Today, Adam and I attended the second anual Seattle SlutWalk. He carried a sign that said “Men–Take Responsibility,” which was really great because, as a smart person pointed out, allies from within are a particularly powerful resource. Mine said “A Short Dress Is Not A Yes.” But what I really wanted it to say was
“I Get Talked To Every Goddamn Day By Strangers Who Make Me Uncomfortable And I Fucking Hate It.”
But that wasn’t as catchy.
My female (and female-identified) friends and I have been talking about this subject a lot lately. This blog post went (semi?) viral last week (at least, among our crowd, so I assume, among others as well), about the street-level sexual harassment that women and those identified as women (and sometimes men) endure.
Because, here’s the thing. It happens a lot. Here are a few things that have been said to me recently:
- Hey, why aren’t you smiling?
- What’re you reading? You look smart.
- You’re really pretty.
- Don’t be a snob, talk to me.
- You think you’re too good to talk to me?
- Where are you going all dressed up like that?
- You got a boyfriend?
Or, my personal favorite:
- NICE BOOBS! as shouted from a yellow school bus.
A fucking school bus. I got hollered at by a child on a school bus. That’s how ingrained this problem is. Even children know that yelling at women and disrespecting their bodies is a thing to do. And a thing for which, for the most part, women have little recourse.
Because what people (read: mostly men, but sometimes also women) who haven’t experienced this don’t understand is that most of the time, even when it’s not meant to be threatening, it feels that way. Because I am keenly aware that if I don’t smile and nod and be a nice person (because, I like to think, I am a nice person) and have a conversation, it can and will and does escalate. It is no longer marginally irritating and also kind of icky, it puts my body in physical danger.
I am also aware that no one will help me if that happens. Because it has happened. Does happen. Happens all the time.
Street level sexual harassment can be as simple as an unwanted compliment when I have earbuds in and clearly no desire to talk. It can be grabbing my arm (happens), trying to hold my hand (happens), following me (happens a lot), and, in some cases, it can be actual violent assault or rape.
The advice we get is usually something like “Don’t engage them,” or “walk away.” But what if you’re literally trapped on bus by a man who outweighs you by 100 pounds? What if you’re wearing heels that hurt and you physically can’t run? What it you are afraid that a person will follow you to your apartment and force their way?
What if you’re just a human being who wants to get from point A to point B without someone saying something to you because believe me, it gets really old to assume every single person who makes eye contact with you will have a comment to make about your appearance because it’s true?
So what I want to say is this:
Women, speak up. Tweet about it. Put it on Facebook. Take an Instagram photo of your harasser. Tell the driver. Ask a beat cop to walk with you for a little while. Call a friend. Tell someone. The fact that those who haven’t experienced this aren’t aware of its prevalence is a huge part of the problem. Tell someone. It’s not your fault, but staying silent won’t save you.
Men, be better. Here’s the thing about sexual harassment–it usually comes from men. Which means the same mouth that men eat with, kiss with, drink with, and breathe with can also the the mouth that they change sexual harassment with. Men have the option to either:
- Not sexually harass women. If a woman is on the bus, assume she’s there to travel somewhere. If a woman is at the store, assume she needs groceries. If a woman is at the bar, assume she’s there to drink unless she explicitly tells you otherwise. Assume that she is not there to talk to you, no matter how friendly you are. And male readers, if you start to mansplain to me about how this is wrong, go look in a mirror. Are you a man? Yes? Then don’t tell me that I’m wrong because I am not a man, I am just a woman who gets talked to/hit on/cat-called/harassed too much.
- Speak up when someone else is sexually harassing a woman. See a creep on a bus talking to a woman who is not into it? A guy at a bar who is trying to coerce a drunk woman to come up when she is clearly too inebriated to consent? Step in. Male-to-male conversation on this topic is very salient. Be an ally. Like the government says: See something, say something.
This week (and maybe beyond), I’m going to Tweet every incidence of sexual harassment I encounter on the street/bus/wherever. I urge all of my friends to do the same. Because truly, like Aurdre Lorde said (that’s whose quote the title is, in case you didn’t take enough women’s/gender/racial/LGBTQ studies classes), it’s a learning process. We already know that this is wrong, but we’re learning how to end it.
Image: Mine, from last year’s SlutWalk