Okay, I’m gonna open this post up with a few interpersonal experiences I’ve had in the last month that I bet nearly every female reader on this blog can relate to.
- My friend and I were at a local dance club, and there were a group of three guys near us who wouldn’t stop staring and making gestures in our direction. One finally came over, chatted us up, and then asked us to dance. We said we weren’t interested, and he reacted by calling us “rude bitches.” Then one told me we were “lying whores” and that we were leading them on when my friend told him we were both married. “That doesn’t stop most girls,” one other guy added. They would NOT stop or take “no” for an answer. We reported them to the club owner but he wouldn’t kick them out because he said they were “actually really good guys.”
- I was walking out of gas station with a donut after filling up for a vintage buying trip. A guy walking in as I was coming out turned around to watch me walk away, and yelled “Looking nice back there today, honey!”
- I was holding Alice’s hand with my right hand while walking out of a coffee shop downtown. In my (ringless) left hand, I was holding up a brown paper bag with a muffin in it. As I walked past the tables, I overheard a group of guys who had been eyeing me earlier saying “Yeah, those single moms are crazy in the sack,” and “Looks like her baby needs a new daddy.” They were looking right at me and looked down sheepishly when I turned my head and met their stares.
Do you ever have those moments where you stop dead in your tracks after something like this happens to you, or stand there in shock, and just feel like the smallest person on earth, and you want to melt into a puddle, as the person who harassed you smiles or chuckles to himself and walks away? And then you think about it all day, and all day the next day, picturing what you should have said or what you would have done if you had only been prepared for it? Or, maybe you forget about it because it happens so often that you have to make yourself numb to it and you don’t want to feel like a victim.
Maybe you are exhausted from always being on the defensive. You’re tired of looking in the mirror before you go out, and thinking “Do I look too sexy? Am I asking for trouble?” You’re sick of total strangers responding with “rrrowr!” or “I’m just joking, don’t be a bitch,” or worse, when you defend yourself against the comments and touching. Maybe you’re sick of explaining to your friends why rape jokes aren’t funny, or pointing out the subtle ways that sexism seeps into our daily vernacular. Maybe you’re tired of being the crusader. After all, it’s not your job to educate the world about the realities of sexism and gender-based harassment.
Depending on the day, I fit into any one of those categories.
A few months ago, a really great thing happened. I got an invitation to a Facebook group full of women in Omaha. We’ve all used it as an invaluable network for advice, shared celebrations for each others’ accomplishments, and discussions about feminist issues and our favorite female heroes. It’s a place to unite over our common ground. My favorite thing about the group above all is that it’s been such a powerful source of support in a world where so many of us are cat called for daring to feel confident about how we look, groped shamelessly for Walking While Female, where we glance around us at every turn on the way back to the car, navigating and weaving to find the safest route. Gripping the mace on our keychains at all times. This summer I started getting really, really, really fed up with it. I started talking about it more and more with my friends and through other social media channels. And after I found this Facebook group full of hundreds of friends I didn’t know I had, I realized how common it is. On almost a daily basis, someone I know logs in to share a story of street harassment. People share their stories, they talk about what they did, or ask what they should have done, or share feelings of fear and anger, or they talk about how proud they were of how they handled it. I’ve never made a connection with such a strong group of women before–I never had female friends growing up, and I was never in a sorority or other womens’ organization in high school or college, and I feel so lucky to have that now. I was missing out on a lot.
According to the website of one of my favorite activist organizations to fight gender violence, Hollaback (I have a shirt from them!), “Street harassment is one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and one of the least legislated against. Comments from â€œYouâ€™d look good on meâ€ to groping, flashing and assault are a daily, global reality for women and LGBTQ individuals. But it is rarely reported, and itâ€™s culturally accepted as â€˜the price you payâ€™ for being a woman or for being gay.” And like Hollaback, I think that’s crap and I wanted to know how I could fight back against it.
I wanted to share some of my favorite comebacks, reactions, retorts, ways that women have stood up from themselves. I gathered these from the anecdotes of some of my friends, all gathered from the last two months:
- One guy put his hands up my friend’s skirt on the dance floor, and she whipped her head around and started screaming at the top of her lungs right in his face. He ran out the door, and she told the whole room why. They gave her a round of applause.
- A creepy stranger I always see around told me that my new haircut was ugly. I felt super cute that day, and as I passed him I said “Do I look like I give a shit?”
- A friend of mine hollered “THUMBS DOWN, BOZO!” at an entitled jerk who was making lewd comments with his friend to her outside a bar. She said he was pretty embarrassed. (Good.)
- My friend was tackled while she was walking to her car and she maced the guy before calling the police, who found him.
- One of my friends always gives the “thumbs down” whenever a guy on the street makes a comment about her body. That’s one of my favorite gestures now. (And one of my favorite things to yell.)
- “If you do that again, I’m gonna crush your trachea” is the signature response of one friend.
- One woman I know always says “NO SIR! GROSS!”
- My friend Katie said, “I raise my voice and say IT’S NOT OK FOR YOU TO TOUCH ME LIKE THAT/GRAB MY ASS/GRAB MY BREAST/ETC, and I repeat myself, regardless of the reaction, until s/he is physically far enough away that I can get out of there.”
Finally, I think I should share some of the suggestions from Hollaback.com. It’s a list compiled by experts who are trained to diffuse conflict and deal with victims. It’s also a list full of good responses for men to have handy in their arsenals so they can speak up when they see another person being victimized.
- Tell the person you will call the cops if they donâ€™t put that thing away.
- Ask the target â€œAre you okâ€
- Take a picture of the attack with your phone
- Look disapprovingly at the person doing the harassing behavior
- Yell, â€œGet away from her/himâ€
- Donâ€™t join in or laugh.
- Loudly say â€œugh, that is so grossâ€
- Tell the target that the harassing behavior wasnâ€™t ok and you are sorry it happened.
- Yell â€œSomebody do something!!!!!â€
You can read more suggestions about ways to react when you experience or see street harassment here on Hollaback.
Standing up for myself, and more importantly, talking about these incidents with other women I know, has opened my eyes to the reality of being a woman (or otherwise insufficiently masculine person) in our world. I know about my own personal experiences of course, but connectedness with other women, and openness to talk about these things, has made me feel so much less alone. Like I’m not the only one. And what’s more, talking about this stuff with my husband and other male friends has made them more vocal against harassment and misogyny as well. When someone says something–whether it’s on Facebook or Twitter or in a bar or at the grocery store, I’ve heard my male friends tell me about how they gave someone the business for acting shitty toward a woman. I feel like standing up for ourselves can be such a chore sometimes. I hate feeling like the burden of changing society or reforming a harasser is on my shoulders. But the truth is, it’s not. As long as people like us keep refusing to accept harassment, keep calling out abusive behavior, and keep empowering and supporting each other to do so, I think the level of accepted (even glorified) harassing behavior in our society will start to change.Â Visualize the support of billions of women, victims, and alliesâ€”spirits throughout history and loud voices of today. It gives me hope to see younger and younger women (the Rookie generation!) recognizing harassment and deciding not to let it go. Respect!