” with “How’s it going, Average?” or counter comments about my tits and ass with jibes about their bald spots and beer bellies? I can’t help but laugh at the corny spitefulness of my comebacks. And then I feel sad.
I can’t touch them with my exhausted and unimaginative “Fuck you” anymore than I can with a righteous “What would your mother say?” or a grade-school “You’re ugly and fat and bald and stupid and smelly and probably never get laid and…”
There is nothing I can say to tear them as far down as they push me and the truth is, even if I could think of the sharpest retort, I’m not sure I want to be the kind of person who would be willing to spit those words back.
And that powerlessness is the absolute worse part. That’s the part that left me in tears, as this asshole laughed at me and drove away.
Submitted by LV on 8/7/2011
Location: 11th St NW
Time of harassment: Day Time (9:30A-3:30P)
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